LITTLE FALLS, Minn. (WCCO) — Fall has only just gotten started, but road crews are already preparing for snow.

There is a major training operation up north to get snow plow operators ready for winter. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is in its 14th year of hosting the SPOT program at Camp Ripley. SPOT stands for Snow Plow Operating Training.

The program makes sure operators know how to safely clear off roads when the flakes start falling.

There’s a new fleet of trainees coming out of Camp Ripley.

“It’s a big operation to get everybody up here,” Rick Shomion with MnDOT said.

No, they’re not in the military. They’re here to learn how to tackle the snow — even when it’s not on the ground yet.

“We’re pretty much planning all year round getting ready for the next year,” Shomion, maintenance training coordinator for MnDOT, said.

MnDOT has trained more than 1,700 snow plow operators at Camp Ripley since 2004. On Wednesday, more than 100 operators are getting in driving hours on the rodeo course — they also have classroom hours.

“They’re working on things like speed and space management, railroad crossings, defensive driving,” Shomion said.

Just getting up into a plow is a challenge. Operators spend at least eight hours maneuvering the plow- that weighs 24,000 pounds without sand.

“And then you throw them out on the road where they’re dealing with traffic, mailboxes, snow being thrown up by the plow,” Shomion said.

In the end, they take a road test to prove they’re ready for the real thing. It’s two weeks of training for skills they’ll use as long as winter hangs around.

“They take pride in what they do, want to do a good job and want the roads safe for everybody,” Shomion said.

MnDOT also has another SPOT session for plow operators coming up in October. And It’s not just MnDOT employees. They also train plow operators from cities and counties as well.

Kate Raddatz