For many arenas, managing snow is routine — a nuisance that needs to be taken care of all winter long, often unexpectedly. Snow is a safety issue that can quickly impact resources, eating up budget and manpower when the skies open up and the white stuff falls. From clearing parking lots and entrances, mopping up water and slush left behind from people walking into the facility, it can be a hazard. And snow can physically impact your operations in the blink of an eye.

Picture of the Centre Georges-Vézina from Wikipedia

Centre Georges-Vézina – Wikipedia image

Removing the Snow

This past weekend, I was in Chicoutimi, Quebec for a hockey game. The Centre Georges-Vézina is the largest arena in the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region, two hours north of Quebec City. Named in honour of Chicoutimi native and long-time Montreal Canadiens goalie, Georges Vézina, the 67-year-old building seats 3,759 and has an Olympic-sized ice surface. The building itself occupies over 5,000m2 (over 54,000f2) of space – so it’s quite the building. It’s also the home to the Chicoutimi Saguenéens, a Junior A team that plays in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Read about Georges Vézina – Between the Pipes – on The Hockey Mom

Managing snow build up on the roof at the Centre Georges-Vézina

Managing snow on the roof of the arena: workers from Horizon Vertical workers up on the roof of the Centre Georges-Vézina in Chicoutimi

As I drove into the parking lot, I looked up and saw some unusual activity up on the roof. Attached with ropes and dwarfed by the size of the structure, four men were hard at work with shovels in their hands, removing snow from that monstrous roof. They looked winter-ready in their parkas and snow pants, and underneath their hard hats, frost-covered balaclavas were covering their faces. Although the sky was blue, the mercury was at -18°C (0°F) — and there was wind. A lot of wind.

It was clear but it was cold. And miserable. 

Snow on the Roof

I watched for a few minutes as they worked, freeing blocks of snow from the roof with their shovels and sending them down a path to an ever-increasing mountain of snow far below them in the parking lot. From my vantage point on the ground, the work looked disheartening. There was so much snow to clear.

One of the men walked down the roof, closer to the edge; walking closer to where he was, I called out, waving my arms to get his attention. My questions needed to be repeated a couple of times before they were understood: my words were getting swallowed by the wind.

I learned this was their 4th straight day of work up on that roof. Despite the cold, today was a pretty decent day. There had been no snow overnight to add to the task at hand.

They hadn’t been so lucky when this job began. Their first two days had been in snowy conditions, and one of those two had been near blizzard-like.

Horizons Vertical

Horizons Vertical truck

Horizon Vertical

I called Joel Tremblay, the owner of Horizon Vertical, the company contracted to remove the snow from the Georges-Vézina. For nearly 25 years, Tremblay and his team have been steeplejacking – climbing to fix, maintain or stabilize whatever needs to be fixed, maintained or stabilized, going up,climbing down, or hanging in place to do their work. Horizon Vertical, in addition to steeplejacking services also has a training centre for people who want to learn that trade. To be a steeplejacker, you need to be part acrobat, part jack-of-all-trades, and very, very physically fit.

“This is our third year removing snow from the roof of that facility,” Tremblay says, whose company is based in Saguenay. “Over that time, we’ve gained in expertise so the work goes much faster now. We need to have good, healthy people to do that work. It’s a big job de force. And the people who do the work need to have a good moral. The work can be heavy and hard, and discouraging.”

As for the roof, Horizon Vertical’s mandate is to keep the snow under 45 cm.

“Last year, we were there twice to remove the snow,” Tremblay says. “The year before, we had a lot of snow to remove because we had so many storms. We were there over a dozen different times.”

Quick Thinking Prevents Injuries at New Westminster Facility

Queen's Park Arenex

The roof at the Queen’s Park Arenex in New Westminster, BC. Photo from City of New Westminster website

As everyone knows, snow can cause extreme damage which can be seen by the picture above. Winters in the greater Vancouver area in the Canadian province of British Columbia are known to be rainy, not snowy. But this is an extraordinary winter with a heavy barrage of snow and ice storms. The Queen’s Park Arenex in New Westminster, BC, due to those unusual winter conditions was a victim of all that snow. The roof and three walls of that facility collapsed just before Christmas, on December 19th, 2016.

No one was hurt, thanks to quick thinking by the Arenex’s staff:

Leading up to the roof collapse, diligent Arenex staff heard cracking sounds, around 5:30 pm, and quickly evacuated the building and secured support from New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services as well as City Building Management and Engineering staff who all confirmed the roof was in jeopardy and that the building was unsafe for occupancy. As such, gas and electrical services were proactively disconnected.

When the roof and walls collapsed, it was in a controlled environment, and no one was injured.

– Taken from City of New Westminster update, January 5, 2017

A huge shout out to the Arenex team. Your quick thinking averted what could certainly have been a life-taking disaster. Well done, everyone.

How Do You Manage Snow?

How do you deal with snow at your facility? Do you have any advice on managing snow at your arena that others could learn from? Leave me a comment and let us know.