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.

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