Building in the mountains is considerably different than building in Denver. Weather … logistics … manpower … these all come into play and require planning well in advance. Some things may seem obvious: for instance, there’s snow on the ground more months out of the year. But there are other aspects you may not have considered, like the fact that once that snow falls, it doesn’t melt like it often does in Denver. It just keeps building up. What does something like that mean to a construction project? I asked the experts.
Talking to the Experts
Haselden Senior Superintendent Shawn Morrison and Field Operations Manager Dan Nelson have been building in the mountains for 19 years and 25 years, respectively. Their expertise is invaluable to the company, bringing insight to mountain projects that helps ensure their success. A recent interview uncovered what the main issues to be aware of when working at altitude are.
Although this seems apparent, there may be elements you haven’t thought about. We all know Colorado weather is infamous for its unpredictability. However, at a higher altitude, those weather issues are exacerbated. Snow can begin as early as September and sometimes last through May; the ground can stay frozen even past that. At high altitudes, the snow doesn’t melt the next day or the next week like it often does in the Denver area. Once it falls, it’s there to stay!
That snowfall results in a few extra considerations the superintendents and project managers have to take into account, namely because they can affect schedule, budget, and logistics. The snow that accumulates has to be moved off site. As the general contractor, we need to arrange not only for transporting the snow but finding a place to put it. Of course, there’s a cost associated with this—both monetary and time-wise—that needs to be planned for accordingly. Another impact that snow can have on projects is that it can literally bury materials. Organization is essential and taking a few simple steps at the start of
Senior Superintendent, Western Region
“Building in the mountains really revolves around making sure your team is prepared for unknown circumstances, whether that’s a sudden, unexpected freeze or a finding a boulder the size of a truck during excavation.”
Field Operations Manager, Western Region
“I think the biggest thing when you’re working in the mountains is you have to understand that you need to get out of the ground, get your structure up, and get dried in by November. Past Halloween, you’re living on borrowed time.”
the winter season can make a world of difference. Two examples of this are covering materials that can be damaged by the elements and marking the location of materials with flags or indicators so they aren’t inadvertently driven over once they are covered under feet of snow.
Before contemplating managing materials during snowfall, you have to get the materials to the site in the first place. And getting the materials when you need them and where they need to be can be challenging. A project’s proximity to an interstate directly impacts the ease of receiving supplies. Again, planning is paramount. In Denver, many times it’s possible to call a lumber yard and get a same-day delivery; in the mountains, it’s often necessary to give several weeks’ notice to a yard before you need your materials.
The issue here is twofold: 1) finding enough men and women to perform the necessary tasks; and 2) finding people who understand the nuances of working in the mountains. It’s no secret that the construction industry is facing a manpower shortage, even in the metro areas. In the mountains, this problem is even more pronounced. It’s also compounded by difficulty finding local companies able to take on the large projects Haselden often builds. How do we tackle this issue? We often combine our own self-perform teams with a smaller local company or team a larger Denver company with a local company. This keeps the local participation and knowledge on the project while bringing in the necessary workforce.
Weather, manpower, and logistics are the big three considerations, but there are many related issues that intertwine with those. For instance: site fencing. Fencing takes a constant beating from having plows throw snow against them for months on end. A simple fix like putting the fence on top of type-4 concrete barriers avoids that problem.
Simply put, building in the mountains is a different beast. And it’s one that Haselden Construction is well-versed in. We have a fully-staffed office in Glenwood Springs with teams that reside full-time in the mountain communities. If you’re looking to build a project in the mountains, we’re here to fulfill your needs completely.