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!

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