Econ 919 — Plowing through a snowy season

Apr 16, 2021

Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

It’s been a long and wet winter, but the snow in Southcentral is finally melting.

If you’re in the business of snow removal, like Alex Matiaco, that means it’s the end of your season. After years of plowing for others, he started his own snow removal business this year — K-Beach Plowing.

He's happy with how his season went. By the end of February, Matiaco said, he had 25 contracted clients.

KDLL: So, this winter felt like the winter that kept on giving in terms of snow. How did it compare, from your perspective, with other seasons and how did that impact your business?

AM: You know, it’s interesting because just looking back at the records from this year and last year, I feel like we plowed a similar amount of times, but I think the snow came at different times. And so, for me, it seemed we got a lot, the snow kept coming. And we got some pretty big storms that were really close to each other.

There was one week where I plowed the same accounts three times in the same week, where back in December, I only plowed them twice a month. And so that was definitely kind of hard to deal with as far as customers, just making sure everyone gets taken care of.

KDLL: Obviously, snow for you means more business. But, of course, you’re human, too, and more snow also means more winter. Do you find yourself wanting more snow, or are you welcoming the end of this winter season?

AM: Ah, man. My wife wants the snow to be gone. She doesn’t love it. She grew up here and she’s kind of tired of the cold and the six- to seven-month-long winters. 

For me, I had no problem getting the amount of snow we did this year and I’d love to get another four or five snowfalls — which is not going to happen — mainly just because of how expensive it is to start a business in the first year.

KDLL: Why’d you decide to start your own business this year? What went into that decision?

AM: Well, I’ve wanted to do it for the last couple years. But we moved back up to Alaska in 2017 and that’s when I had started. I plowed ’17, ’18, ’19 for someone else. And I felt like I was kind of running a lot of the stuff.

I did it myself back in Idaho before we moved up here and I like being my own boss and I like working with people and the flexibility it gives. My wife works full time as an emergency dispatcher and so not having to go to work every single day allows me to still take care of my two children, and then we just kind of wing it when it snows and figure out what to do with the kids.

KDLL: It seems like — you think of one end of K-Beach to another, the snow coverage could really differ, and just kind of these micro-climates that we have here on the peninsula — I imagine, depending on where you go, things could be really different. Do you find that that’s true? Do you find that sometimes there’s more demand on even one part of that singular road than the other?

AM: Definitely. So the guy I used to work with, we would plow from Nikiski to Funny River to Sterling out to Kasilof. And typically, Nikiski had at least 4 to 6 inches more snow than other places. A lot of it was because the wind blows, it seems like, more out there, and it’s drifting. Also, the weather in Nikiski seems like it’s always 5 to 10 degrees warmer than it is in Soldotna and Kenai and that allows it to snow more, I think.

And then I head out to Funny River for a family friend I plow for, and we’ll get 2 to 3 inches here at my house on K-Beach and he’ll have 9 to 10 out there.

So it is kind of hard, spreading out. And that’s why I try to consolidate my business into one general area.

KDLL: How do you know when it’s time to put your equipment away? Because we get all these false endings to winter. How do you know when it’s actually over, for real?

AM: Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s interesting because I’m part of a lot of snowplowing forums and pages on Facebook for the rest of the country. And two months ago, all the guys were putting their equipment away, getting ready for landscaping and lawn mowers and oil changes and stuff. And I’m sitting here and we got 12 inches of snow the previous night and there’s three feet of snow in my yard, and we’re like, ‘What is going on?’ You know? 

In Alaska, it depends on if you’re doing commercial or residential accounts, it makes a big difference. If you get a 6-inch storm and a commercial account at the end of April, you have to take care of it, for the safety of the clients. And residential stuff, if it’s going to be 45 degrees the next day, it’ll be melted in a day and a half — a lot of the customers just want to melt and let it go.