Long Rural Driveway Snow Removal Options
September 11, 2016 6:36 PM   Subscribe

I live in Montana, out in the sticks. I have a really long driveway. It snows quite a bit. I have an okayish snow blower, a pickup truck, and some money saved up.... What now?

For 2 years (of below average snowfall) I've maintained our (third of a mile, switchback, unpaved) driveway with a snowblower. It's a decent mid-grade machine, but only 26" wide. This seems insane to most people, but I find it's not that bad, maybe about 45-60 minutes of work to do the whole thing, on average once or twice a week during the winter (of course varies with snowfall). I am worried that in a year with a lot of snowfall (projected: this year) it is going to be really miserable.

I've considered buying a plow for my truck, but it's on the lighter side (Tacoma) and I fear that there are no great serious plow options for it -- and that I'll end up spending >$3k on a wimpy composite plow better suited for a straight, flat, and small driveway. And then I'll just be out there with the snow blower again after it snaps it half, or just can't push the snow, only a bit lighter in the wallet.

So, here are the options I think I have in front of me:
Option one: just keep snowblowing with the current machine until it actually gets unbearable.
Option two: get a plow for my truck, hope there is one that is able to handle the snow + driveway, and doesn't ruin my truck.
Option three: buy the biggest, best snow blower out there. Tracks, 45" width, power steering, the whole enchilada.
Option four: buy an ATV with a plow? This just seems as cold and slow as the snowblower, with possibly less effectiveness.
Option five: buy an old, massive, cheap beater pickup with an immense steel plow. Seems like it would work, but now I've got this beater truck I have to think about and park some place, etc.
Option six: many of my neighbors have tractors, loaders and skid steers for exactly this reason. I would *love* to have a skid steer, but it's definitely out of my price range right now.

Other options I'm missing? What's your experience with various sort-of-serious residential snow removal options?
posted by so fucking future to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have a snowblower of that size for my (smaller and paved) driveway in the moderately snowy northeast. It works fine for our setup, but I'm also forever jealous of my friend with the heavy duty beater pickup and the plow. I think he picked it up for ~$4K (including plow) which isn't nothing, but it's also not too bad.

An additional option: if you have all these neighbors with serious plowing setups, would they maybe plow you out from the really heavy snows for ~$20 a piece and you could take care of the rest with your snowblower?
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:06 PM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Do it yourself as you have been until it gets to be too much; then hire someone to plow you out.

(I also leave my car near the end of my driveway when I know a big storm is coming so I have less to dig out.)
posted by metasarah at 7:22 PM on September 11, 2016

How do you mow your lawn? Reason I ask is because if you have a ride on mower or a tractor you could also get a plow for that. Or invest in something that would handle your lawn in better weather and your driveway in worse weather? Where I live in Vermont we have real snow season and people with driveways like yours usually either go the beater with plow route (and get farm plates on it so they don't have to pay a lot in registration, don't know if this is an option in Montana) or pay someone to handle it. If it's just you and you don't mind the current routine, I'd just keep on keeping on until something forces your hand.
posted by jessamyn at 7:26 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm unlikely to hire a plow (on a regular basis) -- a little because that's just not really my style, but mostly it would be inordinately expensive to do regularly. Tractor having neighbors would absolutely help me in pinch, but none would want to be a regular solution, regardless of money.

No lawn to maintain, it's mostly wooded, so don't have or need a riding mower.
posted by so fucking future at 7:32 PM on September 11, 2016

Nthing the beater truck + plow idea, that's what most people did in my neck of the woods (no woods anywhere, SD) if they couldn't or didn't want to go in for a dedicated blower or plow. Some models of plow are pretty easily removable with the right mount if you don't want to drive around with a plow all the time. That's a good option if snow is not bad enough for the plow very often.

If space is a real issue, I've known people who used a plow on front of a beater ATV. I can't speak to how much they cost, but if parking a dedicated snow plow is an issue it might work out for you.

My parents' strategy for keeping a long driveway clear of snow was just having a couple kids with shovels, so I'd consider that if it is an option. It seemed to work out well for them for about 10 years.
posted by neonrev at 8:17 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I know you don't want to inconvenience your neighbors. But teens (w/truck) might jump at doing easy jobs like this for a little cash occasionally. And does craigslist serve your area?
posted by artdrectr at 8:57 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I used to have a small truck with a plow to plow a much shorter driveway and the old lady next door's driveway. The truck was nearing the end of its life for sure, but the plowing hastened the end. It puts a decent strain on your engine when there is a lot of wet snow. Also, because it was a small pickup the weight of the plow materially affected the driving because of how light the back of the truck was when empty. Eventually I started keeping some logs and some huge tubs of sand back there to counter weight the plow. That did not help the engine either.

If it were me, I would get a big ATV and put a plow on it or a small tractor and put a plow on that. That is not a cheap option, but I think it will be the most efficient. Also, I would plow throughout the snow fall rather than waiting for it to end and doing it all at once. Maybe go out there every 6" or so.

I also think it reasonable to keep your current blower and see how it goes, but it is hard to change that setup midwinter. Probably have much more availability on all your options now and likely cheaper to buy it when you can, not when you have to.

You did not mention it as an option, but a few years here in the North East, I simply drove over the snow in my F-150. IF the tracks got icey, I would put down sand. The only place I cleared was the walks and the area where I parked my truck and turned it around. The actual drive, a bit shorter than yours, was left to be driven over. My wife initially thought it was "a stupid fucking idea" because she had a mini-van with our three elementary school age kids in it, but came to actually appreciate it and suggested we do it again the 2nd year.

At my cabin in the Adirondacks which gets a lot of snow and is usually -15F degrees overnight, I actually purchased an old bulldozer. I got it at a local municipal auction. I think it cost me $1,900. It was sort of a rust bucket, but I was able to push the snow down the drive and onto the frozen lake. Never got stuck once.
posted by AugustWest at 10:18 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm from MT and live in UT though I wasn't living in rural areas - we had friends who did. I mostly saw people with plows on older vehicles. I sometimes saw plows on big nicer trucks that were put on during big storms. And on ATVs.

However, at my last job in UT our owner would bring his ATV with a plow on it for our parking lot. It took hardly any time.

So I'm not sure how an ATV would compare to a tractor - especially used. However an ATV at least has more uses than just plowing and could be a fun thing for summer!
posted by Crystalinne at 10:27 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

My dad has a Bobcat with a blade on it to plow his long driveway. I am pretty sure he bought both used.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:28 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I assume you can expect too much snow in a single storm, given your driveway, for option 7: fuck it, just drive on the snow or option 8: replace current vehicle for one with enough clearance etc just drive on the snow to be at all realistic?

(I only ask because I live in metro Buffalo which has recalibrated my OH GOD WHERE IS THE PLOW versus eh-fuck-it comparator)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:03 PM on September 11, 2016

Growing up with a very long driveway... The normal solution was a beater truck and plow. The thing doesn't even need registration or insurance. Put gas it in with a can.
posted by k8t at 12:17 AM on September 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Growing up in Michigan's lake-effect snow zone I spent many a winter day plowing our driveway with the lawn tractor. Switching the accessory equipment from lawn-mower to leaf vacuum to snow blower was one of the rituals that marked the changing of the seasons..

Also, have you considered putting up a snow fence (or fences) along the driveway to control drifting snow to reduce the amount of removal you have to do? Once a drift starts forming on the windward side of the fence it can do a lot to block snow deposition on the leeward side. They can be quite useful if you have strong winds (which I think of Montana as having, though possibly not your part of Montana) that mostly blow from a predictable direction.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:51 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you get a beater truck and you never want to use it for anything other than yardwork, you don't even need to register or insure it. Park it in the woods next to your driveway. It's going to be cheaper than a new ATV, and warmer inside. You may find other uses for it such as hauling debris and pulling stumps.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:12 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

We have an ATV with plow and a tractor with a blade. I don't do the plowing, so I'm repeating my husband's opinions here, but the ATV is so much easier to drive and it doesn't need the frequent, expensive maintenance that the tractor needs. It takes more passes to clear the driveway with the ATV than with the tractor, of course, but the ATV can be used in tight corners (e.g., walkways around the house) that he can't do with the tractor, so it doesn't really take more time overall; if he uses the tractor, we have to hand-shovel all the areas it can't get into. And as Crystalline said, ATVs are useful for a lot of other things. It wasn't cheap--you could get a beater truck and a blade for about what a good ATV costs--but he farms so it is used year-round... And unlike a truck, we don't have to add it to our car insurance.
posted by xylothek at 7:26 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

We tried "just drive on it" for the first year -- it worked for a bit, but we had to give up after a big storm. It's too long, too steep, and snows too much to get away with that for very long. Plus the UPS guy just totally writes us off if we don't actually move the snow.

Finally, this is mountainous western Montana -- no snow fences will help, we pretty much live in the forest.

Thanks for all the answers, definitely a beater truck is sounding better and better (was probably my personal leaning before asking).
posted by so fucking future at 8:03 AM on September 12, 2016

I have a long, steep driveway in snowy Vermont, and about 5 years or so ago I had a Fisher homesteader mounted to my truck. I am glad I did. I had never used a plow before and it is dead simple. They mount the frame to the truck (mine is a 2003 Tacoma) and then the plow can be removed as needed. The first time I sat at the top of my steep drive with that plow attached I was terrified, but it became easier.

Before I bought the Fisher I bought a beater truck and it became a money pit.

Hope this helps. Jessamyn alerted me to the thread. MeMail me if you need more details.
posted by terrapin at 8:34 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Here in CT, most of the "for hire" driveway plowers use pickup+plow, though some use a snowblower. I think it depends on capital investment plus whether you expect to do places to cramped for plowing to work well.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:40 AM on September 12, 2016

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