Michigan Stadium snow removal is massive task; Wolverines say cold is no problem

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor – The activity at Michigan Stadium was brisk Thursday as truck after truck rolled up the stadium tunnel with flatbeds full of snow to dump in an ever-growing pile.

A record-breaking 11 inches fell in Ann Arbor on Monday into Tuesday morning, the highest-recorded snowfall in Metro Detroit that day, according to the National Weather Service. It created mayhem on the roads and has had a lingering effect on the Big House, which is making final preparations or Saturday’s noon in-state rivalry game when Michigan plays Michigan State.

There is no room on the sidelines to push the snow, so crews have been diligently working to clear the field and seats in Michigan Stadium, which has a capacity of 107,601. This has been highly unusual work for the stadium crew in November.

Workers remove snow from Michigan Stadium on Thursday.

“Staff started the process of removing snow from inside and around Michigan Stadium first-thing Tuesday morning,” said Kurt Svoboda, Michigan associate athletic director for external communications and public relations. “That work continues throughout the week as it is no small task.”

Shoveling a driveway or a patch of sidewalk is one thing. But consider the mammoth undertaking of clearing out massive Michigan Stadium.

“Our primary focus is to ensure a safe playing surface for the student-athletes,” Svoboda said Thursday. “We will also remove as much snow as possible from the seats while placing additional emphasis on safe passageways throughout the complex.”

The crew is making sure the walking surfaces are safe, hand rails are accessible and sidewalks are clear and salted.

Parking locations could be at a premium considering Ann Arbor Golf and Outing is closed, as well as the University of Michigan Golf Course. Svoboda suggest fans traveling to the game access UM's Division of Public Safety WAZE page, which will be updated in real-time beginning Saturday morning and will offer parking suggestions and information on shuttle services.

The priority for the crews has been making sure the playing surface for the 14th-ranked Wolverines (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) and Spartans (4-5, 2-4) is clear of any snow.

The forecast calls for 31 degrees on Saturday, and it is expected to be sunny. That's plenty cold, but Michigan quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels said that won’t be an issue.

“My experience is cold is cold,” McDaniels said this week. “It’s gotta get pretty darn cold to factor in, in my opinion. Some guys wear gloves, some guys don’t. That’s a topic of discussion for quarterbacks. My experience coaching guys and some playing experience, once you get running around you get pretty comfortable and you get used to the environment.

“Those frigid temperatures might affect, at some point, your ability to hold the ball. The feel of the ball is different as it gets colder, but we should be in great shape this weekend.”

Chris Partridge, who coaches safeties and coordinates special teams, said the weather is the weather and the players just have to deal with it. The Wolverines have practiced outside this week.

“I don’t think it sucks,” Partridge said Wednesday. “I mean, we’re in Michigan. We’re not gonna say, ‘Oh, it’s gonna be warm.’ We’re gonna go out and we’re gonna deal with it. I think that’s important for the players, too. It’s like, ‘OK, well, it’s cold out. So, we’re gonna stay inside the whole time (for practice)?’ Well no, we play in Michigan. This is what it is, so go out there and enjoy it.

“I didn’t hear one complaint, I didn’t hear anything. We were in and out and we rolled and that’s it.”

But Partridge realized he could have been smarter.

“Probably could have dressed myself a little warmer,” he said, jokingly.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh watches his team warm up in the rain before facing Notre Dame in October.

Rain is more of an issue during a football game than snow or cold. Michigan’s game against Notre Dame on Oct. 26 was rainy and windy for more than a half. But rain, wind and snow are all part of playing football in this part of the country.

“I don’t think cold weather factors much into a game plan,” McDaniels said. “The rain certainly did a couple weeks ago, there’s no doubt about that.

“Snow is less of a factor than rain typically is, in my opinion. You just try and pay attention to the forecast, you hope that they’re right as you’re building your plan through the week. If they’re wrong, you adjust as late as you have to adjust. That’s what we get paid to do.”

Partridge said the Wolverines enjoyed the environment of the lousy-weather night game against Notre Dame. Michigan prevailed, 45-14, and ran for 303 yards.

“I actually said it to someone before the game when we came off the field, ‘That’s our best warmup I’ve ever seen.’ They went out there and literally didn’t notice the cold, the rain, nothing. They just warmed up like it was nothing," Partridge said. "And it’s probably because we just embraced it, like, ‘Oh, it’s raining out.’ Are we just gonna stay inside all day? No. Go out there and throw the ball around. Have fun. Go back inside, don’t talk about it, don’t complain about it, just go.

“I think that’s a big factor and that’s really Jim (Harbaugh’s) personality. He can walk outside and everyone else will be like, ‘Damn, it’s pouring out!’ and he’ll be coaching his butt off, not even noticing it’s raining. You’re like, ‘Does this guy even know it’s raining and it’s freezing?!’ But the team gains that personality of who coaches it. That’s who they become. So we went out at Notre Dame and I don’t even know if anybody noticed it was raining.”

Michigan State at Michigan

Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: Fox/760, 950

Records: Michigan State 4-5, 2-4 Big Ten; Michigan 7-2, 4-2

Line: Michigan by 14