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.

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