Risky business? Year-round snow removal for turf fields can do damage
April 23, 2010
A major obstacle to year-round – or even partial – snow removal for the artificial turf field at Quinn’s Junction Sports Complex is the potential damage that could be done by machinery.
The field is currently in the fifth year of an eight-year warranty with Sportexe, a Texas-based manufacturer that neither recommends nor bars snow removal.
Craig Edward, a company representative who oversees Utah facilities, said the circumstances in Park City are somewhat unique because of the variable winter climate. While snow could be removed from the field, damages become more likely with more frequent removals. The risk is much slimmer, however, if equipment is modified for safe use.
"It’s a common-sense issue more than anything else," Edward said. "It’s all about taking your time and making sure it’s done correctly."
Case in point: Dozier Field. Park City High School’s artificial turf field is usually cleared earlier than Quinn’s to allow its prep teams to complete their spring schedules, and last year’s removal caused thousands of dollars in damages because the blades on a utility tractor were not covered.
Park City Lacrosse Organization President Andrew Gutman said that in his research, other recreation departments have been able to work out a warranty agreement with manufacturers provided they agree not to make such mistakes, although Edward made clear that field damages caused by removal would never be considered "an act of God."
Gutman believes the incident at Dozier – which is not under warranty and is not plowed with modified equipment – set a bad precedent for change at Quinn’s.
"I think the damage to Dozier spooked them," he said. "It was very sad, because it was done without the proper equipment. I really think that could have been done in a way with no risk.
"It’s inertia. Well-meaning people just don’t want to see another beautiful facility damaged."
Westminster College in Salt Lake City is one school with an outdoor turf field that removes snow throughout the winter to open earlier for its lacrosse team in February. Although the school gets less snow than Quinn’s, their decision to periodically clear the field was not an easy one, since the field is built on a parking structure and cannot be repaired without ruining the water proofing.
"It is a challenge," said Westminster Athletic Director Shay Wyatt. "Obviously, in our type of climate, you have to look at it on a field-by-field basis. We finally did make the decision, after a lot of research, to plow it this year."
Westminster used lighter equipment covered with specialized rubber, and only allowed two of its most experienced maintenance staff to operate the tractors.
"It’s made a huge difference," Wyatt said. "This year was great for the lacrosse program. It was kind of at our own risk, though. There is the risk of damage if it’s not done right."
Gutman said that any snow removal effort would call for clearings during the dead of winter, but felt that they could be less frequent than the 365-day option looked into recently by the City Manager’s office.
"There is the possibility for a ‘middle-of-the-road’ option, but we got that advice sort of late into the process," said Assistant City Manager Michael Kovacs.
If the removals are too infrequent, Edward said, the pressure of snow-removing machines can alter the field because of the torque on their back tires.
Most important to any sustained attempt at snow removal, Edward said, is to "stay on top of it."
See the sports section for another story about the pending City Council decision about the field at Quinn’s Junction Sports Complex.
If Park City decides to remove the snow, Sportexe recommends the following:
Under no condition should anything bigger than a small utility tractor (35 hp) with turf tires be driven on a snow-covered or wet field. The biggest issue is the wet sub-grade material. Even a light pick-up truck will create tracks/dents in the sub-grade material and ruin the flatness and playability of the field. The field cannot handle construction-type front-end loaders and, certainly, no dump trucks. The simple turning motion of their wheels will tear/bunch up the turf.
Most places will take a utility tractor with turf tires and a bucket – using a PVC or rubber protectent on the blade – and push the snow off the field. This approach is good for pushing up to 6-8 inches of snow. Then, from piles accumulated off the field, use larger equipment to remove/haul off the snow.
Provided by City Manager’s Office