Snow piling up in the mountains is a signal for outdoor enthusiasts to dust off their winter toys, while water managers are breaking out the same equipment — used for more practical purposes.
Throughout the winter, Denver Water operations crews take monthly journeys to remote watershed locations and measure snow at 11 locations in Grand, Park and Summit counties. They need a range of tools to reach these backcountry sites, including, snowshoes, cross-country skis and even snowmobiles.
But, no matter the method or equipment, safety remains the top priority.
“Although snowmobiles are used for recreation, Denver Water operations employees understand the machines are a tool, not a toy,” said Tim Holinka, Denver Water’s source of supply manager.
Holinka and his Winter Park crew hold daily safety meetings to overview any possible challenges associated with the day’s agenda. The team even conducts a daily stretching session to prepare for working in extreme mountain conditions, ranging from shoveling snow to digging out a stuck snowmobile.
“We’ll be providing the Winter Park staff with hands-on snowmobile safety training this winter,” said Holinka. “Plus, we’re always using our daily safety meetings to remind the new, and even veteran, employees to continue using this ‘tool’ responsibly.”
Working at a location like Williams Fork Reservoir during the winter means bearing temperatures as low as 40 below zero. Facility operators are tasked with a range of responsibilities, which include keeping the top of the dam free from snow after each storm, plowing upper and lower access roads to the facility, and ensuring power plants stay online in any weather.
But when it comes to snowmobiles, it hasn’t been all business for Holinka, who started as a facility operator, also known as a caretaker, working nights and weekends at Williams Fork Reservoir in 1994. The facility is covered 24/7, year-round by three on-site operators, which leaves some time for after-hour projects. (Read, “A caretaker’s daughter” for a firsthand perspective of living at Denver Water’s dams.)
“When you are on call, you must be available and ready to respond at a moment’s notice, but I needed a hobby during the down times,” said Holinka. “I’ve always been into snowmobiling, and I like the old, vintage snowmobiles that I grew up on, so I started refurbishing them.”
Holinka overhauled three vintage snowmobiles and entered two of them into competitions — winning the 2011 Western States Vintage Snowmobile Association’s Vintage Snowmobile of the Year.
Visit the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association for information on the 25th International Snowmobile Safety Week, Jan. 20–28, 2018.