Summer may be just coming to an end, but the city of Calgary is already preparing for winter in a big way.

When the snow hits, it’s a huge responsibility for new staff to operate a 25-tonne grader, so the city is using a new state of the art simulator to safely teach employees.

"It feels a lot like a video game, most definitely," said city employee Glen Halvorson.

Halvorson, a long-time city staffer, is upgrading his skills as a grader operator.


City employee Glen Halvorson uses the city's new $35,000 grader simulator. (Terri Trembath/ CBC)

"That was a hard transition was to get used to, the fact there was no steering wheel in front of you, nothing to hold onto," he said.

Instead, there are graphics on a screen and numerous buttons on joysticks.

Trainees follow instructions on the screen and the simulator keeps track of errors and the time it takes to complete each exercise.

No easy exercise

Kevin Galley, one of the program's trainers, said the machine puts students through a gauntlet of scenarios.

"They have to be able to manoeuvre through some of the more narrow tracks," Galley said. "They have to actually tuck the blade under the machine and articulate the machine as well. The machine will bend in the middle so that's the only way to get through some of these courses."

Real graders are still used in training courses, but Galley says it’s safe to introduce new drivers to the simulator first.

"It takes a lot away, the trial and error that might happen on a first encounter with this type of machine," Galley said. "Where now with the virtual learning, you can make errors you can make mistakes and there's no damage, no harm, no foul."

The city spent about $35,000 on the simulator.

It also uses similar machines for training drivers of C-Trains and fire trucks.