The winter season may still be a month away, but for Yellowhead Road & Bridge, the battle against the ice and snow in the Southern Interior is already in full swing.

The company responsible for winter maintenance of snow of the largest mountain passes in British Columbia, including the Coquihalla Highway and the Okanagan Connector, has been plowing the region’s highways since mid-October, including a collision with a semi-truck on Oct. 25 that closed northbound lanes of the Coquihalla for eight hours.

Such an important task requires a retooling and rethinking of YRB’s maintenance plan each winter season, laid out in its recently released stakeholder information package.

“We understand the importance of the highway system in our area and how it plays a vital role in not just our local communities but our province as well,” said Ellis Junker, quality manager for YRB.

YRB looks after Service Area 14 in the province under contract with the Ministry of Transportation, encompassing the municipalities of Merritt, Logan Lake and Lytton, as well as 750 kilometres of highway and 1,400 kilometres of road. This year, YRB has added two more light duty plow trucks for sideroad and subdivision plowing to its fleet, for a total of 114 pieces of heavy equipment: 56 plow trucks, five tow plows, four slow blowers, six graders and 25 loaders.

Environment Canada has classified this winter season as an el Nino climate cycle, causing YRB to anticipate slippery conditions. Warmer temperatures and moderate amounts of precipitation usually trend with an el Nino cycle, the first in the last four years, meaning temperatures closer to zero and the possibility of more ice than snow.

This being said, we are still expecting large snowstorms on higher elevation routes,” said Junker. “Areas like the Coquihalla and Pennask Summits will still see storms with heavy accumulations, they may just be more spread out throughout the season than in previous years.”

Salt, as well as other road deicing chemicals like calcium, brine and beet juice will be used to control icy conditions, with sand put down to increase traction.

In terms of staffing, the winter team was fully crewed by October 15 this year, with 15 new operators joining a high percentage of returnees. As in past years, YRB will be utilizing local snow removal contractors for heavier snowfall events to supplement their own fleet.

The winter maintenance crew provides 24/7 coverage of the roads and highways.