October 12, 2021
For those that just have a cursory appreciation, winter maintenance may seem uncomplicated. After all, it is undeniable that the profession has low barriers to accessibility when compared to other industries. Misogyny aside, too often for example do we hear the description of the industry being characterized as “Chuck and his truck,” a phrase that suggests an unsophisticated industry. 

For anyone involved in winter maintenance — be it supply chain managers, insurance and risk management professionals, facility owners or operators and the winter industry practitioners — it’s obvious that winter maintenance is anything but unsophisticated. 

For those that take the time to better appreciate the winter maintenance industry, they understand the practice involves both art and science. 

For example, the art of winter maintenance involves the ability to consider a work area, and to understand where low points might allow water to accumulate, where shaded areas might require different management strategies and of course how to keep facility owners and operators — i.e. the clients — happy. 

The science of winter maintenance is complicated and growing year-over-year. It offers insight into best management practices by considering all variables. The science of winter maintenance examines, in detail, the products involved in addressing snow and ice. Typically salts, such as sodium chloride (NaCl), calcium chloride (CaCl2) and magnesium chloride (MgCl2), have well-defined negative impacts on our environment, such as on soil, vegetation, surface water and its biota, wildlife and groundwater.

However, these salts remain necessary to promote safety. 

As well, the science surrounding winter maintenance considers weather conditions, as well as climate changes, and how they impact winter maintenance practices. For example, increasing temperatures promote more freeze-thaw cycles through the day and season, which typically require more attention from winter maintenance professionals. 

The science also considers the wide variety of equipment that might be considered for use. Everything from differentiated blades that promote better snow removal, to brushes and equipment that is used to apply pre-wetted or liquid anti-icing and de-icing products (salt). 

When coupled with the art of winter maintenance, the science of snow and ice removal helps us understand how to achieve optimal winter maintenance results. Often, the combination of art and science can promote improved safety, reduced costs, as well as better relationships and outcomes for facilities and the environment. 

While it is difficult to capture the experience and practical knowledge that underlies the art of winter maintenance, the body of science is growing exponentially. In this regard, many university researchers and others are actively working collaboratively with winter maintenance professionals and others.

The growing and ever-changing knowledge surrounding winter maintenance is captured by those that promote best practices through training, such as the not-for-profit organization Smart About Salt Council (SASC), which works throughout Canada and the United States to support the winter maintenance industry, including contractors and facility owners/operators. SASC re-evaluates its award-winning training, certification and validation programs annually, to ensure the leading thoughts on winter maintenance are included. 

To learn more about the Smart About Salt Council (SASC) and its not-for-profit training, certification and program validation efforts, visit smartaboutsalt.com.

Lee Gould
Executive Director, Smart About Salt Council