Thursday, December 31, 2009

I Don't Know Why...

I had a good night at work despite having to park my favorite cat and finish my shift in another one. We got the job done, I even spent most of an hour re-contouring a spot on the Mountain that hasn't gotten the treatment for almost ten years! Change is afoot on My Mountain, and that's a good thing, but still it can be uncomfortable.

Now that the Fleet is All-BR350's, we save on average one shift-worth of time every night (except on Heavy Storm Nights) This is allowing us to re-order our priorities, to "leap back to the Future" in that many of the little details that we used to do, but dismissed in our rush for better production, can now be resurrected, and put back on our plates. This is great news, because I miss doing all the little things that made the mountain special.

These little projects are like cosmetic surgery...subtle-style. We don't remake the Mountain per se, but just make small changes that make the mountain flow better, look better, and feel better to our guests. We're not trying to turn the Wallflower into a Va-Va-Voom Pinup Girl, but we're just trying to make the Mountain more like your favorite comfy T-shirt or favorite old Levis...we're gettin' to fluff the goose down pillows before we place a handfull of mints on them now.

So why did I have this feeling of foreboding when I finished up this morning? I don't know why...maybe it's one of those Quiet/Too Quiet deals from Classic Cinema...I got a full shift in, as did my crew...we even re-rolled some Home Runs that accumulated 4-6 inches after we groomed them the first time around. Maybe it was the 80+ MPH wind gusts over the Ridgetops this morning, or maybe the road closure early last night when an accident blocked the Old Highway that I drive to work on... I can't say because I don't have my finger on it yet...

Don't misunderstand is good, work is nearly effortless and wholly engaging, but there's a little something that piques my attention...vague, elusive, unfelt and unknown at this time...perhaps it's nothing...if it is something, I'll know soon enough.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Up All Night Off

So here I am staying up all night on my One-Day Weekend. I've been fiddling with my computer stuff, trying to get my DSL Modem to play nice with my Wireless Router...alas, no amount of online self-help wizards, FAQ pages, downloaded .pdf Manuals and trying it again could tame the beast. I paid the freight for $29.99 with my ISP and a nice fellow in Upstate New York helped walk me through the arcane steps the manufacturer of the router, the modem, and the ISP keep hidden from me, the "valued end user".

So, now everything works...unless I plug in my laser printer...this seems to overrule every other USB port, and of course I'm on a USB Wireless Adapter...I "look forward to" setting up a home network so I can connect the laser printer to the LAN instead of the USB way...I'll be reading the printer manual 'till sunrise I suspect.

To be a comfortable Graveyard Guy, you need to stay up on your nights off. I'll roast a turkey while I'm at it! Turkey sandwiches this I love turkey sandwiches!

06:30 Update
The DaveCave smells of roasting turkey now, and the laser printer talks to my new network. Simple really, just run every Windows Wizard you no avail...go to filing cabinet...find and read laser printer Starter Guide and follow the directions! Simple! Reinstall the drivers, restart the laptop, and voilà, I'm in the 21st Century! Look Ma, no wires!

Can I say that it gripes the Hell out of me that the info isn't in the Basic Operation Guide (the 100+ page manual)? It directs you to the eManual on the CD, which doesn't tell you how to add your new laser printer to your network either...OK it works, and I was staying up all night anyway...

Now I need a wireless print server use my Photo Printer without wires, but at least the laser machine isn't hogging all my laptop's resources now!

I'm so thankful that grooming a ski hill isn't so maddeningly technical! If you think about it though, Hi Tech is needlessly frustrating because the Tech Companies don't write the manuals for civilians...guys like me who don't speak Geek! It's like they try to make it all arcane instead of simple to understand!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The More

...things change, the more they stay the same, goes the old saw. BajaBabe emailed me a critique of my Christmas Blog asking if I was short on sleep because she detected a "whining undercurrent" in my screed.

Did you read the 23rd's Blog I countered? The one about my glorious fleet all broken down before I even got to work?

This has been my beloved world for most of Three Decades! I've seen the industry grow and evolve, everything about Ski Slope Grooming has changed, but one thing remains the same...the Achilles Heel of my Perfect World, the Bane of my Snowcat Existence! 2-Way Radios hate me!

It's the same thing every season. I get into my trusty old steed, or every three years, my brand new machine, and I key the mic to brag on air, and ...nothing...

Grooming is a Team Sport, I'm the Player/Coach, and my job is to talk my crew through the shift to insure maximum productivity and safety! That's Job Description in a nutshell.

So why is it that I have the radio that won't Transmit every single year? The Gods don't favor me? Bad karma from a previous life? All of the above and the petty stupidity of People in General? Yes and Yes in Spades!

This year's new Bison has a sweet, brand new Kenwood 2-Way GMRS Radio, the wire leads out of the back to the Antenna, the antenna is mounted atop the shiny new bright yellow cab, but the Radio Tech failed Antenna Installation 101, so the thing can't 2-way itself out of a paper bag in a pouring rain!

These beautiful yellow fiberglass cabs come stock with a molded-in Ground Plane (or Counter-Poise) to mount the 2-Way's Antenna on. Electronically, a transmitting Antenna needs the help of the Ground Plane to get the signal out. This Radio Tech missed the spot, so the radio is useless farther than you can shout.

Last year's new Bison had a perfectly good Motorola 2-Way and a decent antenna...but no cable connecting the radio to the antenna...Arrrggghhh! How does a Radio Tech miss that? Enquiring Minds want to know...

I could go on, and on, and nauseum, but this record has been stuck for almost 30 Years! I can't belabor the point one more can't speak for itself unless I'm parked right next to your cat!

That's no Undercurrent, Bajababe...that's what's known as a Tsunami! I don't surf, but I can imagine just what a ride this series of failure waves would make! The Big Screen Epic Story of My Career!

Hello? Testing 1, 2...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Makin' Corduroy

We had another good night. Everything ran fine, we rebuilt a bunch of trouble spots, and opened some new passes with ManMade snow. We opened the last two of our lifts in anticipation of epic crowds for the Holiday Week.

Another storm front is wandering around nearby, so there was wispy cloud cover obscuring the Milky Way. Temperatures were up overnight, but still decent snowmaking conditions prevailed. The darn TV Weatherman in Sacramento, said there's a chance of snow every night this whole week! Doesn't he know that we're in a New Grooming Machine Sweepstakes?! We need lots of skier visits...through the whole week!

The Real Weatherman, at the Reno NWS Office, says: we might get 2-5 inches overnight tonight, and maybe some light snow flurries in the middle of the week...not a word about every day this week! I hope the TV Guy's exuberance doesn't keep the folks at home and off my Mountain! (OK, in the Local Forecast the NWS does say slight chance, but the Reno AFD doesn't quibble with trifles!)

I've got a couple more nights to go in my six-day week...there's some issues with some of my tractors that need addressing, but because these are Stereo Problems, they fall pretty low on the hierarchy of the Vehicle Maintenance Crew...They don't spend ten hours a night in their machines! I think the stereos got reinstalled, without the antennas getting plugged in! D'oh!

Now that the daytime temps are up into the thirties, the pack is getting firmer every day. We already miss the frigid temps that dried the pack for the days after the last snowfall. Once the pack gets firm, the stereos wont play CDs without skipping, so radio is all we've got! Thankfully, the FM Transmitters for iPods reach the stereos from three feet away!

I'll get to work 15 minutes early tonight, and pull the headliner of my cat and see if my diagnosis is accurate. Sunday mornings are when I tune in NPR for my weekly dose of liberal pop-culture...I can't miss it!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Spirit

I watched for Santa...all night. He's sneaky that one! I didn't see the slightest glimmer of Rudolph's Nose, even with crystal clear skies. The Milky Way shone like a Christmas Garland on an Infinite Christmas Tree.

We had a quiet and pleasant shift. The cold air hanging in the area since the last pulse of weather has made the grooming go faster each night, as the frigid regime seems to "dry" the pack a little each day. I got to open some new terrain after sunrise, and the fleet ran sweetly without incident.

Today the whole fleet was running great at the end of our night, and all the cats were parked together around the power pole that runs the onboard heating systems while the groomers are shut down. After I shoveled off my trusty steed, and did a walk around to check for problems, I looked at the fleet and broke into a beaming smile, shouting to the Guys: "Look at this Fleet!" "Is this the best fleet we've ever had?"

I realized that Santa had been here, it just took a brilliant Christmas Morning among the Tractors to see his work. It looked like this: Two BR350's, two Bisons (One with the X Package) and two Sherpa Winches (Sherpas are BR350s w/ the Tower Winch), and one Ferrari Red Park Bully!

Christmas Eve we did 2400 visits, but today should be a Ghost Town. However, tomorrow we should see 5000-6000 happy guests. Sunday too...the Weatherman keeps downsizing the next little system...I think it's been downgraded to a kerfuffle now...

Man O Man! We are looking so good in the New Snowcat Sweepstakes! There's talk about running one less shift when we add another BR350/BisonX...I reminded the excited bigwigs that "all that magic goes out the window when a foot or more falls"...
Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I'm rootin' for the Home Team! Go Guys, Go!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

C-Note Already!

Here is my 100th blog! Looking over the past four months, I owe you readers an apology! Of the now 100 posts, more than half have strayed far afield of my Mission Statement...too much fishing, cooking, and whining about the weather forecast...not enough nuts and bolts grooming stuff.

Going forward, I promise to stick to the template...this might be easier now that I'm back in my Snowcat five nights a week. However, the sad reality is, I don't possess a disciplined mind like my Father and the scores of the more successful around me. I guess you could say I'm Reactive, not Pro-Active. Not always, but "being in the moment" is my Default Setting...being a Baby Boomer is a curse in many ways!

Last night, I returned to work after an overwrought "weekend" of struggling with issues at the DaveCave, and accomplishing nothing on my "To Do" list.

Walking up the Shop Road from the Groomer's Parking Lot, I was greeted by the worst possible sight...three new BR350 snowcats parked forlornly outside the Vehicle Shop in various states of disrepair...unfortunately, included in the sad rogue's gallery was my favorite machine...sigh...In it's stead, I did my first shift in our brand new Bison with the "X" only had 137 hours on the clock when I left the shop in her.

The Boss was at the shop, with his kneepads on, doing his best impression of a Vehicle Mechanic. The hand-off between Swing and Grave was a sad affair to say the least...we had more operators than we had cats for them to operate.

When the nights like this one conspire against the Grooming Crew, someone always says: "Moma said there'd be days like this"...Oh, I thought it, but didn't utter a word. The second year guys were pressed into service as Snowmaker Shock Troops pending the mending of their machines. A fair East Wind was upon us, and the mercury was in the teens...but the good snowmaking conditions were small compensation!

With clear, cold conditions, conditions were "fast"...just this side of "Hero Snow" as a matter of fact, but getting enthused when half the crew isn't contributing is outside of Accepted Groomer's Etiquette. Those of us still standing soldiered on, pending the arrival of the Graveyard Mechanic...

About the time the Graveyard Wrench punched in, another cat went down...a new winchcat lost it's winch, and while trying to remedy his troubles, he managed to loose a track as well! Fortunately, his cable wasn't crossing the whole Peak! This time I didn't allow myself to even think: "Moma said..."

With the handwriting on the wall, I wielded my trusty blue pencil, and fashioned a "Silk Purse Solution" from the "Sow's Ears" hand we were dealt.

Fortunately, Tuesday's 3600 Guests didn't do that much damage to the piste, and with good cold temps, the Workorders were reasonable...and highly customizable!

Around 5AM, one of the "Forlorn Three" went back online, and an operator was driven to the shop to warm it up and join the crew on the Mountain!

Well, I'm happy to report that my guys pulled another rabbit out of the hat! We got most of the list completed in time, and the edits weren't critical...I handed the Bison X over to the Park Groomer when I went in to refuel at 0700, and called it a day.

Our Guests would have plenty of Fresh Corduroy Groomers to please them, and more snowmaking helped the Park Crew in the building of our Pro Terrain Parks!

I got home so early, that I needed to kill hours before I could do my Reno errands. Nice weather continues through the Weekend, so the Mountain is looking good for the New Grooming Machine Sweepstakes!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Down Time/Days Off

Life never seems to follow my plan. Having a well thought out plan smoothes rough roads and increases productivity. So when Life Happens (while you're making other plans) it can be disconcerting...

Take today for example. A Simple Plan...stay up all night, do a load of laundry, and run errands in Reno while the clothes dry. All done before the little impulse of stormy weather makes driving a hassle Monday afternoon!

Simplicity itself...until reality set in. When the rinse and spin finished, I saw water on the floor under the laundry stack. Problem noted...soapy water on laundry closet floor...Simple. Mop it up, run the dryer, go to Reno.

OK, all done, and I hit the Dryer's Start Button...Nothing (except the 60 cycle hum of a stuck motor in the dryer)! Damn!

Here's where the "Best Laid Plans..." went off the rails. The "Laundry Room" in the DaveCave is really a small closet that does triple duty as the "Cleaning Closet", the "Laundry Room" and the "Pantry". There's no way to get into said closet to affect repairs, so all the stuff on the shelves, on the floor, and on top of the Laundry Stack need to be relocated. Next, disconnect both the water supply hoses, the 240V power plug, the washer drain and the dryer vent hose, and remove the shelving before walking the unit out of the closet and into the relative spaciousness of the entry hallway.

While hauling the stock out, I noticed the chewed hole through the plastic dryer vent hose....Hmm, critters...

Once I had the stack in the hall, my diagnosis began. I could only turn the dryer drum in one direction...something was jamming up the works... firing up my trusty Mini-Maglite, I peered into the dryer's exhaust and I saw a thicket of pine cones crammed into the end of the exhaust tact! These were "spent" pine cones...that is, the pine nuts had already been harvested by the furry little woodland creature prior to stashing his cache. The squirrel had jammed them into the squirrel cage fan that pushes the hot air through the dryer drum. I removed seven in all, but not before I totally disassembled the lion's share of the back of the dryer! All in all, it took me all afternoon to get 'er done...Reno will be there tomorrow...or Wednesday...

Whatta mess! A bushel of lint, mixed with a half dozen+ pine cones, and a side of Popcorn Kernels...ahh, nature. I remembered my landlord's wife had been engaged in a pitched battle with the local squirrels this Summer and Fall, as were most folks living in Truckee...Traps, Repellent Devices, and Poison Baits were all back ordered in every Truckee Hardware Store this year.

I wrote about the Folksy Nature Weather Forecast Analogs this summer...not exactly onion skins, or woolly worm coats, but locally celebrated all the same. Time will tell if this Winter lives up the the little critters' predictions.

Oh, the dryer's fixed. The laundry is dry and folded.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I just got off the Mountain. My first week back in my tractor is now in the books. My crew kicked ass last fact, I parked it at 06:30! Work orders completed, warmer conditions overnight made for Firm Pack Hero Conditions.

Sleep deprivation aside, It was an auspicious first week back for TruckeeDave.

Wednesday night, I checked out and warmed up my faithful Prinoth BR350, only to find the Operator's Throne all snafu-ed. No longer sliding front to back, there was enough room behind the seat for my ample carcass, but not enough room in front of the throne to commit to a 10 hour shift.

I jumped ship after 20 minutes to a newer, shiny Bison instead. (The Bison is a Prinoth BR350 with a few popular updates) A longer stinger carries a High Lift Tiller, the Pumps and Motors are Rexroth's instead of the Sunstrands in the basic BR350, and the blade is a little more aggressive. Bison's are really nice tractors, but my three year old BR350 fits me like a comfortable old T-Shirt, and she's never let me down while doing more work than I ever imagined possible.

I whined at everyone who'd listen, wrote it all up on the Checkout Sheet, and lo and behold, the seat was fixed, and I finished my week in her...on Hero Snow to boot! As Steinbeck wrote in "Cannery Row": "Once again the world was spinning in greased grooves"

As is usual for hard working snowcats, not every onboard system was online...The radio was not receiving any radio signals. Undaunted, I rigged up my iPod and it's FM Transmitter and the Pioneer pulled it in fine. Diagnosis? Unplugged antenna to the Stereo. I wrote it up, along with profuse kudos and thanks to the mechanics for repairing the seat.

To recap: A short night to finish my first week...back in my favorite Groomer of All Time, grooming Hero Snow, listening to Jeff Beck, Stevie Wonder, and a bunch of Podcasts via the new iPod, and wrapping it up by 06:30...Priceless!

I get two days off before the real Christmas Holidays Grind. Everyone works Six Days this week! Business has been good so far this week, a quick storm is forecast to sweeten the pot Monday into Tuesday...just the thing to pump up the public's SkiLust!

We're playing for a New Bison this week! The Big Boss said we will buy another new Bison this season if we do well over the Christmas Holidays...the outlook is good my friends!

On my way home this morning, I had to pull over to photograph the "Red Skies In Morning" scene...beautiful!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Back On Top

...of My Mountain, anyway!

Now that the drama of the past week fades into memory-land, I finally find a few minutes to catch up.

First of all you can't catch up on sleep. The sleep account must be paid in full...every day. So I broke that Golden Rule into a thousand pieces to start my season.

Waking up Wednesday morning at 05:30, I felt like an eight year old on Christmas Morning! Finishing the last of my chores at the Ancestral Digs, packing my truck to move uphill, and driving across the Big Valley in time to unload into the garage, shower and change clothes, and roar back up to the Mountain for my Graveyard Shift.

No rest for the Wicked, I saddled up and headed out for a look-see at Nature's Handiwork. My guys said the whole 32+ inches of champagne powder that fell during the Pearl Harbor Day Storm, packed out to about eight inches. Coverage is good for mid-December, which is to say it's still thin.

After a good night on the Mountain, I wasn't done with my obligations just yet. I picked up a bin of mail and magazines from the Post Office, dumped them in the DaveCave and motored east to Reno for my Annual Haircut.

It's always nice to catch up with my stylist. We've known each other for 25+ years, and she always gives me the best haircut! Only two people in my whole life knew how to cut my hair, so I keep Carina's number on my phone. I always love getting these haircuts, my thick curly hair hitting the salon floor always gets plenty of comment from the Blue Hairs in the peanut gallery! My own little 15 minutes once every fall.

Properly coiffed, I hit the Supermarket and replenished Chez DaveCave's larder, and pointed the DaveMobile towards home. Making a scary a drive home, trying desperately to keep my eyes open, time wasn't moving forward enough for my needs. I made it home without incident, and became reacquainted with my pillow...ahhh. I hadn't slept for almost 33 hours. I was vibrating from the fatigue.

What's that voice coming from my trusty GE Super Radio tonight? It's Art Bell sitting in on his old show, all the way from the Philippines! I'm going to enjoy tonight's shift! I'll load the iPod just in case it becomes a Remote Viewing Show! Off to work now...woopie!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

At Last!

Tonight's the night! I climb back into my BR350 Groomer and finally get busy! Oh, I've got to pack up the truck, sort out the garage at the Ancestral Digs, and cross the Big Valley before I try to get some sack time this afternoon.

Good luck on that one, I'm just like an 8 year old on Christmas Eve before my first shift of the season! Every day can be like Christmas Morning when you love your job! I can't wait to get out on those feet of new snow!

I'll keep this short this morning, because tonight begins another season, and I'm sure another bunch of stories to tell.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Outside Lookin' In

Saturday Night
It's pouring rain here in the Inland Valley. I'm tied up here thru Monday while up in the High Sierra, Mother Nature is thrashing ski country Big Time. Interstate 80 Closed an hour and a half ago. 23:20. The view from the webcams shows it piling high...and fast enough to notice, given that a watched pot doesn't boil.

Before the closure, chains were required from Drum to the NV state line. The Reno NWS guys were almost marveling in their 9:18 ADF:

Sunday Morning
The Interstate has reopened, the snowfall has tapered off a bit, and viewers of Channel 31's "Good Day Sacramento" are sending in photos and reports of snow down to 3600ft. Between goofy Christmas Stories, GDS is showing CalTrans webcams from around the Sierra, all which feature the Winter Wonderland View of cars seemingly moving in Slow Motion.

The forecast looks good for snow most of the week! I'll get my licks back to my loose ends!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dang! Sidelined

Oh Crap! I was supposed to be grinding around my Mountain tonight, instead of hackin' away at this keyboard! Unexpected dramas have postponed my annual Fall Migration back up to the High Sierra. Jeez, the webcams are showing what looks like just the beginning of the protracted battle shaping up...and the 1AM replay of the 11O'clock News just touted "Maybe up to FIVE FEET of snow" Man I wanted to be in the game tonight!

No worries...I'm thinking this winter will provide plenty of epic battles with Mother Nature's pure wind driven champagne powder! Plenty of Winter Storm Warnings to go around!

So a little Sucker Hole wended it's way up to Donner Summit...tomorrow, Saturday the Reno AFD promises epic snow accumulation...perhaps to cover the five foot boast from the TV Talking Heads!

I'm off to dreamland...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gearing Up

It's almost first night back on my Mountain. I slept like a baby last night, but that doesn't mean I'm not excited. Big Picture-wise, I can't wait to get out there to see how much snow has fallen, and what new ManMade challenges management has added to my bailiwick...It looks like there's a new Sign/Map board at the bottom of the Big Mountain's Chairlift. Hopefully, it's not in the way of plowing around the terminal.

ManMade challenges aside, there's plenty on tap to keep things interesting. The Geminid Meteor Showers peak Sunday night. 140 meteors per hour are possible with the waning moon almost new. These falling stars may or may not be observed between clouds from another weather system heading towards the High Sierra.

Forecasters are unsure of the strength of the next two weather events, as their models are split on the question: When and where will these systems split. Most of the models have the splits, but the timing and ultimate track of the remaining parts are all over the place. Reno's 04:04 AFD said stay tuned for the Day Shift's AFD, maybe the runs will come together enough for them to make the call!

Friday night I climb into my All-Time Favorite Snowcat. This is the tractor's third season on the Mountain. It's a Prinoth BR350 and it's served me well these past two seasons. Always ready to rumble, it's been surprisingly breakdown free, and never suffered a multi-day down period. She's always been ready to work, and work hard. I often smile and marvel at just how much work this tractor does without complaint or hiccups of any kind. Even the electronics in this cat have been free of confused electrons. She's a gamer for sure. I've spent more than a thousand hours running her, and it's bittersweet knowing she'll be just another trade-in next summer. Hopefully, Prinoth will provide another strong, trouble free machine with a big heart, and no new wrinkles. It's gotta be tough when you've developed your product to a place just a hair shy of perfection. Resisting the desire to "fix something that's not broke" must be irresistible.

I've got my "Groomer's Kit" ready...Bike Messenger's Bag, Tool Bag, Thermos, Two Dozen CDs, Lunch Pail, iPod & FM Transmitter, Flashlight and Headlamp, and assorted Carabiners and Webbing to keep everything within reach. One thing the manufacturer omitted when they designed the BR350, was the Rear Window Grab Bar...omitting it lets them knock a few bucks off the selling price, but that bar was very handy. In the cats that had the bar, you could clip your backpack to the bar, it would hang there all night, and the bag wouldn't fall onto the floor when you headed down a really steep trail. I've been requesting a Retro-Fit Grab Bar since the BR350 came far no joy from Prinoth, or the Vehicle Maintenance Gurus...sigh.

I'm keeping this short today, I've got a ton of things to wrap up before I head up the hill in the morning. This is gonna be good!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fatigue Fatigue

I'm too tired for my weekend to be over! All this Winter like 1969/Mavericks Surf Contest buzzing entangled me, and kept me on the edge of my seat all weekend. So I wrote because it came, and I still did a bunch of projects, and prepared for a hard freeze here at the Ancestral Digs. The yards came through with flying colors, too.

It's a good fatigue...I earned it. I'll sleep it off tonight, and tomorrow I have a few errands and another project. I'm trying to stay on track, and not get ahead of myself. Thursday I'm headed up i80 to the DaveCave, so I can settle in, catch a nap Friday and hit the Mountain Friday night for a Graveyard Shift...I'm stoked, and the weatherman says there's more snow coming this weekend...sweet!

I'm Up
This morning, the Reno AFD is backing away from their Thursday snow forecast, saying:


Cool, I'll avoid a chain control mess on the Interstate Thursday. I'll be back to my Grooming 101 seminar Thursday, too.

Monday, December 7, 2009

About last Night...

Rough Going Tonight Over Sierra Highways
It's Sunday after dark. Here in the Inland Valley, I've successfully dodged rain squalls all afternoon. And I tied up a knitting basket-full of loose ends. At 8:45 PM there's chain controls up on Interstate 80 from Alta to the Nevada State Line, and Donner Pass is closed to trucks westbound. The CalTrans Chain Control page says I-80 is closed to westbound trucks at the Nevada State Line due to snow. Alta is about 3200ft, and snow levels are forecast to drop to around 500ft later Sunday night in the North Bay Counties of Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, and east. Frost and Freeze Warnings cover the Coast and Inland Valleys, a Winter Storm Warning stays in effect until 7PM Monday night...something for everybody...

It's going to be a bumpy night. The Remote Sensors report temps from 15F on Donner Summit down to 9F at the 8500ft level. The farther northeast the sensor, the colder the reading. This was a "Backdoor Storm" spun up over the Great Basin and retrograded overnight along the frontal boundary into the Tahoe Sierra, and points south west. The raindrops I dodged Sunday afternoon, were from the advancing front, not the retrograde snowmaker.

Over in the Reno NWS Office, forecasters are in their element, they're earning it, but they're lovin' it too. They've been updating their AFD every three hours or so all day. It's far from over, the next pulse is winding up and will pound the High Sierra by morning, when Ridge Winds are forecast to gust up to 70mph. They say another 8-16 inches at 7000ft. Nice dry champagne powder.

Surfer Dudes turn it down to Simmer
The Big Wave Surf Democracy punted...that is they decided to postpone their vote, and take a look at Wednesday's forecast...they need 48 hours to pull the trigger. They're getting some sleep. Thanks to their buzzing, I found that my favorite NDBC Buoys Twitter hourly updates now! They don't have anything significant to report yet...

Frothing up the pond where CorduroyPlanet's Lillypad floats, are the CalTrans Highway Signs that also Twitter their every update...even if they say: "I'm still not saying anything new"...every half hour... I follow the signs during storms, and unfollow them when the storms pass...they are verbose for electronic a point way beyond audience comprehension. Later this week, I have to run the gauntlet and try to thread the needle between storms, to get reacquainted with my DaveCave, and get back out on My Mountain!

From the Front Lines of the Flatlands
SFO/Monterey's NWS Office is getting in on the fun too. Their latest AFD backs off on the Snow Level they're saying 1500ft, which seems more realistic...less Fantasyland.

Dispatch from the Front
Back up on Interstate 80, chain controls are moving downhill. At 10:45PM chains are required from Colfax (2,425ft) to the Nevada State Line.

Dispatch from the Front Yard
This morning, I took my camera out with me to pick up the newspaper. Snow is on the foliage here at the 500ft elevation of the Ancestral Digs. The sun is shining, but the Morning News says there's still snow falling in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Chain Controls lowered all the way down to Auburn overnight...1,227ft

While I don't count this as a Major Storm here in the Bay Area, it counts in the High Sierra. So the Surf Weather Dudes are 1/30 of the way to fulfilling their forecast for the winter...Score one for them.

History Dispatch
Remember Pearl Harbor today. Say a prayer for the departed, and thank a Veteran for their service to our country.

"December 7th, 1941, a day that will live in Infamy" FDR

Epic Swells Again

Grab Bag for Geeks
I'll keep this short...think of it as a BonusBlog this week. It's just that the Buzz about the "Epic Swells like 1969" keeps showing up in my Twitter Feed. Maybe these Dudes will get some sleep tonight, but somehow I doubt it...

The Santa Cruz Sentinel weighed in with some news: "Surfers will decide if contest will get the green light Friday" It's kinda nice to see democracy on the rise somewhere these days.

Well the cold got here! Atop the SF/Monterey NWS' Homepage is a red banner that says: LOW SNOW LEVELS MONDAY! The Weatherman on the KPIX 11 O'clock News said snow down to 500ft Monday...That'll do it for the last of the Vine Ripe Tomatoes at the Local Farmer's Market.

Frosty Dawn
The SF/Monterey NWS wasn't kidding. Their full page of weather warnings was bound to get it right, even if you chalk it up to the Shotgun Effect...that many Warnings, Watches and Advisories are bound to find a few targets...

There's frost on the pumpkin here in the Inland Valley Sunday morning. Hanging in bed while the house warmed up, I surfed for Weathergeek data. It looks like the Surf Contest Dudes got some sacktime after all, there's a quiet calm over in their Cyber-Neighborhood this morning.

Filling the Toolbox
Without any new intel from the Surf World, I did some snooping around their websites. It turns out that Surfers, Skiers, Snowboarders, Groomers, Boaters and Fishermen all work or play in similar milieus. As such, the Surfer's Wing of the Weathersphere sports some truly comprehensive Weather Websites. Think of them as Sports/Weather/Buoy/Webcam Aggregators...sort of a "one page fits all" deal. I bookmarked Stormsurf because it's got all the features I want, whether I'm working, traveling, or fishing.

All my reminiscing over the Winter of 1969 made me track down my Local Newspaper's "Sierra Storm King" I've enjoyed Mark McLaughlin's historical weather passions for many years, and I'm eagerly awaiting his new book on Tahoe Sierra Winter Sports History: "Longboards to Olympics" Mark is publishing his latest just in time for the 50th Anniversary of the 1960 Winter Olympics, and the 60th of Squaw Valley USA.

Mark's Website made my Weather Bookmarks, too. I'm starting to think he'll have plenty to write about, now that El Niño is coming back to town!

Do you feel the Buzz in the air yet? I'm buzzin' because Winter 2009/2010 could be Epic!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Epic Swells Like 1969

Weekend Wonders
I'm giving Grooming 101 a rest for the weekend...besides weekends are for play! I'm playing with the new iPod, setting up accounts, importing contacts and bookmarks, and generally enjoying a GeeWhiz experience. As Captain Jack Aubrey quipped in Patrick O'Brian's "Master and Commander": "What a fascinating, Modern World we live in"

While fiddling with my Tweetdeck application, I received a Retweet from @Mavericks_Surf touting "Epic Surf Expected like 1969"

My mind raced immediately into WayBack Mode...1969 was an Epic Winter in the High Sierra. One of the largest snowfall winters on record, 1969 is indelibly etched in my memory because the huge front window-wall of the then new Gold Coast Lodge at Squaw Valley USA, caved in under the deep drifts of a huge storm period. I remember it vividly because the event happened just a few weeks after I made my first unchaperoned overnight ski trip with my older cousin Gary in his sweet 1955 Chevy Nomad Station Wagon!

It was a memorable first non-Boy Scout overnight...and we stayed in the 1960 Winter Olympics' Athlete Quarters. Squaw still basked in the glow of The Games in 1969...the buzz of the Winter Games seemed palpable to me, and the skiing was fabulous! I was just seventeen and very impressionable...

Back in the here and now, my mind finished it flights of fancy, and I clicked the lead to a FoxTV station in Honolulu, Hawaii. Dangerous swell is headed for Hawaii and ultimately the California's associated storminess will be around almost all week. Darn it, getting back to reality made me take a quick look around the Weathersphere to see if next week might look like 1969.

It's gonna be cold, that's for sure! Reno's AFD from 03:29 Saturday said:

Looking good Snowmaking-wise, though this weekends frontal push won't bring much snow to the Tahoe Sierra...most of the snow showers are tapped to occur South of Lake Tahoe. This first Cold Front will open the Storm Door, and just like a Real Sierra Winter, another storm will come through every other day all next week! Hurray! I climb back into my BR350 Friday night.

I talked with the Boss for a while Friday afternoon, he told me there was more snowmaking going on than I could see from the Mountain's webcams...they had trouble with Temperature Inversions inhibiting their progress last week, but the approaching front had things mixing up enough to banish the inversions, and allow some bountiful snowmaking shifts. Boo-yah!

Surfing Buoys
Never one to get hung up on reality on a weekend, I toured my Buoy Bookmarks to see if any sign of the approaching "Epic Swells like 1969" were getting noticed by the Buoy Network...Nope, it's still too early. The Maverick Surfer guys are really wound-up, though...they're Twittering up a storm! (Sorry) Lot's of 50FT! Tweets, God bless 'em...

Taking a jaunt outside, the skies here at the Ancestral Digs looked decidedly threatening...heavy weather looking clouds in gray and darker gray greeted me while I fetched the newspaper from the driveway. Now four hours hence, the skies are blue over the Inland Valley, but there's a slight chill in the air.

Errands Completed
I spent the afternoon away from the Weather Frenzy…I can report however, that Holiday Shopping Frenzy is in Full Effect.

Driving out to the Berkeley Flatlands to gather some arts & crafts supplies, I was amazed at just how filthy the air out there was! It must have been wood smoke from Bay Area fireplaces hanging over the Basin…there wasn’t a wisp of breeze anywhere today.

Jacking back into the CyberStream, I see the Mavericks Contest is still on a roiling boil. Those Surfer Dudes aren’t going to sleep tonight! They missed the opportunity for their Contest last season, so they’re Totally Stoked by the Big Swell Forecast…God love ‘em…even if they don’t have a Weather Page on any of the Mavericks Websites.

I’m still trying to track down those Nebulous Surfer Dude Forecasters who said: " weather forecasters are saying there's going to be at least 30 Major Storms come through Northern California's Coast between now and March 31st..."

I’ll admit it, I’ve got the Storm Door Buzz goin’ on, too. Getting back in my tractor again will be like a warm comfortable Homecoming…kinda cozy even. I'm Stoked, too!

Saturday, December 5, 2009


With a tip of my hat to Carly Simon...

It's started again...that anticipating/wishing/hoping/praying/buzzing in the skiing/snowboarding/big wave surfing/weather-geeking universes!

According to all the AFD's up and down the West Coast, the next big chance for Pattern Change is on it's way towards the forecast area. Friday morning's Reno ADF called the coming events: "the perfect recipe for snow" welcome is that news? Pretty darn...

Here I am, still cooling my heels at the Ancestral Digs, gathering online intel day in, day out, doing the myriad chores and projects to fill my days of waiting.

The Bay Area TV News folks are practically gushing in anticipation of this storm coming to town. Breathlessly they run through their forecast sound bites, and weave in their hoped-for announcement of the 2009/2010 Maverick's Surf Contest. Fifty foot waves are possible by Tuesday at Mavericks they gush. Good gosh, what a way to kick off Winter! Thanks are in order for all the Mountain Folk who've been doing their Snow Dances! Here's hoping those aligning models trumpet the arrival of a real El Niño Style Winter Season!

Getting Ready
Thursday afternoon, the FedEx Guy stopped by the Ancestral Digs to deliver my new Handheld Device. After hours of online research, trips to Geek Emporiums, and the local Verizon Wireless Store, I decided on an iPod Touch for my mobile internet solution.

The Touch is the Apple iPhone...sans the phone. Verizon, my carrier released the Motorola Droid last month, and driven by Google's Android Operating System, this Smartphone will remake the Smartphone Playing Field. This device was my number one choice, but I opted to wait to jump into a Smartphone Plan until the impact of Google's arrival on the Mobile Landscape plays out. To get all the cool advantages of Smartphones, you've got to get a Data Plan in addition to your monthly Cell Phone Plan. I'm too cheap to commit to doubling my monthly phone bill, especially since I don't really need Mobile Internet except during Grooming Season.

I spent all of my Thursday night (and a good portion into Friday morning) loading the Touch with handy "Aps", and synchronizing it with my computer. Even across platforms this was all enjoyable, not the giant cluster of hassles of a few years ago. Apple's Ap Store boasts 100,000 applications for the iPhone/iPod Touch today. Dozens and dozens of Weather Aps are available, with more choices coming online weekly.

In the coming weeks, as I become more adept at operating this little handheld computer that plays tunes, I'll be able to communicate right from the operator's throne of my Snowcat! That's the bonus, fun side of this device. Looking at Real-Time Weather Radar and Satellite Images on the Mountain will be invaluable! Getting up to the second intel about what's coming our way...without having to get off my Mountain to get in front of a Mountain network computer, is going to be Golden! Massaging the Back-Up Plan will become proactive, instead of reactive. This is going to save hours of grief, and make my crew even more effective.

One night this season, I expect my cat will go down...just a hydraulic hose or fitting, or maybe a relay will sideline me for an hour or so while the Graveyard Mechanic works on the problem to get me going again. If I'm in range of the Mountain's WiFi, I will write this blog from my broken cat!

If you're following @CorduroyPlanet on Twitter, expect an occasional Tweet from the seat of my cat as well...this is going to be too much fun!

More Lost Time
From the "It happens every Fall Division"...
So I'm playing with the iPod, while not watching the NewsFeed from FoxNews on the TV,and scrolling through my freshly imported Bookmarks, I clicked on my link to the Half Moon Bay Buoy from the NDBC (National Data Buoy Center) to see if Surf Contest Conditions were brewing. In an instant the page loads and says: "The page you requested is not found" I should have expected this...I looked at all my Buoy Pages just a month ago in preparation for Crab Season...all six were good to go.

I end up whining about this practice the Government goes through every Fall. I thought they change these pages because they have excess time on their hands, but as I started to revise my Bookmarks, I noticed that Google is now a major part of the NDBC Product.

All the Buoys are on Google Maps now. Typically, you zoom in on the World Map until you can resolve the little piece of ocean you want, and hover the cursor over the colorful specks representing the different Stations (read buoys) until the buoy you're looking for is on it's link and you get to the Buoy's Page where the data is displayed...Whew!

I must have stumbled onto the NDBC's Annual Revision Festival half way through the process...of my six Bookmarked Buoys, four are the new-style Google-fied feeds: Point Reyes, Bodega Bay, San Francisco, and Half Moon Bay...just in time for the Big Surf Contest. All told, I shot 30 minutes resetting my Buoy Bookmarks...not as bad as I feared...side note: Bodega Bay's Station 46013 Buoy has been down since October, and the Coast Guard is working to get it into their Buoy Maintenance Schedule, and back online.

A quick look at the Buoy Data shows seas between 9 and 10ft this Friday 12/4/09. The Local TV WeatherGushers, are all abuzz about the Big Swell forecast to arrive Tuesday, and the possible call to arms of the 25 World's Greatest Big Wave Surfers. The Mavericks Surf Contest Window has been open since November 1st. When the Organizers decide the swell is huge enough, the call goes out to the 25, and they have 24 hours to get to Half Moon Bay for the Big Show.

It could be the Epic Kickoff to a Big Winter...Lord knows drought stricken California could use the water!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Grooming 101.6

Still Working With Gravity
Yesterday's lesson on Gravity and Berm Control didn't have anything to say about controlling Berms when the snow starts getting seriously deep. What happens when the snow is soft, dry, and deeper than the Snowcat's tracks?

Berms happen, that's what! When there's more snow than Tillers can chew, Modern Grooming Equipment can't do the job in a single pass. Today's Grooming Machines do much better than their fore-bearers, but even the most skilled groomer in the latest machine can't break the laws of physics. Mother nature bats last, and sometimes she goes on a hitting streak that would make Joltin' Joe DiMaggio envious.

When the snow gets to the topside of the machine's tracks, there's no alternative to Double Passing, to get the desired surface. Production goes out the window, Back up Plans take effect and the hunkering down begins. Old Hands know that there's a long hard slog ahead, and take steps to endure.

There's much satisfaction to be extracted from Big Storm Periods, provided you mete out your energy over the duration of the storm. It's not just up on the Mountain where deep snow means harder work...and more of it! Getting back and forth to work gets more difficult, vehicles need shoveled off, digging out and de-icing. All these extra chores eat the minutes until they become hours, and everything becomes slower as the snow deepens.

Coping Skills
Enduring the increased workload means adjusting your output of energy, and eliminating wasteful action in favor of tried and true methods to soldier through.

Step One: Stop hurrying! There's an old saying about the "hurrier I go, the behinder I get" or some such, just set a steady, sustainable pace, and grind it out.

I've learned to manage my excitement over my years on the Mountain, because hard won experience has taught me that more than likely, I'll be in my cat come 2PM, rather than hitting the sack back at the DaveCave. So, you keep a lid on your emotions, try and help everyone you work with to cope nicely so they too can stay in the game over the long haul.

Yes, the best laid plans of mice and men...when the snow gets deep, why do so many otherwise sane, intelligent people start to lose IQ Points by the bushel? Unfortunately, in all my years up in the High Sierra, I've never been able to put my finger on this weird behavior quirk.

You learn to tune out the frenzy, but stay vigilant, because you don't want to let anyone around you get stupid enough to hurt themselves or others. It's always during these extended siege periods that, people find ways to injure themselves or others. The Fire Departments and all our Emergency Responders already have their hands full, so we don't want to get on their waiting list! Sadly, if a wide-eyed Flatlander is going to tangle with a Road Grader on the Highway, or a Snowblower in a driveway, it'll be during a busy Storm Siege.

Mountain Sanctuary
Step Two: When you get away from the Base Areas and the IQ Altered, there is peace up on the Hill. Double Passing takes more than twice as long as grooming less snow in a single pass, but it is no less satisfying...especially if you've just escaped the circus below! Again, you tune up your Balancing Act.

When it's this deep, there are a couple of ways to proceed, depending on weather you're working solo, or working in a Pack. When I'm working by myself, I'll make as big a first pass as I dare, and groom my trail as wide as time allows, then go back to the beginning, and re-groom the whole shebang. A little "set-up time" helps things turn out better when you go back an "chase" those big berms.

If I'm leading a pack, we'll make fat passes going downhill, and gently chase the berms on our way back uphill. If the trail doesn't set up enough to do that, I move the pack to the next trail for it's first passes, and then return to chase the berms on the first trail...repeat as necessary, your acreage may vary...

When the guests hit the slopes, my crew leave the mountain to them. Most of the crew calls it a day, the Old Hands take a break, regroup and refuel, and head out for more Storm Fighting.

We stay off the Mountain during the day, but there are tons of places around the mountain where Groomers can help lighten the load of the snow that's piling ever deeper. Lots of plowing and pushing eat up the hours...this is where a good stereo and mp3 players come in handy. These gadgets help the time pass while keeping boredom at bay. Before you know it, it's afternoon and the body starts making it's needs known. Bedtime beckons, and you can veto the drive to rest for a few days, but as with all things worth doing, eventually you must succumb to nature and call it a shift.

The sleep you get after this kind of shift is deep, but the alarm clock goes off as soon as your head hits the pillow. Time to get up and do it all over again. We do this for days on end when the storm door is wide open…believe me, all the Old Hands live for this stuff!

Hard Work…Good Times.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Grooming 101.5

Making Heroes
OK, just how do heroes get it done? Is it just the Hero Snow that makes even dilettantes look good? If only it was so easy!

No, heroes must earn their status on the mountain. Anyone who can walk a straight line can learn to make a nice pass in a modern groomer, but a Groomer must have skills beyond walking and chewing gum at the same time! Multi-tasking was the "Word of the Year", what? More than a Decade ago? At least...

Like anything worth doing, Grooming a Ski Hill is a balancing act. Good operators learn which Rules can be bent, and when. They also know which Rules must be obeyed Always.

There's two sets of Groomer's Rules. On set for grooming uphill, and the other set for making corduroy going downslope. Gravity is a big player on Ski Hills. Skiing and Snowboarding aren't known as Gravity Sports for nothing!

Gravity supplies the horsepower that Sliders enjoy on any Ski Hill. Groomers, equipped with plenty of horsepower, use Gravity to help make the most Corduroy, with the least muss and fuss.

The most desirable Skiruns are paved with perfect corduroy from wall to wall, without any pesky berms to degrade the dance-floor-flat surface.

What are berms? Berms are spills, plain and simple. Snow spilled out of the reach of the Tiller's combs. The combs make the corduroy from the fresh packed and tilled snow. It's really easy to make berms, even with a "State of the Art" modern Groomer...go a little too fast downhill in soft snow, and lots of fresh-tilled snow will fall from the Tiller's Box, and spill beyond the reach of the combs.

The deeper the freshly fallen snow, the more likely it is berms will form. Here's the balancing act in all it's little glory. Going uphill, the tiller's box catches almost everything in it's way. Tilling it and feeding it under the weighted combs, leaving the dance floor corduroy. Crafty operators make the absolutely widest pass possible going uphill, without spilling a berm. At the top of the run, the operators adjust everything from the width of their new downhill pass, the depth of cut of the tiller, their speed over the snow, to the amount of Up-Pressure on their Tiller, and even adjust the speed of the tiller's Cutter Bar. All in order to keep from spilling any berm. To attain maximum productivity, every parameter of the cat's implements, need adjustment every pass, every time.

So, when the snow is soft or deep, the size of the pass depends on careful monitoring of, and reacting to ever changing conditions. The steeper the trail, the more gravity works against the Groomer, and the smaller each downhill pass becomes. Conversely, steepness helps widen the uphill pass...up to a point.

Blade basics
What about that big blade on the front of the cat? It's part of the Groomer's Toolbox, and in soft or deep conditions the blade helps the operator get another 10-20% out of each pass! Swinging the blade so the snow will flow across the face of the blade, away from the finished pass, and skimming just the right amount of snow off the pass he's working, allows the groomer to increase his speed, while controlling any potential berm production.

On hard packed nights, the blade is always in the snow, scraping the top few inches of the flatter surfaces, and keeping a "roll" of snow in the blade which supplies plenty of fresh, soft material for the tiller to chew and lay out for maximum corduroy production. Here again, the skilled operator takes all he can get from the snowpack, balancing depth of the blade's cut with the fullness of the pile rolling in (but not spilling from) his blade...all while keeping an eagle eye on his mirrors to monitor the spill from the tiller. Tailoring his speed to balance production vs quality is part of the game always, too.

On paper, it seems like a very busy, scattered endeavor, but in practice it can become a dance almost. When you're hittin' it right, it becomes a swirling ballet of sense and reaction, parry and thrust, risk and reward. It's pretty hard to keep the grin off your face when it's going like that. The acres and hours fly by, and barring breakdowns, extra runs can be groomed...above and beyond the Work Orders.

What about using that blade to mow down moguls, or to repair Race Ruts, you ask?

That’s a whole different ball game, and it deserves it’s own section. When the snow gets deeper, and skiers carve it into bumps, then I’ll do a seminar on Bump Cutting. There’s still lots to learn about soft, deep fresh snow! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Grooming 101.4

Where Have All the Heroes Gone?
Alas, Hero Snow isn't around every night...What goes wrong when all the Heroes turn into Zeros?

The list of things that can turn an otherwise good productive night into Groomer's Hell is long and infamous. Simple or stupid, events sometimes best even the most experienced, working from the best List, in the best equipment, with the best of intentions, and the best record of rolling with the punches. Shit Happens...

It always seems to happen when it's pounding snow...don't ask me why. I starts innocently enough...say one guy oversleeps, or another gets his truck stuck on his way to work. The wind is howling, and the snow is piling up into big drifts...visibility is "less than ideal"...un-noticed, the disintegration has already begun. Welcome to my Snow Day Hell...

The Shift Foreman makes the call...fall back and regroup. Reprioritize, shift gears, try Plan B...

The Back-Up Plan shreds the Work Orders. New goals, though scaled back in acreage, take on new, and deadly important weight. Remember what we sell: A safe ride up a safe, groomed mountain. Heavy winds and high rates of snowfall are Mother Nature's recipe for Avalanches.

The Back-Up Plan grooms all the Peaks, the easiest way down from each lift, all ramps and maze areas, and all the "flats" around the Lodges and the Base Area where pedestrians will be walking to work, the Lodges, and all the shops. Roads to the tops of all six peaks need to be snowmobile friendly at 6AM, and roads to weather stations, snow study plots, and explosives magazines need to be maintained for use by the Opening Crews. The Back-Up Plan avoids all potential Avalanche Hazard Zones.

On good "Bad Days", going to the Back-Up Plan usually rights the ship, and the best is made from the burgeoning mess. Expectations are lowered to RealWorld levels, and the Shift Foreman and his Crew turn back into Rock Stars...on top of their game. Prepared, and battle hardened, they've made a Silk Purse from the Sow's Ear yet again. These nights feel good, relief feels good, dodging a bullet and getting away with it feels great. We don't get to feel these feeling every time things take a turn for the worse. Sometimes, Shit Keeps Happening...

Sometimes, right after calling the Back-Up Plan, the Foreman is starting to feel smug when the 2-Way crackles with Bad News..."Hey Boss? I just lost all drive" Uh-oh...there goes an hour of working time for Two machines.

On nights when it's really pounding, the Graveyard Mechanic usually has his hand full before any Grooming Machine shis attention. On Storm Nights, the Grooming Cats work their the same time, the Snow removal Crew is working their fleet to the Red Line also.

On these nights, the Mechanic already has his hands full keeping the Snow Removal Equipment online...Groomers gotta wait their turn. When things are going according to plan, there's a back-up grooming machine parked down at the Shop, ready to rumble. Another crewman fetches the operator from the stricken machine, and ferries him back to the shop so the back-up groomer can be pressed into service. Most times an hour of both operators' night are consumed by this snowcat shuffle.

Provided that this drama is played out at least an hour before dawn, a total save is still possible...but it just isn't often as not, another snowcat will join the injured reserve list. All it takes is the addition of a random broken winch cable or burst hydraulic hose to seal the Doom.

What's the one Single Point Failure most likely to down a Modern Grooming Machine? Windshield Wiper Failure! You can't groom if you can't see...but you can persevere. A confident operator can run with "under-performing" wipers with impunity...until the sun rises. Once there's light in the sky, wipers are a must. In the dark, operators are "Masters of their Domain" to borrow the concept from the Seinfeld Show. In the dark, groomers have total control of the lighting of their workplace...often running without forward lights makes for better's counter-intuitive, but it works, and it's a core lesson in the Grooming 101 Syllabus. Once the sun rises, all bets are off, and groomers rejoin the mere mortals eyesight-wise.

With the huge front windshields of today's Groomers, wiper failure is far too common. Massive heated windshields, coupled with heated wiper blades almost three feet long, conspire to overheat wiper motors or tweak linkages all too often. This failure can be absorbed for most of the shift, but the Piper must be paid at Dawn...right when the cost of losing a machine is the highest. When the snow is flying, and the sun is rising, even with clean windows, it's near impossible to resolve the difference between snow and sky...throw in a little wind, and it's Helen Keller City.

When these nights end (always badly) there no whoopin' or hollerin' back at the pump...just moanin' and groanin''s not a pretty sight, and it feels just plain lousy. These are the nights that try men's luck, no glory, no gold stars.

Nothing is worse than when a Hero takes a Fall...wounded is the worst way to end a shift.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Grooming 101.3

Friday Night Follies
As I write tonight, Chain Controls are up on Interstate 80. Here's the kicker from CalTrans' Road Info Page:

The storm somehow missed the Donner Summit/Tahoe Westshore Area almost entirely! Sugar Bowl's LiveCam shows some flurry action, but the CalTrans webcam at the Truck Inspection Station show heavier snowfall. Northstar is getting snow. Boreal's webcam hasn't updated since Thanksgiving Afternoon...

SisterSweetly called from Humboldt County reporting clearing skies, and really cold temps. The Reno AFD said the cold would set in for several days once the front passed. Perhaps High Sierra Snowmaking Crews will bank some Overtime this week. Mother Nature seems unwilling to contribute any precipitation for the next week, so 'Pray for Cold"

Back To Work
Now we can get to the business of grooming the Mountain. Today's modern, powerful Groomers are capable of high degrees of production, even when the new fallen snow is deep. There's no substitute for Horsepower goes the old saying.

My BR350 is so named because it's powered by a 350HP Caterpillar Electronic Diesel. This engine is powerful, has plenty of torque, and runs almost without odor. It's an amazing machine.

After a thorough checkout and walkaround, the cat's all warmed up, and the fuel's topped up, it's time to go grooming. Enter the Work Orders.

The best way to improve productivity in a Groomer, is to follow a good plan. The Work Orders are that plan. Long years of development went into creation of tonight's Work Orders. They are simple, really...Start at the beginning, and go down the "List" The trails are groomed in a sequence that minimizes extra passes, avoids grooming passes that have already been groomed tonight, and organized in such a way as to require the least amount of backing up, and fixing Turn Ruts.

Groomers only make Corduroy when they are moving forward, and grooming over fresh Corduroy doesn't make any New Corduroy. Following the List minimizes waste, and maximizes production.

Following the List, leads the Grooming Crews from one end of the Mountain to the other. Factored into the List are travel times from each of the Mountain's Six Peaks to the Vehicle Shop, where the Diesel Fuel Pumps refuel the fleet. At top speed, going in to refuel can be a 45 minute round trip. The List ensures these trips are never made. As the List is completed from top to bottom, each trail checked off the list brings the fleet closer to the Shop. Unless unforseen drama interrupts the smooth execution of the list, the Swing Shift should finish their work load and be at the Shop, refueling just in time for the Shift Change.

All the Secondary Trails, ramps, Maze Areas, and Special Projects are done on Swing Shift. Once the Graveyard Crew is in their cats, they head out and complete the List. Usually, there's several Secondaries still to do, before the Homeruns are groomed. The Homeruns are where all the Secondary Trails end on their way back to the bottom of each Chairlift. Turning Ruts, made by snowcats grooming up and down the Secondary trails are filled and tilled when the Homeruns get Groomed. No extra moves required.

Swing Shift grooms a little less than half of each night's acreage. Because the Swing Shift does so many detailed tasks, and the Ramp Cat travels from one end to the other of the Mountain to prepare each ramp, they "set the table" for the Graveyard Crew. With all the pesky details and special projects complete, the Graveyard Guys just make Corduroy...full speed ahead. On good nights, this is non-stop fun (and non-stop production) We call this "Hero Snow" anyone who can drive in a clean line makes tons of beautiful Corduroy.

Graveyard follows the List too, and it leads them to the bottom of the Mountain in time to make any last minute "touch-ups" around the Lifts and Lodges before our Guests begin to stream onto the Mountain.

The list also moves us closer and closer to the Vehicle Shop, until the whole crew in on the last Peak of the night, where we race the clock for the last precious acres of production before we sneak off the mountain just as the crowds begin to load the Last Peak Chairlift.

It's a beautiful thing when the whole crew is firing on all cylinders, the Hero Snow cooperates, and the day dawns sunny and blue! I never get tired of it all when we have nights like this. Every operator gets out of his cat back at the shop with a big ol' Grin on their face, and there's plenty of whoopin' and hollerin' about how great life is...It just doesn't get any better than that!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Grooming 101.2

Where to Really Begin
On My Mountain, we always start at the beginning. I'm not trying to be funny, it's just that "the beginning" has meant many different things over the years. Early in my nights behind the sticks, the Grooming Program was pretty necessity.

Oh, we always started with Work Orders, but back when I started grooming in the early 80's, Grooming was more "Reactive" than ProActive. The technology just hadn't matured in those days. When the fleet was mostly Gas Powered Tucker Sno-Cats towing Rolling Stock, there were many nights when conditions didn't allow much of the Work Orders to be completed.

When the Tuckers couldn't climb the mountain anymore, we'd move on to the next project on the Work Orders, and hope that the abandoned trails would "set up" enough so that we could come back later and finish the job. On the nights when that didn't work out, dawn brought mornings that Ski Patrol see when the Groomers couldn't get the job done, Patrol would have to "Boot Pack" the unfinished edges of our work to ensure our guests' safety. Man I pitied those guys on those days!

By the Mid-80's most of the fleet had been upgraded to Thiokol 3700 Hydromaster Groomers. For a few years, the Hydros, powered with Allis Chalmers straight-six Diesels without mufflers, still didn't have Tillers, so Rolling Stock still made the finished surface. Rolling Stock was lots of work, even when it wasn't doing always had to be Dug Out and repositioned atop the pack. Every Snow Day meant all the Rolling Stock had to be moved up. Lots of shoveling, getting in and out of the tractors, and ending the shift with some real Ditch Digging Labor...we really earned our meager paychecks in those days!

Finally, Thiokol sold their Snowcat business and the new owner, John Delorean of Stainless Steel Sports Car fame, bought the Company and designed and added Tillers along with V8 Caterpillar Power, giving birth to the 3700C Model...Sayonara Rolling Stock! Those were great days!

Renamed DMC, the DeLorean Motor Company brought evolutionary change to the breed before Mr DeLorean ran afoul of the Law, and he sold the Company again. Now know as LMC, Logan Manufacturing Company, they soldiered along until Bombardier Groomers arrived in the High Sierra.

Bombardier's were another Quantum Leap in Groomer Evolution. The Mid-Engine, Cab Forward design was as big a step as the one from Tucker to Thiokol had been.

The next improvement proved to be the watershed idea that changed the whole ball game. Bombardier developed their Flex Tiller...the rest is history, as they say.

Now, Groomers could work from the Work Orders or "List" with impunity. Now only breakdowns, and weather could derail the Plan. Production rose by a factor of Two...unless the snow was flying. More snow on the mountain is a Double Whammy. more snow to pack, and harder, thus slower climbing...there go those Production Gains again...

Enter Winches...OK this is the Tech Evolution that finally "levels the playing field" LMC first brought Winches to Sierra Ski Resorts. The WinchCat was a standard Free Groomer with a hyrdoststic winch mounted on the back of the cat. Derisively named "Phantom Tollbooths", the WinchCat was positioned at the top of a steep trail, where the operator whould push up a big pile called a pad, and dig the tracks into the pad. the bare stinger was lowered into the pad, and the winch was activated. The winch operator payed out some winch cable, and a second Grooming Cat would hook to the cable by way of a large Eye mounted to the Push Frame of the Forward Blade.

This cat, the "Yoyo" did the grooming, the winch held the Yoyo on the hill. The Winch didn't actually tow the Yoyo up the hill, but held tension on the winch cable so the Yoyo could groom uphill without digging in. It was tedious for both operators, and ripe for disaster. The Yoyo only groomed going uphill, backing down under winch tension every pass...not very efficiant, but better than "going around" like a free cat, and the winch assisted down passes turned out perfectly most nights.

In those days, all grooming machines were prototypes, really...grooming crews were developers of the technology, as well as Guinea Pigs. Twice the labor, and twice the equipment, but still production improved.

A few years later, the last piece of the puzzle was added. The Tower Winch was born. Adding an overhead boom the turned 360 degrees, retired the Phantom Tollbooth, and now two winch operators were available. The WinchCat Operator works solo, hooking his cable to an anchor and grooming up and down the run, held fast by the winch...Production...way up, again.

With the technology settled, now the List guides the crews to high levels of performance, hindered only by Mother Nature's Bounty. When a fierce Winter Storm is lashing the Mountain, production suffers, but compared to twenty-five years ago, the work we get done is still amazing, given the conditions.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Grooming 101.1

What To Do?
How do Ski Resorts decide what to groom every night? Before the Swing Shift hits the Mountain, Work Orders must be made. Grooming costs a bucketload of cash, so there isn't any room for "flyin' by the seat of the pants" in the 21st Century. New equipment and new realities in the Industry have retired the old "That Looks About Right" method at all but the smallest Mom&Pop Ski Hills.

The Work Orders are compiled with input from several sources.

First the Grooming Boss has an idea of what needs done, given what didn't get done the previous night. Most Secondary Trails get groomed every-other night. Weekends, the Mountain tries to groom every groomable acre unless it's storming. All Primary Trails are groomed every night, unless the mountain is just barely open and snow conservation is a priority. All Snowmaking Areas get groomed whenever Snowmaking occurs on them.

Equal in weight is the input from the Lift Operations Forman. His crew of Lift Operators is responsible for helping the Mountain's Guests interface safely with the lifts. The lifties maintain the Ramps and Maze Areas during the day. The Forman adds his Wish List to the Work Orders. Lift Ramps are repaired and tilled on Swing Shift to maximize the amount of freezing they receive. Longer freeze means longer until skier-caused ruts begin to form near the bottom of the ramps. As the season progresses and more snow accumulates, ramps are lengthened, and made less steep, until they are perfect. At the bottom terminals, the Mazes or Line Areas are enlarged so our guests can line and load our chairs with the least amount of fuss and muss.

When a total rebuild is called for, the lift Operations Foreman lets the Swing Shift Ramp Groomer know where, and they work together to make the ramp the best it can be. If there's snow in the forecast, the Ramps still are done on Swing Shift, and the Graveyard Crew cleans them off and puts a fresh till on the Ramps and Mazes just before the Guests arrive at the least that's the way it goes in a Perfect World.

Ski Patrol also has something to contribute to the Work Orders. Patrol are the Groomers' eyes on the hill during the day, and they find the wrinkles that need ironing that aren't apparent to a groomer in the dark of night. Patrol has a vested interest in the Work Orders...they need to pull all their signage and closures that might be impacted by grooming ops overnight. Life is better when all oars pull together.

Now there's still a few more Mountain Departments that need work done by the Grooming Crew...The Race Department issues a Season Calendar every season, so Race Dept. requests don't catch us with our pants down. The Race Team need different runs groomed early on Swing Shift for their Early Training on the Mountain, too.

The Marketing Department has scheduled events that need a little Grooming Help from time to time. DemoDays, photo shoots, News Crews to ride with a Groomer...the list is as varied as it is endless. Over the years, I built Bars with my snowcat for Après-Ski Parties, built launch pads for New Years Eve Fireworks Shows, towed brand new cars and trucks up the mountain for Sponsor's Events, and towed them off the hill the next morning...there's never a dull moment when Marketing calls!

Just a couple more 'till we're done!
The Maintenance Departments need our help from time to time. The Lift Maintenance Crew has their own cat equipped with a hoist, forklift, and welder. They let us know when and where they'll be taking their cat so we'll be able to follow along after them and clean up their mess. There's always a note on the Work Orders about these projects, so we can follow up before opening.

Building Maintenance can have the worst jobs on the hill...every once in a while, they'll need to dig up a pipe or conduit that's in the ground. The Groomers push all the snow away from the area in question, and hang around to help the backhoe over the snow to the site. Once the Maintenance Guys wrap it up, the Groomers hear back to the scene to cover the scene of the crime so to speak...trying to keep the clean snow on top is murder in the dark!

The last one is fun, but it's a pain in the ass too because this call always comes when you're all done with your shift and headed back to the shop! Security hails the Grooming Crew by 2-Way and say: "We've got a vehicle stuck near..." Now the last thing a groomer wants to do at the end of a good shift is tow some dufus out of a fresh groomed Over the Snow Vehicle Road! We only get a couple of these a year...usually early season, and often as not, it's a new employee showing up for their first day of work! "Well, I drove in last time I was here!"

It's not easy for tired groomers to "suffer fools lightly"'s not in our written Job Description, but it's understood...kinda like a Gentleman's Agreement. At least there's always a good story to tell afterwards!

That's the story of the Work Orders. Armed with the Work Orders, the Plan is in place for the night. That's when my job gets interesting! Things change, cats break, guests go missing and searches are mounted, or we get 12 inches of "Partly Cloudy"...all these things play into the mix. The orders must be completed by opening.

What about the Terrain Parks, The Half Pipe, and SkierCross Course, you ask? Well, my Mountain has a Grooming Crew and a Park Crew. We work along side one another, and together when the chips are down. I'm the Free Groomer Guy, those guys are the Park Crew...I'm not that Guy.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Grooming 101

Getting Started
Any week now, TruckeeDave will climb back into his Prinoth BR350 Groomer and return to his Mountain tops. Because CorduroyPlanet was hatched in the Summer, I've written about the weather most of the time. Once I'm grinding around my Mountain again, the Grooming Columns should write themselves. Shooting the breeze about weather forecasts is deathly boring for most normal human beings unless their livelihood depends on the weather. Ski Resorts are not too different from actual Farms...both depend to a large degree on Mother nature's cooperation. Farms produce food, feed, fuel or timber products. Ski Resorts produce Skier Visits.

At the most basic level, Ski Resorts today sell a safe chairlift ride up a safe, well groomed hill. Resorts pretty much run the lifts and groom the slopes as a "Loss Leader" to ensure that there will be plenty of customers for the Food&Beverage Outlets, Ski Shops, Ski School, Hospitality&Hotel, Day Care, and Photo/Video Operations. The Grooming Crew makes the physical product that attracts most of the Customer Base. On busy days, big crowds put money in the bank, but on slower mid-week days, the margins are made off the mountain, not on it.

Grooming My Mountain occupies every hour that the Mountain's Guests are not on the hill. The Swing Shift gets to work a half hour before the lifts close for the day, and they groom until the shift change at midnight. The Graveyard Shift finishes the Grooming and hightails it off the Mountain a few minutes before the Guests load onto their first chair of the day.

Where to Begin?
Snowcats are powerful machines today, and they are quite expensive. Because these machines look like a bulldozer and work like a bulldozer, the casual observer often assumes that these cats are rugged like a bulldozer. If only that were true!

Snowcats must work like the 'dozer, but they also must float atop steep, deep powder snow so the operator can reach the top of the mountain in order to get the mountain into shape for the day. These disparate needs are cause for much compromise. Heavy enough to push like a 'dozer, yet light enough to stay on top of the snow, and climb the steepest trails and roads. Today's Groomers make the most of the latest technology to stay in the middle of the opposing demands of the workplace.

What Is a Groomer?
At the most fundamental level, Modern Grooming Machines are oil pumps on two tracks, with front and rear implements, an operator cabin, and a power source to make it all run.

Today's Snowcats are Hydrostatic Tractors. The Diesel Engine turns a series of Oil Pumps via the gearbox. These pumps pressurize and pump Hydrostatic Fluid to the Hydrostatic Motors that power the Tracks, the Tiller's Cutter Bars, and the Winch Drum...depending on the type of Groomer. Every machine also has Auxiliary pumps that run the Auxiliary Hydraulics which actuate the Implements front and rear. Again pressurized oil is pumped to Hydraulic Rams that move the Blade and it's Wings up front, and lifts, lowers, and controls the Tiller at the rear of the Groomer, and swings the Winch Boom. High pressure oils, flexible hoses that carry these oils, and movable actuators, coupled with High Vibration Levels are the recipe for leaks and failures, both which are best avoided.

Each Groomer or Operator, begins his shift at the Time Clock. The Swing Shift guys Punch In, and head out to their Snowcats to check out their cats, and warm them up for their shifts.

The "Checkout" is akin to aviation's "Pre-Flight" or "Walkaround" The operator, does visual and physical checks to ensure the machine is ready to work hard for the duration of the shift, and the shift after his. The Operator checks each fluid reservoir to ensure that there's enough of each fluid for the tractor to run a.s specified. Engine Oil, Engine Coolant, Hydrostatic Fluid, and Auxiliary Hydraulic Fluid all are topped up and recorded on the Checkout Sheet. It's always a good idea to take a look in the diesel fuel filler at the beginning of the shift, one minute to top off the tank can save a half hour of lost productivity later.

Continuing the walkaround, the operator checks all the Hydraulic Hoses and Fittings to ensure they are tightly fastened, aren't leaking fluid, and are free of kinks and cuts. All fasteners need to be in place and everything must be battened down. I teach my Rookies how to do the Checkout, how to fill out the Checkout Sheets, and to grab and wiggle all the fittings and hoses on the Cat. Looking for oil sheens or puddles will help find leaky fittings or hoses, so repairs can be made before the cat is on the hill.

One all the oils are accounted for, the operator starts the engine, turns on the Cab Heater and Fans, and continues the Checkout...Tires, Wheel Bearing Covers, Frames and Axles all are scrutinized. Tracks are examined for torn Belts, missing Bolts, Backing Plates, Tire Guides, and Lacings and Lacing Bolts. Windshield Wipers, Lights, 2-Way Radios, Tiller Flaps, Combs, and Flags are checked and recorded.

Satisfied that all is well with his tractor, the Operator can settle in for the shift. This is when I hook up my iPod, it's Charger/FM Transmitter, and stow my coffee cup, lunchbox, and backpack. Once I tune in the Stereo, I'm ready to roll!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Arise You Turkey-Fied Zombies!

Most of Sunday
Except for the ragged flesh falling off my bones and the dark sunken eyes, I am a Zombie today. I don't have any uncontrolled compulsion to drag a foot stiff-legged down a dark road in search of human flesh, or moan unintelligibly while dragging said extremity. In fact, I've barely made it out of the horizontal today! I did sit bolt-upright when the Network switched to the Raider Game and they rallied in the last minute to win!

Two days of baking and cooking the Family Thanksgiving at the Ancestral Digs took it out of my tired old bones. The family chewin' the fat over Roast Turkey and all the Fixins was priceless as always. No better way to spend a nice Saturday in Fall has ever been devised. Ski Industry Mavens understand the Holidays are by necessity, celebrated in a Catch as Catch Can manner...dates matter less than getting the whole cast on stage and on their marks at the same time.

The Siskiyou Wing bought their first home this month, and my youngest sister and her husband bought a new-to-them Mini-SUV. SisterSweetly is moving across the road, and I'm obsessing over the weather. We reminisced about the 100th Birthday Party we attended the last time the family was all in one place... Less priceless was viewing the Video I shot of the whole semi-mundane affair...

A 1:04:34 B-Reel Yawner...and that was before the tryptophan kicked in. (Umm, scientists dispute the Tryptophan/Turkey Torpor Connection, citing the heavy amounts of carbohydrates and alcohol usually consumed with the turkey as the more likely drowsiness inducer)

I pressed the camcorder into service as a way to share our Holiday Table with our Aunt back in Ohio. OK I thought, My Mom's Sister might find it endearing... (After seeing 'the rushes' I'm thinking it could be of some value to Aunt Kate when she suffers from Insomnia!)

Sunday, I spent all afternoon barely acknowledging the Sunday Paper, and didn't read it per se...oh, I scanned the adds for Black Friday (Week) Deals, but newspapers don't slake my thirst for timely news anymore. Quicker clicks on a laptop deliver more news, faster than I ever thought possible. I didn't avoid the WeatherWeb though, I checked in with the Reno and Sacramento AFD's and the outlook is for drier and warmer days leading to the actual Thanksgiving Thursday. Mother Nature bats last, and to these eyes, it looks like she isn't even out of the dugout yet.

Next week, December arrives...let's hope Ma Nature has chosen her bat and made it out to the On Deck Circle and up to the plate in time to smack one outta the park!

Last week, I did read the Sunday Still, the SF Chronicle's Tom Stienstra said: "You can expect a good chance of unsettled weather, and likely rain with snow in the mountains, around Dec. 1 and Dec. 16."

I'm rootin' for ya Tom! My Mountain needs plenty of lovin' from Mother Nature, and in early December, too!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Falling Down?

Friday's blustery storm is a memory in the High Sierra now. Fresh snow greeted the sliders who ventured up to the High Country for a Bluebird Day on the slopes. Reports from around Tahoe Basin say around a foot landed and stayed on the slopes. Snowmaking temps were attained sometime around midnight, and snowmaking crews picked up where Mother Nature left off. Favorable temperatures persisted through mid-day as well.

Sacramento's AFD warns that all is not yet well in Paradise however:


CorduroyPlanet's Glossary for Non-Weather-Geeks

AFD= Area Forecast Discussion

ECMWF= European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting. Operational references in forecast discussions typically refer to the ECMWF's medium-range forecast model.

GFS= A numerical computer model of the atmosphere that is run out to 384 hours, four times per day.

Sorry, I haven't found the definition for this one yet.

Target Opening Day Again
My Mountain will open in time for Thanksgiving. Time will tell just how open we will be. Everything depends on how many hours of good snowmaking temps are ahead this week. Looking at the webcams by the light of day shows my suspicions to be true, most of last night's snow ended up out in the trees, in swales, or creeks, and not on the trails where it's most needed.

Judging from the AFD above, it's going to be nip and tuck for snowmaking next week. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Watching and Waiting

Friday 9 AM
It won't be long now. The sun was shining just twenty minutes ago. I could see blue sky through the swaying redwood branches in front of the Ancestral Digs. I made the coffee and loaded the washing machine and looked out the window of the Western DaveCave, and the blue skies had gone AWOL.

The new storm is at my doorstep, the rain is just an hour or so away according to the Weatherman on Channel 2 News. I scanned all the Forecast Discussions all evening, and first thing this morning. This one is really going to mess up the Trans-Sierra highways this evening. Watching the forecast's progression for the past few days has been fascinating. As I suspected, the winds are becoming the Big Story concerning this front. Both Sacramento and Reno used the phrase "White-Out" to describe the event. I'm glad I'll be heating up the kitchen while Mother Nature thrashes the High Sierra!

Here in the Bay Area, CalTrans Spokespeople were featured on the Morning News to assure the motoring public that their latest "Patch" to the cracked I-Bar on the Bay Bridge would be OK in the forecast winds. NWS SF Bay/Monterey has issued pages of warnings, watches and advisories. Everything from Gale Warnings to Weather Advisories are promising high winds to 45mph around the Bay Area.

Friday 4PM Update
I just returned from the Supermarket with a shopping cart-full of Thanksgiving fixins. Here in the Inland Valley the storm clouds are breaking up, revealing some very blue sky. Looking around the webcam world, the storm is really messing with the Trans Sierra Highways. While I was out, I tuned into Sacramento's NewsTalk station KFBK, and their Traffic Guy was reporting 33 CHP units rolling to accidents in the Greater Sacramento Area. The Truckee and Colfax CHP Stations are scrambling to keep up with the spin-outs, stuck motorists, and weather chaos. Chain controls went up after noon, and are in effect on 80 from Drum to Donner Lake Interchange. All Mountain Highways have controls now. This morning my niece saw snow near Orleans in the Siskiyous on her way out of town to drone south to the Ancestral Digs for the Holiday Week.

9PM Friday Night
It's all over for the Inland Valley now. Another trip to the supermarket, this time no wipers required. Judging from the webcam view, it's mostly over in the High Sierra too. It's hard to estimate exactly how much snow landed on my Mountain from the webcam, but there is new snow, but it doesn't look very deep. The wind drifted all that snow somewhere up there. My guess is that it's out in the trees, not on the trails. The mercury is falling fast, but relative humidity is almost snowmaking until things dry out some.

The Reno 21:30 AFD is up, and they're saying it's all over but the crying. Radar images are clear except for some echoes off Eureka. The storm is long gone for most of the Forecast Area. Mountain top sensors are reporting gusty winds still in the 50-60mph range.

6AM Saturday
That's a wrap! The fans are blowing snow this morning, and chain controls have shortened on 80 to cover just Kingvale to Truckee. Sensors say it's still windy up top, but nothing like the fierce blow from the front moving through. I'm curious to see snowfall reports later this morning...I still can't figure out if much snow accumulated by looking at the webcam images. Reno's 03:35 AFD says there's some flurries showing up on their radar, north of Pyramid Lake, but they should exit the area by daybreak. Reno says the winds will hanging around for the weekend, though so dress accordingly!

That was fun! Seeing how I didn't have to drop everything and travel up the hill made keeping track of the system's passage a vicarious thrill that I probably enjoyed a little too much.

Now, back to my Thanksgiving preparations!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Eyes on The Prize

Thursday Morning
The next Weather Event is headed towards NorCal. Before I got out of bed to make the coffee this morning, I logged on to the Reno NWS Discussion page to "keep my eye on the ball" I was not surprised to read:

"On Friday...The most significant impacts from the storm are trending more toward potential for strong winds...while precip and snow amounts in the Sierra are expected to be less significant. The fast movement of this storm with limited moisture tap will probably limit snowfall totals below the typical warning criteria...but significant impact on travel is likely. The strong winds combined with a few hours of moderate to heavy snow are likely to coincide with the Friday afternoon commute and busy travel period over the major passes between NRN Nevada and CNTRL CA valleys. To continue heightened awareness for the potential travel impacts...the Winter Storm Watch for NRN CA and Tahoe Zones will be maintained with the current forecast"

Friday morning, right in the crosshairs of the storm, SisterSweetly with my niece the FamilyGeologist will be driving down to the Ancestral Digs. That's a trip I'm glad I'm missing! NWS Sacramento says snow levels for the Redwood Empire Friday will be down to 4000ft,so they'll avoid chain controls. Somehow, rainstorms in the Redwood Empire seem wetter than elsewhere...perhaps that's why the Redwood Coast is so green.

El Niño Update
This afternoon, I caught up with the Climate Prediction Center's monthly update of their 90 Day Climate Outlook. I groused about October's cop-out on temps and precip, when they said they could go Above/Average/Below.

This month the CPC isn't saying anything chiseled in stone, but they "held the waffles" so to speak. They did allow their prediction of an "Enhanced likelihood of Above Average Temperatures for much of the Western Half of the Continental United States" For the rest of the country, they stood pat, continuing with their Win/Lose/Draw equivocation act.

On the precipitation front, the CPC didn't leave out the High Sierra, saying; "Above Median Precipitation Amounts are most likely in Texas, Florida, and in California, and in Northern sections of Alaska" How good is my Prediction looking now? Just what the odds say...average or above. Gimme a Gold Star! I wouldn't blame you if you wait 'till Spring, though...I won't take it personally!

About My Prediction
I'm starting to feel like a team mate of Tom Steinstra! Thursday's are Outdoors Section Day in the San Francisco Chronicle, and Tom continued with his Winter Weather Forecast story. Aside from his geography gaffe, Tom supplies further data that validates my Prediction.

Steinstra writes: "Meteorologist Mike Polansky found what might be a correlation between heavy rains in October and high annual rainfall. Since 1848, San Francisco has had more than 3 inches of rain in Octobernine times, including this year. Of the previous eight, six became very wet winters, one was normal, and one was below normal. In the past 40 years, wet Octobers occurred in 1972, 1982 and 2004, and each time a very wet winter followed".

Yikes! Do I ever remember the 82-83 season! I was a second year groomer/trainee and still spending most of my nights in Tucker SnoCats. I worked at the neighboring resort so I could get some time in a Thiocol 3700 Hydromaster Groomer like my boss drove. It snowed like the Devil that season, and back in the Grooming Stone Age, operators did plenty of time with a shovel in hand. Lot's of digging out Rolling Stock, and always at the end of a long cranky shift.

Reality Check
Today's Photo is the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite image of the 1997 El Niño taken December 1st, 1997. The Winter of 97-98 was the El Niño that set tongues to wagging about Global Warming in earnest.
Now compare this TOPEX/Poseidon image from November 1st, 2009

There's all the difference in the world between these two events, still I'll stand pat with respect to my Winter Prediction, thank you very much.