TALE – A SNOWCAT OPERATOR
by Director of Mountain Operations, Artie Speicher
To the vast majority of us who leave behind carved-up slopes and return the next morning to find smooth perfect corduroy surfaces, what happens under the cover of darkness is a little like magic. In reality, it’s not, grooming is part snow science, part instinct, long high-energy playlist, much caffeine, and—even though those tough-as-nails groomers might not admit it—a lot of love for the mountain and snow.
Set the scene: It’s now 9:30pm and velvety dark has swallowed the slopes, save for the snowcat’s headlight beams, which lead the way uphill, then downhill, then uphill again. On the back of the snowcat is a tiller, which first churns the snow, then presses it into corduroy. Marshall Lewis is using it to groom Wisp Trail, one of Wisp’s green-circle runs. Marshall is the grooming supervisor leading a team of hardy men, who seem to thrive on a lack of sleep.
His job seems as rad as everyone says it is, but he does not seem bothered by its oddities: working almost solo, in the dark, and all night long. The night is the opposite of the hectic busy day that had occurred on the resorts slopes. It is a peaceful night, the stars, the wildlife, the graveyard shift’s sunrise; the views from the top of the mountain all are some of the reasons why he and his crew love what they do. However, it runs deeper than that, they take great pride in providing smooth perfect corduroy runs behind each pass of the machine.
He gets a radio call from one of the other snowcat operators working in North Camp, where snowmaking has been running most of the night, he asks for some help as the piles of freshly made snow are quite large. Marshall aims his machine and heads to the North Camp area. When he arrives he raises the tiller and starts to spread the snow across the slope. He moves the snowcat back and forth across the trail each time pushing the snow from the huge pile to spread it to an even coverage on the grassy slope with precision, his hands moving like grease lightning as he controls both the power to the tracks and the blade on the front of the machine which seems to move in many directions but always leaving a smooth even surface.
The crew will continue the process throughout the night 10 to 12 hours on the shift. They will generally meet at the shop for a dinner break and to re-fuel their machines. It is a job that requires long hours, but like the snowmakers, the groomers are an integral part of providing a great snow surface and are an important part of Wisp’s Mountain Operations Team.Last Edited by The Wisperer on Saturday, January 07, 2017
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