Snow rages across the dark sky, briefly caught by the glow of a streetlamp. Temperatures fall. Mountain winds pick up, building drifts higher. John Eastman crunches the numbers: 400 inches and counting.
Prepare for the unexpected
From November 2016 to April 2017, blizzards blasted the Sierra Nevada mountain town of Mammoth Lakes, California, elevation 7,800 feet, with hundreds of inches of snow.
“We completed two storm cycles in 20 days,” says John Eastman, whose snow removal business, Eastman Homeowner Services, turns cleaning up the wintery aftermath into profit. “The first was a nine-day cycle where we had 13 feet of snow, which is about a foot and a half of snow per day. We had six sunny days to catch our breath, and then we were hit with the second five-day cycle where we got seven additional feet. Twenty feet of snow in 20 days.”
That was back in January. By April, the town had received 445 inches – a far cry from the town’s 240-inch annual average. Eastman says that while Mammoth Lakes sees high snowfall totals about every 10 years, the snow doesn’t usually accumulate in such a short time span.
“When something like that happens, about all you can do is keep up with the removal of snow,” Eastman says. “So, a day in the life is just keeping the operators going, keeping the machines going and outlining where they go next.”
The right equipment leads to business growth
Thirty-five years ago, at the suggestion of a friend, Eastman left the real estate business and launched his own enterprise, Eastman Homeowner Services, to provide Mammoth Lakes with vacation home maintenance and management services.
“We’re about a 5½-hour drive from Los Angeles,” Eastman says. “A lot of people have second homes here that they might use for two weeks a year. They’re in and out of town so they need someone to take care of their home, particularly in the wintertime when we get cold temperatures and heaters might fail, pipes might freeze.”
The ski resort town of Mammoth Lakes has a permanent population of 8,324 but receives 1.3 million tourists during the winter months. A surplus of snow beckons coastal dwellers and out-of-state skiers alike — all of whom want their vacation homes cleared of snow and ready for occupancy at any given moment, Eastman says. So, he added snow removal to his lineup of services in 2002, a move that he credits with helping save his business.
“I started with a small walk-behind snowblower, and that wasn’t very profitable,” Eastman says.“Over time, I realized I needed a larger piece of equipment, and that’s when I bought my first Bobcat loader. My number of snow removal accounts went from 70 to 400 — huge growth to where I could start making money finally. That one machine turned into 11 machines today and probably another machine next winter.”
Consider customer expectations and challenges
Eastman’s snow removal routes and priorities constantly shift, depending on which second-home customers are in town. Meeting customer expectations can prove challenging, he says.
“Keep in mind that a lot of people live in Southern California where it’s 70 degrees every day,” Eastman says. “Their expectation is that if it snows, the very next day that snow should be gone. The problem is, in addition to cleaning the driveway, we also have to clear the snow in front of the garage door and the snow up to the front door, which many times encompasses a stairway. When you get a storm cycle of 13 feet, you shovel it back into the driveway and then you have to clear the driveway again. That’s a challenge.”
Finding a spot to place all of that snow can also be difficult. The crew must pile multiple feet of snow onto curbs and clearings – sometimes in power-line-high heaps. Eastman entrusts the job to his 11 Bobcat® loaders and SB240 snowblowers, which, he says, allow his operators to easily move through large amounts of snow and direct the snow into precise locations.
“We can adjust the chute to where you’re basically blowing the snow straight up in the air and to either side or in front,” Eastman says. “The narrow diameter of the snowblower chute increases the velocity of the snow coming out, leading to a better flow. We haven’t come into a circumstance where the chute was not high enough or couldn’t get the correct direction.”
Towering piles of snow, however, can easily conceal both cars and snow removal crews alike, making travel hazardous, especially in low-light areas. In addition to providing more light for the operators, a side-lighting kit on his M2-Series S650 helps keep Eastman’s operators visible to others.
“We’re usually working after dark,” Eastman says. “The importance of the side-lighting kit is that it’s a defensive measure. It lights up our equipment to where other operators and motorists can see us at night.”
Hard work creates end-of-day satisfaction
The stress and challenges that Mammoth Lakes’ extreme snowfalls bring gives Eastman satisfaction at the end of the day.
“You work as hard as you can from 5 o’clock in the morning until 8 o’clock at night,” Eastman says. “When I go to bed, I feel good because I’ve worked as hard as I could that day and maybe I didn’t get everything done, but I did the best I could, as did my crew.”
Once spring chases away the winter weather, Eastman is able to remember again why he lives where he does.
“The snow removal and property management business allows me to enjoy the country,” Eastman says. “It’s high in the Sierra Mountains. There’s a variety of different hiking opportunities that you can take and just see beautiful mountainous country. It’s just a beautiful place to live.”