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A small army of snowblowers is working to clear Anchorage school fields for spring sports

Snowblower operators clear the track and field at Service High School on March 6, 2021. It takes a five-person team three to four days to clear a field, allowing the snow to melt faster and making the facility available two to three weeks earlier than if it were allowed to melt on its own, according to Anchorage School District secondary director Marty Lang. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

In January 2017, the massive inflatable roof of Anchorage’s indoor sports venue The Dome collapsed. No one was hurt, but the temporary loss of the structure — it reopened a year later — sent high school soccer and track teams scrambling to find ways to practice and hold early season matches with snow still on many of the outdoor fields.

At the time, it was Anchorage School District policy to let snow and ice on turf fields melt naturally. The expensive turf can be easily damaged by shovels and plows. Since The Dome collapse, though, the school district has added snow removal to an existing turf maintenance contract for all eight high schools and Clark and Begich middle schools.

“We had a lot of well-intentioned folks who wanted to kind of hasten that snow and ice along,” ASD secondary education director Marty Lang said. “And even though we told them they couldn’t touch those fields, we needed to let them melt off naturally, we would then see brigades of students and parents out there with tools that just weren’t well suited to the turf.”

People work to clear snow from the football field at Service High School in Anchorage on March 7, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

This year, soccer and track season begins for ASD students on March 22. With the snow removal that began in mid-February, the fields will likely be usable two or three weeks earlier than otherwise.

The contractor, Dimond Alumni Association, has a fleet of specialized snowblowers that keep the auger an inch above the turf and have tracks instead of wheels to keep from spinning out. On a recent weekend, five of the machines were methodically making their way around the Service High School soccer field and track.

Snowblower operators clear the track and field at Service High School on March 6, 2021. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Willie Paul, one of the snowblower operators, said it takes his team three to four days to clear each school’s field, depending on how deep the snow is.

Clearing snow from the fields doesn’t just benefit high school athletes. It gives physical education classes more room to spread out during the day, and it opens up the facilities for the community.

“Once those spaces are cleared, you can hardly ever drive past and not see somebody out there using that facility from the community,” said Lang.