The Steamboat Springs Airport in Colorado has been getting plenty of snow this year, and the airport operators say they've successfully tested a new method for dealing with snow that's safer and more economical than just plowing it out of the way. Crews have instead been compacting the snow and using it as part of an arresting system that slows and supports airplanes that overshoot the landing strip. The new process also eliminates the abrupt snowbanks, up to 20 inches high, that in the past could flip airplanes that ran off course.
Airport manager Mel Baker told SteamboatToday.com that it's "pretty common" for airplanes to run off the runway at the airport, due to the weather and the challenges of high-altitude mountain flying. Baker recalled an incident in 2009 when a airplane exited the runway, hit a snowbank, flipped over, and was totaled. An airplane that ran off the runway in the same spot in December was not damaged at all. The tilled and compacted snow slowed and supported the airplane until it stopped. "I was amazed," said pilot Stephen Textor. "I was ready for the nose to drop and the propeller to hit the ground ... I thought the plane was going to be a total loss. Somebody had a really good idea and I'm glad." Baker said he believes his airport is the first to use snow as part of an arresting system.