Outdoor Services Crew

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Let It Snow....UUUGGGHHH!!!

From time to time there will be topics that I feel would be great to create a post for, but the event/situation is not something I was directly involved in.  For those situations I will approach the responsible parties to share the event with you.  This post is done in collaboration with Jason DePaepe, the Athletics Turfgrass Manager and Ryan Newman, Assistant Athletics Turfgrass Manager. They are responsible for the day-to-day maintenance operations for Folsom Field itself and provided me with technical information on how the field was prepared for the USC game on the evening of November 4, 2011.

Almost everyone enjoys watching football in inclement weather and the atmosphere that it creates.  Well, almost everyone.  Snow during a game week is a nightmare for athletic field managers and facilities managers everywhere.
On November 2, 2011 we received roughly 6" of snow and on the third there was still a fair amount left, leaving no other option but to plow the field in preparations for a nationally televised home game on November 4th against USC.  Part of preparations for a home game is to monitor upcoming weather conditions, and make adjustments to preparations to account for weather impacts.  Knowing that there was a good chance for snowfall during game week, the field was painted on Monday and Tuesday.  Normally game day painting would be done on Wednesday and Thursday in prep for a Saturday game.

Folsom Field has a heating system in the soil profile which can be utilized in situations like this to prevent the field from freezing and causing unsafe playing conditions.  Some may think that the system will actually melt the snow, but in reality it is at a depth of 8" and will not have any direct effect on field surface temperature.  Allowing the field to melt naturally would have possibly jeopardized the firmness of the profile and could have provided a situation where players could get hurt because of soft footing.  These concerns further enforced the decision to plow the field.

The first step was to remove all the snow on the synthetic turf surrounding the actual field.  This provides locations for the field snow to be piled and removed. The tractor you see has a special bucket designed for pushing large amounts of material and works great not only for pushing, but holding the snow in the bucket so it can be moved long distances.  This same piece of equipment is used for moving the snow that is brought to the perimeter of the field.

The goal Thursday was to remove the rest of the snow from the actual field in Folsom Stadium.  This is a time consuming process.  Unlike normal snow plowing there is a very deliberate method employed to not only protect the field itself, but preserve the aesthetic quality of the field.  Sports turf managers not only strive to provide the best playing surface possible for the athletes, but also provide a product that has an appearance that they can be proud of.  With this in mind the striping that you are accustomed to seeing on tv must be preserved so care is taken to remove the snow in the direction that we have been mowing the field to preserve that same pattern.  There is a prior post on this blog that speaks about striping and the methods behind it.

In the picture below you can see that we use a small John Deere Gator with a blade that is designed specifically for sports fields. It has a rubber edge on it which allows it to slide along the field without tearing up the turf.  The snow is brought to the edges of the field by traveling east and west where we use the tractor to push it up to the ramp coming out of the north end of the stadium.  At that point skidsteers are utilized to load up the snow and remove it from the stadium completely.

In this picture you see what looks like the Gator had driven across the main field logo.  Actually Jason is backing the gator up to the edge of the logo and will pull forward.  With painting being done just before the storm hit the cool temperatures prevented the paint from drying completely, so all of the logos on the field had to be shoveled by hand to carefully protect them.  It would not be acceptable if the logo was to be smeared all over the field.  The logos take a very long time, are painted by hand and therefore are treated very carefully during this operation.  The decision was made that with the amount of melting we had going that we did not need to shovel the end zones.  They were melting very well and we felt confident they would melt off completely during the day on Friday.  With our good strong Colorado sunshine, Friday was a great day which allowed for the final melting and more importantly, drying.  We were able to mow the field late on Friday prior to the game which touched-up the field and provided the classic aesthetic of a football field.

Our BuffVision staff actually took video of the removal process as it happened. This is a great video to help illustrate how this process worked.

Events of this size alone take months of planning and many, many hours of preperation to pull off smoothly and safely.  When Mother Nature makes plans to attend the event, it strains the entire campus to make sure everything goes off safely.  It took a lot of work but the entire campus pulled together and the only thing that didn't go as planned was the game.

Jason DePaepe
Ryan Newman
Ryan Heiland