How to Plow Snow | Comprehensive Guide

by | Dec 17, 2023 | Snow Plow

Commercial and Residential Snow Plow Guide for Light to Heavy Duty Pick-up Trucks

Snow plowing is no easy task, it takes a skilled operator, the right snow plow equipment setup, and a sound plan to ensure the operation goes smoothly.

In this post we’ll dive into the methods a professional snow plow operator would use to effectively clear a lot, road, or commercial property. We’ll also look at the best equipment for the job, and pros and cons of all the available snow plow tools out there. Throughout this article we’ll be referring to front mounted snow plows for light to heavy duty pick-up trucks. More commercial or industrial scale snow plows, utilizing grades, front loaders, or scrapers are not being looked at. We are only covering the uses of residential and commercial snow plowing operations.

How do you operate a snow plow?

A typical snow plow setup is made up of a few key components. Firstly you’ll have the vehicle, then the snow plow blade, and then the controls. To operate a snow plow will entail the usage of wired plow controls or a mounted joystick. The controls allow for tilt, angle, retraction/extension of components, elevation and pitch. The amount of control you have over your plow depends on the type of plow you have.

It’s important to understand the basic components of a snow plow before discussing techniques.

Snow plow components

Moldboard: this is the curved steel blade that pushes the snow. A moldboard should be strong enough to sustain a constant sweep angle, and it overall functions to plow snow.

Side plates: side plates are present on some snow plows and are fins or vertical ends of a snow plow blade which help to prevent overspill and channel snow back into the moldboard

Plow springs: Springs are usually mounted behind the moldboard as to prevent vibration and prevent shock damage. They act to reduce the snow plow blades rigidity, as well as improve stability, and prevent unnecessary damage in the case of hitting an obstruction.

Cutting edge: A snow plow cutting edge system provides superior curb and moldboard adaptive edge protection for various plow types. They are made of rubber usually, and are attached to the moldboard of modern snow plow setups to increase cutting power and longevity of your snow plow setup.

Plow width: Plow width just refers to the snow plow blade overall dimension, and generally for pickups can run from 6 ½ feet to up to 9 or 10 feet for dump trucks.

Plow pump: The snow plow pump is the hydraulic pump cylinder which in conjunction with the operators control inputs works to move parts of a snow plow.

Underbody scraper: Sometimes a snow plow truck or setup will have a metal scraper mounted underneath it to help in removing and clearing snow and ice.

Snow plow controls

Typical snow plow controller. Can also be joystick operated.


Where controls allow for the following maneuvers:

Wings Out: This will extend both the wings of a snow plow that has this hydraulic equipment feature. These wings extend from the plow on either side and allow for expanded plowing capacity. You get about four blades in one with a plow with wings. As an operator the wings allow for plowing, straight blade, expanded straight blade, scoop, and windrow. The wings can in some cases be angled in addition to extended, which is very useful for windrow snow plowing methods.

Wings Out: This will extend both the wings of a snow plow that has this hydraulic equipment feature. These wings extend from the plow on either side and allow for expanded plowing capacity. You get about four blades in one with a plow with wings. As an operator the wings allow for plowing, straight blade, expanded straight blade, scoop, and windrow. The wings can in some cases be angled in addition to extended, which is very useful for windrow snow plowing methods.

Wing Out Individual: This will hydraulically extend only one of the wings of the plow. This could be useful in situations where you want one wing in a straight position and the other in a scooped forward position. This allows for the leading wing, angled towards the snow, to direct snow into the moldboard.

Right (R): This is control for the power angle. This will angle the snow plow blade to the right. The point here is that if you are looking to create a windrow of snow to the right, you can angle the blade to the right. This will allow you to clear snow from the left and push snow, while leaving a line of leftover to pickup on the next pass, or in reverse.

Left (L): Another control for power angle. Just like the right angle control, the left angle control will angle the snow plow blade to the left. This allows for a windrow of snow to be created to the left of the snow plow truck. Depending on the lot or property layout it may make sense to typically stick with a left or right angle. This can also depend on the way the wind is blowing that day, as to avoid unnecessary rework to get snow blown back onto cleared areas.

Wings In: This control will retract both the wings of a snow plow setup with hydraulic wings. This will serve to narrow the width of the blade. Typically you want the wings extended as they allow for more efficient snow plowing, increasing the surface area of your plow. But for tighter spots, less wide pathways, or simply travelling from site to site, you will want to retract the snow plow wings. This control gives you that ability.

Wing In (R): This control will individually retract or extend the right wing of a snow plow equipped with hydraulic wings.

Wing In (L): This control will individually retract or extend the left wing of a snow plow equipped with hydraulic wings.

Up (raise): This control will tilt the snow plow up, creating distance from the ground below to the snow plow. Snow plow tilt up will reversing from an area you’ve just plowed and to pull away from the snow pile without dragging snow back onto the cleared space. Snow plow tip up is also best used for travelling, where you need to move at posted speed limits, and need not risk your snow plow making contact with ground or obstructions below. The elevation or tilt of a plow can also be adjusted as snow is piled, to create higher and tighter snow piles.

Down (lower): This control will tilt the snow plow down, lining up the bottom of the plow with the ground below and allowing the operator to get as close as possible to the sub surface. For flat surfaces, the tilt can be consistent, but surface conditions which are angled or have elevations, the tilt may need to be adjusted.

Scoop: This control will angle in the wings of a snow plow, or if a V-plow, angle both sides of the V-plow, and put the whole plow in scoop mode. Scoop mode is best for smaller amounts of snow, because the ability to push larger loads and create windrows is diminished, scoop is best for detailed cleanup. The concave scoop mode is an effective and efficient plow mode for a wide range of applications. Some outer ends or wings of snow plows can be angled forward as much as 50 degrees.

Types of snow plows for light duty conventional pick-ups

V-plow: A v-plow is a snow plough generally split in the middle. This allows for straight blade plow configurations, scoop inward V formations, and of course a V-plow formation. The V-plow formation creates a windrow on either side of the plow. A V-plow is great for smaller scale snow removal.

Straight blade plow: A straight blade plow is the simplest setup for a snow plow there is. Mounting to the front of the vehicle, it will not have any wings or accessories. It allows for snow to be pushed from the front of the vehicle, and when angled, can be used for windrow snow plow methodology. The straight blade plow has a set length, so efficiency is strictly determined on the basis of length of the plow and the skill of the operator.

Straight plow with wings or scoop extensions: This is a straight blade snow plow that has extensions on either ends or tails of the snow plow. These extensions can be extended, or retracted, controlled hydraulically. The wings them selves can individually angled, and allow for the straight blade plow to scoop or windrow more effectively. Overall the wings allow for a greater snow plow length, and increase the efficiency of the typical straight blade plow.

Rear-mounted snow plow ( Pull Plow) : A rear mounted snow plow, such as the DRAG PRO 180Z will give the snow plow truck and operator the ability to plow forward and in reverse. These systems usually mount from the rear using a universal fifth-wheel rail system and receiver hitch. They can be used to great effectiveness for large areas like commercial parking lots. Some rear-mounted snow plows have rotating wings in addition, which allow various adjustments to unique plowing situations, surface areas, and job types. In general two plows are better than one.

Photo source:

Box plow – A box plow is a snow plow where the moldboard is capped off at each end by large vertical metal ends generally at 90 degrees to the moldboard. The box blow is great for moving large quantities of snow, and for powerful equipment that can handle heavy snow falls and long plow runs. A box plow serves to not allow snow to come off the side and can therefor accumulate more snow in each pass within the ‘box’ of the plow.

Let’s get to plowing!

At Calgary Snow Removal Services we know what it takes to ensure a commercial or residential property gets cleared of snow effectively and safely.

Planning your snow plow job

Before starting any job it’s important to survey the property. This is best done out of snow plow season, or when there is no snow on the ground, because you’ll be able to see all the property features. You want identify obstructions, posts, elevation changes, drainage locations, manhole covers, electrical outlet bollards or other landscape features. Identifying and flagging or staking notable features will help you to stay in the right locations while plowing. Pre-plow inspections of the property like this will help you avoid damage to your plow, damage to the property, or even injury to your self.

Some larger and more complex properties might require that you submit a plan of snow plow operation. Regardless of whether it’s required, it is a good idea, if you have the time, to layout the site on a plan and plan your removal route.

Other key considerations you’ll need to factor in prior to actually plowing are the drainage locations, client requirements, efficiency, and patron vehicle traffic visibility. Generally speaking you don’t want to pile snow on drainage routes, or the drains themselves. When snow melt occurs, the property requires a free and clear drainage route from snow piles or snow drifts to property drainage system or storm water collection.

If your client has special requirements, such as zones that need to be free of piles, or very limited space, plan this is in. Don’t try and work this out on the job site. If needed, make the proposal that you haul the snow off the property as in some cases there simply may not be space to satisfy client requirements due to property space constraints.

From an efficiency standpoint, have a general idea of where you want to start your plow runs and how you will attack the property. This will avoid you having to replow areas you’ve already plowed due to overspill or windrows. If you plan your plowing correctly, you can avoid have to plow areas twice. Depending on the snowfall depth, and snow quality, this can also come into play. Where for denser snow or heavy snow fall events, you may need to adjust your runs, or choose more powerful equipment.

Lastly, prior to getting going, think about the patrons of the lot or commercial property that you are clearing. For example try to avoid piling snow in vehicle traffics line of sight. Avoid making bottlenecks in vehicle traffic that could lead to less than desirable access to the property or lot. Don’t obstruct vision with snow piles or snow drifts at intersections. Of course, try to maximize the usable space for the patrons of the commercial lot or property and make their lives easier. The client will appreciate this, because their customers will have all the easier access to their business, home or property.

Pick the right tool for the job

There are many different types of snow plows to choose from. Taking an overview of the property will allow you to make an educated decision when it comes to the right snow plow for the site.

Getting to the property

When you’re travelling to and from the property you need to clear snow at it’s important to keep you snow plow blade tilted up and angled away. This will allow air to properly cool your engine, as the plow blade is not fully blocking the radiator.

Gear and drive selection

In a typical pickup truck you will want to want to be in 4Hi, as opposed to 4Lo. 4Hi will give you the traction you  need but also allow for a decent speed of snow clearing. For really tough conditions where you are stuck, consider 4Lo, or even locking differentials if you have the capability. For most scenarios, and up to a foot of snow, 4Hi should suffice. If you are really stuck, it might be worth chaining up your tires/wheels, but this is not going to be the norm. For most residential or commercial Calgary snow plowing you are simply not going to need chains. But some back country or acreage snow plowing might necessitate it.

Safety first

Prior to starting plowing it’s imperative that you have your seatbelt securely fasted. If whilst plowing you come in contact with a subsurface condition such as speed bump or a curb, this can send a shock through the snow plow and into the cab. To avoid you lurching forward when and if your truck abruptly comes to a stop, it would be wise to be securely seated with seat belt fastened. On that note, and to lessen the likelihood of any collisions or loss of control of the snow plow truck, don’t drive distracted. Stay focused on what you are doing. Virginia Tech Transportation Institute notes the likelihood of a collision is increased 3.6 times when using an electronic device. Now take this statistic and apply to a much heavier and serious piece of equipment such as a snow plow truck, the risks far outweigh the benefits. If you need to take a call, stop what you are doing, or use Bluetooth, and definitely don’t text and drive. On a final safety note, if you feel you are too tired to safely complete the task, take a break, maybe have a coffee or a rest, and return when you are fully bright bodied ready to safely complete the snow plow work.

Obstructions and snow plowing tight to objects

If you are getting close to obstacles you can use an edging technique. In most cases, you will need to be perpendicular to the obstruction. The goal is to remove as much snow as possible adjacent to the obstruction on the property without hitting it. So, slow speed is the way to go in this capacity. Generally it would be best to angle the snow blade away from the obstacle.

In other cases, in a tight spot on the property, it may be too difficult to come in perpendicular. So for these scenarios you can drive up to the obstruction, or portion of the building, and back-blade the snow out. Back-blading is when you drive up to a snow pile, tile the snow plow blade down, and drag the snow away from the item. In this sense this allows you to get up close with the obstruction or item. As opposed to edging the snow plow blade perpendicular to the obstruction, coming up with the snow plow blade parallel to the object will have a less likelihood of hitting the target inadvertently.

Typical snow plow error

The most common error that new snow plow operators make is to hit an obstruction, subsurface condition, curb, or other item. This generally happens when the operator is unfamiliar with the width of the plow, where their wheels are, or where the wings are. Get familiar with your snow plow truck and blade, and make sure you get lots of practice in a free lot prior to taking on commercial work. While it’s great to learn on the job, there is allot that goes into plowing snow efficiently and safely, without damaging your equipment, or the property.

Using a windrow method

The windrow is a line of snow that gets left behind on one or both sides of a snow plow truck as passes are made. Generally with a straight blade plow the snow will fall off to one side, the side to which you have angled the blade. This will ensure that the areas you have passed over already will not get overspill, as the blade of the plow is angled away from the area you have just finished. As to avoid having to readjust the angle of the plow each time, at the end of pass, just reverse. What ever the width of the truck is where you reline up for your subsequent pass.

Reversing can be a great way to make up time

With caution, reversing with decent speed can be a great way to make up time in your snow plowing. This is especially the case for a basic lot. Only do this if you can be sure there are no obstacles behind you, or vehicle traffic that you need to look out for. In any case, look behind you as you reverse. If you have additional lighting at the rear of the vehicle, this would also be ideal.

Understanding winds

Understanding the winds is important. Usually you want your windrow coordinated with the direction that the wind is blowing. Don’t want to have allot of overspill being blown back into the area you just plowed.

Using momentum

A skilled snow plow operator understands that getting bogged down and having to reverse and reattack the same portion of snow is due to lack of momentum. You can use momentum to your advantage, so pick up enough speed and see that the snow will start rolling or turning over on itself as you plow. This is ideal. If you can plow with enough speed, the momentum of the snow accumulating and being lifted will continue until you are done your pass.

Maintaining path of travel

Generally speaking if the property allows for it you will want to be plowing in a straight line. As you push more and more snow, especially as you’re creating windrows, the snow build up is going to want to push your vehicle out a bit. This will generally be the direction to which your plow blade is angled. You might need to counteract by counter steering against the windrow or snow drift in this case, which will help to keep your plow run straight.

Come fully fueled

This one should be obvious, but bring your snow plow truck fully fueled to property. You don’t want to be having to leave a property to go fuel up mid way through the job. This is inefficient, and depending on the time you are plowing, there may not be a nearby gas station available to you. Consider most snow plow jobs are best started at night or in the early morning, or after or during a snow fall event.

Mark the site properly

Utilize marking flags, cones, or other means to clearly identify routes of clearing. You can also mark obstructions and sub surface conditions that you’ll want to avoid, as to prevent damage to them, but also your snow plow equipment and setup.

Plow early, plow often

It’s best to stay on top of the weather when it comes to snow plowing. Don’t wait until after a heavy snow fall event, it’s best to tackle it near it’s end or while it’s happening. There are limitations to what a typical snow plow equipped pick-up truck can handle. If snow is let to accumulate too deep, it’s going to be very difficult to efficiently clear the snow, there will simply be too much snow mass. So revisit properties as you need and plan accordingly around snow fall events. Ongoing maintenance is better and easier on you and your equipment than clearing large build ups of snow.

Keep an accurate log

You’ll want to keep an accurate log of what you are doing. This includes the snow depth, time spent, fuel spent, and general methods you used. This is beneficial if you are doing subcontract work, or work for a client and need to prove time and material costs. In addition, keeping an accurate record of your work will let you make performance increases on the next pass to the property, tracking your time accordingly.

Need more snow plow information?

Watch this awesome snow plowing 101 video!

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