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.

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