Saturday, August 22, 2009


Recalling my Tucker Sno-Cat days was bittersweet. Those were carefree days on the Mountain. My only responsibility was to show up on time, and do what I was told. I was too clueless to make anything up as I went along, and fortunately I held onto my job long enough to fall in love with grooming and the Mountain.

Soon, I was allowed to operate a newer style cat...a genuine Thiokol 2100 Diesel. This machine was a precursor to the Groomers of today. This machine had the basic form factor of modern grooming cats...two tracks with a blade out front, a small centerline mounted cab and a rear lift frame for hanging rear implements. This cat was built in the 70's and Tillers hadn't made the scene yet. Compactor Bars and Tow Hitches still brought up the rear.

The 2100 was a friction steered cat, with a conventional drive and clutch. This old beast had been abused and modified aplenty, she smelled of hot oil and diesel soot, and was fitted with a manual transmission and a "Reverser Box" (a second stick shift, to select between forward and reverse in whatever gear the main tranny was in) The auxiliary hydraulics were molasses-slow, and steering the cat while smoothly using the blade was a real trick. I want to say it was an 8-Way Blade...alas, memory fades... The steeper the terrain, the tougher the going. Holding this cat back on steep, deep runs was a workout that would have a Famous Exercise Video series named for it today...good for upper arm definition, for sure.

Even as rough as this old cat was, it really was a quantum leap over the Tuckers. On the steeper, off-camber climbs, it was magic at the time...after all, many times the fleet of Tuckers towing implements could only make the climb a few times before the snow was too worked to keep giving the Tucker tracks purchase, and the fleet would retreat down the hill to make passes on gentler slopes.

The better climbing of the "real" cat opened new vistas to conquer, and demanded that new skills be learned.

At the time, the Mountain had only one hydrostatic groomer, and it was a thing of beauty for it's time. An Allis Chalmers six cylinder diesel Thiokol 3700 in the requisite black and red livery. The A/C straight six had a straight exhaust, without a muffler. The stack pierced the sheet metal engine cover, and came right off the turbo. It elbowed straight up, only two feet in front of the windshield. When you "had your foot in it" making the pumps scream on a long climb, it would maintain a pretty blue flame atop the stack along with a tremendous howl. This was the Boss' ride. Rookies need not apply. The season was 81/82...still no tillers on the Mountain...and no chance of getting any stick time in that cat.

I took a job at the neighboring hill so I could get my stick time, I worked five nights a week at my Mountain, and my nights off I drove the neighboring hill's 3700. I kept that up right thru the season until the spring doldrums set in. I didn't always get to drive the hydro, about half the time I was driving a diesel powered rubber track Tucker with a clunky automatic transmission...what a beast! Once my neighbor hill boss started to trust me, he gave me plenty of elbow room.

During one huge storm period, we abandoned the neighbor hill altogether, and put that cat on the county highway. The Local Fire Department had called, there was a possible heart attack victim up the highway, and it was impassable for the ambulance and too deep for the Fire Dept. snowmobile.

We grabbed some chain, and groomed the two miles of the highway so the fire dept sled could get to the heart patient. We groomed out to the Interstate, and as we roared past the Highway Lodge, we were looking down from five feet above the cars in the lot! This was the storm that spawned the fatal avalanche at Alpine Meadows in 1982.

That avalanche killed seven, and trapped a young college student, Anna Conrad in her demolished locker room. Anna was rescued some days later, and returned a year later to ski Alpine again. I remember waking up at home with the TV news showing snow cats digging out the avalanche debris at the Alpine Meadows was the first time I ever saw groomers on TV.

I learned to run that hydro and before long, I got in trouble with my newly learned "skills" one snow day on my home mountain.

The Ski Patrol Leader and some other patrollers needed a lift to the top of the Mountain to run another avalanche control route. My boss was having breakfast, so I offered my services. His cat was parked outside Lift Ops, idling...I shut off my Tucker, saddled up, and headed in the driver's seat...with a big ol' grin on my face. About halfway up, the scolding radio call crackled thru the cab...I stammer an apology/reason kinda thing, and the Patrol Leader takes pity on me, keys the mic and pleads my case. I made the top of the Mountain, the A/C was done, and I kept the Boss' ride on the cat tracks, and out of trouble. I took a lot of crap for my stunt, but I started earning a little respect that morning, too.

Leaving the Nest
After being part of the Pack for most of the season, the Bosses started giving the quick studies a little more rope, so to speak. There were two of us...The Bosses were trying to broaden our horizons, so they could leave us to our own devices whenever they had a project to do that we couldn't help with...the heavy lifting and the detail stuff...mostly building ramps, digging around lift terminals and buildings, building roads...the skilled jobs that we'd learn as time and talent allowed.

One run I was to master was an intermediate cruiser that had a short steep black diamond run in. It was always good for a little slide when the snow was deep or soft. Eventually groomers learn to lust for those toboggan passes, they're the only true thrill on the hill that's not extra-legal. Before we started seeking these thrills, we approached with caution...and a little down right fear.

I was working this run solo one night. There was a couple of feet of fresh snow on it, and I was about mid-way thru the job when things got a little scary. This run groomed from left to right...mostly in the fall line, though there was a little sidehill after the initial steep pitch. Creeping over the breakover, I let things get too fast, too quickly. There were some large, frozen bumps hidden beneath the fresh powder, and at toboggan speed, things got really bumpy. That's when my knee bumped the splitter box into neutral, and I accelerated like the Millenium Falcon entering Hyper Space!

The cat wasn't the only thing racing! My heart rate passed red line in milliseconds, followed closely by my adrenalin level. It was a helpless feeling as the heavy 2100 bounded down the hill headed towards the trees and a lift tower. I was riding a rodeo bronco in free-fall! I don't know what possessed me to bury the blade, but something had prepared me to do it. The fountain of fresh snow ricocheting off the cat's blade looked like and old-time photograph from the Placer Mining Days...a huge blast of material capable of mowing down most anything in it's path blasted out in front of me! I made a huge trench, right down the middle of the steep, and right across the fresh-groomed passes I'd just made. Thinking about that trip, I don't have any memory of redoing the whole run, though I'm sure I did.

Eventually I realized that I never could have gotten into the trees, much less that lift tower. Gravity was on my team, and it would steer me right, though it took some more experience on my part to realize it. That's the night I learned what an ally fear could be. Years later I put it to work every season...keeping my rookies on the straight and narrow...just like my Boss did with me, that night, on that run, in that old Thiokol.

Four years passed, and I was the Boss...that old 2100 was retired as were all but one Tucker. The '76 with the rubber tracks was our back up rig and utility hauler. I didn't have but one or two rookies to teach, and we had three or four hydros, including our first Cat-Powered 3700C. Tillers now adorned the rear of the machines, and the manufacturer's nameplate said: DeLorean...yup, Back to the Future, DeLorean. No longer Thiokol red&black, the new C Models were painted orange. They would have been awesome in brushed stainless steel like DeLorean's sports cars!

Cleaning up around the Vehicle Shop, pushing four feet of snow off in to the trees, I plowed the beacon right off the top of that old 2100, left abandoned for the winter, in the trees behind the Shop...I didn't scratch the sheet metal, I just broke the beacon's plastic lens off. I felt bad for the old beast...but, I smiled and remembered the night I dug that big trench.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Catching Up

In weather and climate science there's millions of data points to be captured, and understood before the Climate Scientists and their Computer Geeks can understand what they mean so they can massage all of it into useful tools for predicting daily weather or long range climate changes.

Meanwhile, every day young computer geeks invent another wizz-bang gadget or write the killer app that turns them into Silicon Valley Moguls with offshore bank accounts. Yahoo, Google, iPhone, Twitter...who knew? Last time I checked, cell phone Ring Tone sales were a multi-billion dollar industry! Wow...

But the weatherman's tools aren't so mercurial...their tools are evolved, not brainstormed like the consumer candies so lusted after by the technorati. Slowly at the glacial pace of government, the refinements are tested for efficacy, reliability, and stability before becoming another tool in the meteorologists' ever-growing toolbox. For these developers, the playing field isn't flat, it's an ever changing, undulating sea surface obscured from satellite surveillance by clouds and fog and even data-corrupting solar outbursts.

Grooming machines are evolving technology too...when I think about "My Cats" over the years, it's no less amazing to me than any of the latest consumer tech gear.

I refer to my machine as a Cat. The Cat name comes from the original Tucker Sno-Cat, the machine in which I first earned a groomer's paycheck behind the steering wheel. Yes, Tuckers had steering wheels...most Pisten Bullies have wheels today, but they're a far cry from the original Tucker Tech.

The Tuckers I learned my mountain in, were all 1970's vintage. Tuckers were like a cross between a WW1 biplane and a Jeep. The frames were hand-built tubular affairs, skinned with hand-formed riveted aluminum and painted CalTrans Orange. Ours were front engine Mopar V8 powered, and the drive was a traditional 4X4 system with the transmission coupled to a transfer case and driveshafts for and aft turning automotive differentials and axles to the pontoons or tracks.

We had two flavors of Tuckers, metal track and rubber track. The metal tracked cats had four lightweight sheet metal pontoons, one at each corner. Around the inside and outside perimeter of the pontoon a welded on track or raceway provided the running surface for lots of steel rollers to run around the pontoon supporting the pair of rollers at each end of every grouser. These rollers were cantilevered over the pontoon's raceways from the ends of every worked, but it was very delicate, and didn't take kindly to hitting anything hard in the snowpack like buried tree limbs, concealed stumps or rocks, and their service life, even without abuse was woefully short. If memory serves, each pontoon carried at least 60 rollers!

Steering the pontoons was a hydraulic system, with hydraulic rams steering both front and rear axles. Operators had to avoid turning the steering wheel when the vehicle wasn't moving. Doing so would always break something...the classic immovable object scenario. Because of the physics involved, the Tucker drive lines were special too, they were designed to twist a lot before failure, because they would often have to break a frozen layer between the pontoons and the snowpack, as all the play in the rollers and grousers loaded up and then lashed free...more trouble ahead...

All the headaches of all those rotating steel on steel parts were solved by the advent of the rubber track system. The Mountain had one rubber track Sno-Cat, a 1976 model. This cat didn't have very much in the way of suspension really, not like today's machines. There was some side to side flex in the belts, but no flexitors or bogey wheel suspension. Some of the operator thrones had suspension, but all in all, it was a rough ride.

The body was a single ply of aluminum sheet, uninsulated, though our mechanic glued commercial carpet to the inside of the skin wherever the frame allowed. There were no stereos, and back then the 2-Way Motorola radios were crystal controlled, single channel units...everybody on the mountain worked on a single frequency then. Groomers used Astral Tunes cassette players and headphones to quell the monotony of the V8 roar. The tunes were carried in a chest pack, the volume cranked, and all was right with the world...or so it seemed...Good Times!

Rolling Stock
There were no implements on the Sno-Cats then, everything that actually worked the snow surface was towed behind the Cats like a boat trailer! We had several varieties of "Rolling Stock"

For fresh snow, or packed powder, we pulled Plain Rollers in two widths, 13ft or 20ft wide.

As the surface firmed up, we would switch out the Plain Rollers for Mogul Cutters. These were 13ft rollers with a heavy frame mounted box blade in front of the roller. The blade was raised and lowered with a pair of small hydraulic rams. We'd set the blade to shear the tops of the moguls off, and the roller would compact the sheared-off snow into the troughs and leave a flat, dance floor-like surface. Some cutters were towed from the frame-mounted pintle hitch, and we had a "Gooseneck Cutter" that was towed 5th Wheel style from the deck-mounted pintle.

Trailing behind each roller, was a small diameter drag chain that stirred up some loose duff to cover imperfections and break-up the corrugated culvert pipe imprint of the roller. Stone age by today's standards.

Once the snow surface turned Spring-Like, we added "Powdermakers" and a huge Drag Chain to our arsenal. The Drag Chain was used to set-up the snow surface for the Powdermakers.

Once Ski Patrol finished their sweep of the mountain, two Swing Shift groomers driving Tuckers towing 13ft Rollers, would hook this Drag Chain between their respective Rollers. In tandem they would roll around the flatter, slushier ski runs to knock down all the sloppy ski tracks before the sun set, and the snow started to freeze. This took some coordination between the two operators, and some experience to judge when and where to start. Mostly this technique was employed on the "Home Runs"...the Easiest Way Down on the slopes with Western Exposures. The Drag Chain was really an Anchor Chain, the links were 3/4 of an inch in diameter and the links measured 4X6 inches in heavy lived at the base of the Mountain, and was marked with bamboo for guest safety.

Every time it snowed, the Drag Chain had to be dragged back up to the top of the pack, so it would be ready once the pack turned slushy. Every piece of Rolling Stock needed to be dug out too, following every new foot of snowfall, and repositioned atop freshly packed snow...every time. My memory is fortunately hazy, but the Drag Chain was pretty long, too...more than 50ft, maybe 80ft? A big hassle to dig up and move...that I do remember clearly!

Once the Drag Chain task was complete, the operators would drop their Rollers and hook up to Mogul Cutters and head for the steeper, bumped-up runs on the Work Orders...Nature was expected to pitch in, and freeze the spring-like runs where the Drag Chain had been deployed.

After the snowpack froze hard, and seemed frozen deeply enough, the Graveyard Crew would hook up the Powdermaker and re-roll the cut and dragged runs to make a little duff from the hard-frozen surface, and tho put a little "tooth" on the hard frozen pack. The Powdermaker was a heavy, wide implement, with several heavy, "reels" fashioned from stout expanded metal. Each reel had it's own frame linked to the other frames. The powdermaker was pretty cranky to operate, conditions needed to meet a certain threshold for best results, and handling the beast when doing anything other than moving forward was just asking for trouble.

The reels ride on the snow surface at an oblique angle to the direction of motion when they do their best grinding of the surface. Hydraulics controlled the Angle of Attack, or how aggressively the reels would grind. The reels could be aligned with the perpendicular, to facilitate easy towing and to minimize the dig-in factor. My Mountain had two of these had three reels, and the Dinosaur had a bunch of reels...six at least, maybe 8 or 9 all told.

You did your best to never get in a Back-Up situation with the Dinosaur. Backing-up that powdermaker often ended with a broken powdermaker, or a jumbled pile of reels that looked like hell.

Worse-Case scenario was when you misjudged the quality of the freeze. That's when the reels would break through the misjudged crust, and dig into soft, still wet snow just below. That's when the below-freezing reels picked up huge globs of slush that froze instantly to the expanded metal, creating a new implement...the "Lawsuit Maker"

A Frozen Powdermaker dug ugly, lumpy, random ruts wherever the operator dragged it...Shovel it off, and the snow would grab right back onto it, making newer, uglier ruts to fix. Once you were in this mess, you were toast, burnt weren't going to salvage a good shift from your predicament. No, you were going home, after messing with your awful mess for the better part of your last hour on the hill, with your head hung in shame.

I don't miss powdermakers one bit!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Getting After It

Here it is already Mid-August...the snow should start falling in just inside three months. It's hard during the Dog Days of Summer, to start fixating on the weather three months hence, but "forewarned is forearmed" a wordy somebody once said.

I usually start paying closer attention to the weathermen during Halloween Week. When the Sierra is acting "normal" there's a better than 50/50 chance that snowmaking temperatures have arrived in time for Interstate 80's Boreal Ridge to blow a small patch of ManMade snow. So come Halloween, no self-respecting Sacramento Valley TV News Director would dare miss a Live Remote from the Donner Summit hill, featuring ecstatic skiers and boarders...some in costume, mugging behind the Talking Head who's wearing a new parka replete with the Station, Summit and Truckee locals set their calendars by this show.

Donner Summit and Truckee Locals usually are well into their annual firewood program by then, and many Summit dwellers are already burning this year's stash to keep the chill out of the house overnight.

In Truckee, gardens are being put to bed, garages get the clean and organize weekend, so vehicles can fit back inside, without boxing in the snowblower and snow shovels. The last of the straggler campers and hunters have returned to their lowland homes, and the Mountain Folk have their little towns all to themselves again for a few weeks before the Holiday Rush begins in earnest.

Last season, Boreal made their patch of ManMade, but you know that thing about the best laid plans? There was a hot spell that ran several days, and the ground was bare come Halloween...I remember driving over the Summit that week, with the A/C blasting!

This was my life for the last 25+ years too, but I've been spending the last few summer/fall seasons down the hill east of the San Francisco Bay, in the Inland Valley where my youth was spent. My Mother lives here in her spacious Ranch Style with mature trees, near good schools and shopping.

Since my father passed away, I'm the new maintenance guy. I'm more than happy to do it, it's what I've always done summers, anyway...working with my hands, brandishing sharp tools, planning and performing upgrades, remodels, additions and, you get near-instant gratification doing these things!

Here at the Ancestral Digs, I get the added bonus of reliving some of my memories of learning much of my craft from my Dad...even working with some of the same tools that he taught me with. I'm more like him than I ever could have imagined when I was a know-it-all teenaged chuckle-head. I wish I had spent more time with him once I grew up a little, and he magically got a whole lot smarter and cooler!

I'm not going to miss those times with my Mom...before I head home for the season, I plan on teaching her to read CorduroyPlanet on her own computer...after I repair the back fence, the shade screens, update and automate the irrigation, and renew all the faucets, angle stops and water filters, of course!

After the Change
As the days get shorter, there will be more hours to spend boning-up on the Pacific Ocean's New Regime. I found a Paper on the PDO and the Ocean Heat Flow Correlation with Past Climate Anomalies, on Anthony Watts' excellent Climate Blog: Watts Up With That?

In short, the Pacific has "turned over" three times over the last half century, and these PDO regime changes match the climate changes that at the time, seemed "out of the norm" There's been an awful lot of noise about Global Warming, and man's hand in that warming lately...heck, we even have an ex-Vice President winning Emmys, Oscars and Nobel Prizes for his Inconvenient "Truth" telling.

I'm a pretty straight-ahead guy...I usually make up my mind, based on sound evidence, and put my head down and get on with it...damn the torpedoes. Global Warming IS real, after all our Earth HAS been trending warmer for almost Twelve Thousand Years! All that warming allowed the last Ice Age to end, Western Civilization to bloom, and Greenland to get the name a thousand years ago! Pretty heady stuff, wouldn't you say?

All during those 12K years, climate cycles have ebbed and flowed, leaving empirical evidence, for today's clever investigators to find, catalog, compile and analyze. Ice cores, Tree Rings, Sediment Cores and more are used as Proxy Indicators. I read a good overview of the Climate Proxy Indicators by Singer and Avery called "Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1500 Years" (The link points to the Updated volume, I read the Feb 2007 Edition)

One of those Warming Events, the Medieval Climate Optimum (c. 800-1300AD) ended the Dark Ages and kicked off the Renaissance, before giving way to "The Little Ice Age" The LIA generally lasted from the 16th century through the Mid-18th Century and includes three minima beginning about 1650, about 1770, and 1850. Did George Washington and the Continental Army have help from the climate crossing the Delaware River that Christmas Eve in 1776?
Looks like it to me.

Another piece of the Climate Puzzle is the "Maunder Minimum" a period of very little observed Solar Activity resulting in a dearth of sunspots. During one 30 year period of the Maunder Minimum, only 50 sunspots were observed by astronomers! In "normal" times there are usually 30,000 to 50,000 observed sunspots over 30 years! Yes, the Maunder Minimum coincided with the Little Ice Age.

Today's Solar Scientists are also seeing very, very few sunspots. Months pass without a single spot on our star...and satellite temperature data says: If you are 29 years old, there's been NO measured warming in your entire adult life! This month's "Sky and Telescope" magazine Cover Story is: "What's Wrong With the Sun?" We'll find out together over the next few years what this means, though I think it's safe to take our Hard Hats off now.

The Sky isn't gonna fall on us anytime can take that to the Bank!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mondays Rock!

I'm back, though not exactly totally rested and recharged. Sometimes relaxing is a lot of damn work.

SturgeUrge phoned Sunday night to complain that his other fishing buddy had to cancel for Monday, so could I fill in? Of course!

We got two more halibut, and kept one...the keeper! Mine was too short to measure, and it went back to grow up. The weather was quite different than Friday's balmy Sunshine Special. The water worked us over pretty good. I woke up Tuesday at 04:30 with a belly ache. I guess it was muscle soreness from doing unconscious abdominal crunches all day long!

The Bay waters were quite confused Monday. The NWS forecast promised less wind than Friday's Small Craft Warnings. Monday they called for a Small Craft Advisory starting at noon. The afternoon tides were really weak, and there was a Finger of Fog piercing the center of the Bay. From along Alcatraz and Angel Islands, the fog flowing northeast through El Cerrito and out towards the Delta persisted throughout day. The morning low clouds burned off at Paradise before noon. We were back at the ramp in Richmond by 5PM, and the winds there were ferocious! I barely kept my camera dry from the spray blowing off the tops of the groundswell waves while I snapped some pictures of the USS Red Oak Victory. Urge and I agreed, we've never seen winds that strong at Richmond...ever.

The winds were calm when we launched from Richmond, but the Bay was even lumpier than it was Friday, though no whitecaps were observed. The Bay had deeper wind waves, and our trip across the Bay to Paradise reminded us of why sailors call the heading a "Beat" The thing we'd never seen before was the numerous wakes from the Marin and Vallejo Ferries. Perhaps it's because we stayed "inside" at Paradise most of the day, finding the tiny pocket of warm still air that gave it the name Paradise, but it was a day of almost constant wakes...all of them 3ft+ and every one of them rocking us broadsides.

Monday was supposed to be The Traffic Nightmare for Bay Area Commuters. The Regional Transit System's BART rail workers were going out on strike, and the strike was only averted in the wee hours of the overnight negotiations. We surmised that the other mass transit providers scheduled every possible vessel to cash in on the strike-caused slack. Given the publicity the BART Strike had been getting since mid-week, just about everybody who could, took Monday off, or telecommuted instead.

When we launch the SturgeUrge out of Richmond, we do get into some potential Rush Hour trouble spots, though we usually run like "Tail End Charlie" at the end of the normal heavy time. Even when events conspire to jamb up things up, we only run the bottleneck with the commute direction for a half mile before we turn north, against the commute again. Monday the only traffic that slowed us down was right in front of the SturgeUrge Compound! The freeways were quite barren for a Monday.

The weather out there wasn't typical for mid-August on the Bay, and the Inland Valleys weren't baking either. NWS says we'll be cooling again in time for this weekend. There's been an awful lot of cooling talk in these parts lately! I can only will the upcoming winter shake out?

Last fall I opined to anyone who'd listen, that "I've never seen three low precip seasons in a row"...usually in response to: TruckeeDave, what's your prediction for this Winter? After my weather dressing down last season, I'm loathe to say this again...updated: "I've never seen Four dry winters in a row, and I've been on this Mountain...yada, yada. They don't say "Four's a charm" for a reason...If this one's "Dry", I think we're looking at a Trend.

We still have a couple of months to bone up on the PDO/ENSO convergence and it's implications for snowfall and snowmaking temperatures for my Mountain.

I'm hoping it's not just another "Dry Read"

Monday, August 17, 2009

Choosing Days Off

I'm just not feeling it...yet. Winter ski season is still some months away. I'm hanging at the Ancestral Digs, doing some maintainance, and getting in as much recreating as I can afford. Still, the Earth orbits our star, and the days are getting shorter. Winter will arrive, the snowmaking will begin, and the Groomers will start stirring. The itch to twitch the sticks will send us up the hill, as sure as shorter days send birds south for the winter.

Once the Mountain starts building towards the Season Opener, the days will become nights at work, momentum will build, and then the Big Push will start the whole cycle once again. If the Weather Gods deliver a good blast of winter storms in late Fall, the Big Push will become the Holiday Period, and schedules will be something to dream of...until the whole mountain is up and running. Our Post Season Championship Tourney is played at the Beginning of Ski Season, the Stretch Run comes right out of the blocks. Groomers will grind it out at the cost of enough rest, telling themselves they'll get an Extra-Nice Vacation once the season's over.

When my hours go way up, and I start feeling the loss of sleep, I'm reminded of Jack Nicholson in Kubrick's movie "The Shining"...A fireman's axe crashes through an elegant mahogany door, and a wild eyed Jack juts his face through the hole and snarls: "Here's Johnny!"

I'm not saying I'm there yet, nowhere even remotely close...still, I'd better start pacing myself before the Heavy Stuff starts pounding in. Writing more than Grooming Reports every day is new to your's truly.

Every day I read bunches of stuff online, so I've noticed the dearth of new content over the weekend across the I guess I'll pick up the gauntlet, and endeavor to do my part to raise the noise floor the wee little bit that CorduroyPlanet is capable of.

I've had Sunday and Monday off since "Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth", I've never found a good reason to change things up, so I'll just keep an extra blog in the can this winter so my days off can stay...avocationally speaking anyway...responsibility free.

Part of any good weekend has to be a re-energizing regimen for body and soul. Freedom is the ultimate Restorative Tonic, and freedom only exists in it's pure form. Freedom can't be moderated, rationed, or doled out...either as favor or tribute, Freedom can only exist Straight Up. No brew goes by the name of "Freedom Lite"

When the snow flies, and my nights become long weeks at the sticks of my Cat, Mental Freedom will become my only salvation. Only this tonic will allow me to recharge my battery banks, providing the energy that keeps my head above water, my tongue in check as smart politics demand, and help me keep my Crew's spirit high.

My Christian Upbringing stuck with me well enough that I have a Creed that I try to live by. I'm never going to cure cancer, nor minister to the squalid in Calcutta, Bangladesh, or Timbuktu. My nod to My God is to try to make my little corner of the world pleasant and AssHat-Free.

I make the time to keep my fevered brain just below the slow boil...those around me don't know how much they appreciate it. It's the same way a Graveyard Groomer has to be a fascist when it comes to adhering to a reasonable Bedtime. There are so many distractions in life, and ski resorts offer extra helpings, so strict observance of Bedtime and Days Off are crucial to long, productive careers, happy co-workers, and goals met.

Going forward, CorduroyPlanet will publish five days weekly, Wednesday thru Sunday. Comments will be moderated in moderation on TruckeeDave's Days Off.

That isn't a license to slack off dear readers, I depend on your feedback, and I Thank You!

I'm outta here!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Days Off

Yes, the weekend! Weekends have much to recommend in the Sun, sliding down mountains, fishing for Wild Halibut on a beautiful Bay...there's no end to the diversions available.

Weekends for the Ski Industry are the foundation upon which Empires are built. In a Perfect World, Weekend Warriors pour up Mountain Highways, eager to experience the Comfortable Freedoms we provide for the price of a Lift Ticket.

Across the Range, Resort Marketing People issue fax reports to TV and Radio outlets that serve the region. Radio Hosts record telephone interviews with said Marketing Folks. Ski Patrollers hit the Mountain early to make it safe and comfy for guests, and Lift Operators fine-tune their ramps, mazes, and safety closures. All this happens near the beginning of the Skier's Day, and during the Home Stretch for my Graveyard Crew.

All night long, the Grooming Crew has been out on the Mountain, cutting bumps, moving snow, rebuilding ramps and mazes, covering rocks and bridging creeks, pushing ManMade snow where it's needed, and finishing it all off with a sweet, smooth patina of Corduroy.

During the night, the Groomers are Masters of their Domain, out in their cats alone on the Mountain, with only Allies out there doing similar duties from Peak to Peak. The Mountain is devoid of skiers, snowboarders, hikers and their Golden Retrievers, and Day Shift Personnel. The Snowcat Operators are free to give their total attention to the task at hand, becoming totally absorbed by the ebb and flow of the projects they're working to complete. On a good night, the equipment purrs through the shift without a moment's hesitation, allowing the Guys to become their true Mountain Michelangelo, sculpting safe Peak Experience Playgrounds for our Guests...Grooming Nirvana is Good.

My crew returns to This Mortal Coil once the Day Shift starts making their way onto the Mountain. Childhood's End...every morning.

After a Nirvana Night, this transition isn't tough, the Guys are energized and happily tuned into the World. When the night's been an Epic Battle, and as the sky gets brighter with the storm still pounding, the Guys are about to start really earning their pay.

Snow Days start earlier than regular days. Workers start making their way to the Mountain as early as 4AM. The early birds all need Corduroy to walk to work on, to drive their snowmobiles up to every Chairlift Terminal without getting stuck on, and on out to each Weather Study Station across the Mountain.

The nights when Mother Nature is giving the Groomers a sound thrashing, the Work Orders grow longer by the hour, with many critical tasks corralled into the hours after sunrise, but before Opening, to insure a Good Night's Sleep for our Slopeside Guests.

Lifts must be "Dug Out" for chair clearance, Ramps and Mazes need to be regraded and tilled anew, and Lodges need snow removed and groomed at entrances and stairways, Ski School meeting areas and pedestrian thoroughfares need compaction and a fresh till...all these tasks are performed with workers on the snow doing their jobs, and guests streaming in bent on playing hard. Usually this drama plays out seamlessly...drama-free really, but disaster is always hovering just off stage, waiting to ruin somebody's day.

When groomers end their day doing this kind of duty, they get out of their machines feeling like they've worked a whole shift since the sun came up! During extended storm periods, the Guys do battle day after day, and we slowly become aware of a growing "Bone Weariness". This Beaten Body Syndrome, is sustainable for a while, after all groomers live for the battle, but as we start tallying more snow days, the body fatigue starts to become mental fatigue. When the Guys get here, I feel it too...adjustments must be made, a full recharge must begin.

Days Off save lives.