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.

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