Saturday, September 26, 2009

Snowmaking 101

I'm totally NOT qualified to teach Snowmaking 101. I'm a Groomer, I'm most comfortable sitting in my climate controlled Cat, listening to tunes or talk radio, warm and dry, while doing whatever it takes to get my Mountain in shape to open by 08:45. Oh, these days I'm happy to pull up to a gun or fan and adjust it for better snow or output...dry it out, or shut it down, whatever I can do short of dragging hoses and digging hydrants.

Over the length of my career, I've made myself too valuable behind the sticks to be spending much time parked, looking after tasks other than making smooth corduroy, or safely shaped ramps, roads and runs. I'm still a Free Groomer, in fact.

When the Mountain began to ratchet up our winch program, I jumped in there with both feet, but I found that too often I needed to be more mobile, not hooked up to an anchor, but free to grind out the acres while being able to put out the inevitable prairie fires that are part and parcel of taming the learning curves of the rookies and newbies on the crew.

I turned out to be a Big Picture Guy. My shifts are a constantly morphing equation of acres vs. snowfall, of production vs. breakdowns, and trying to weave the silk purse from that sow's ear. It's fun, but I've got to keep my PanaVision focused on the whole Mountain. WinchCat Operators are narrowly focused by necessity. Sure, they have their own Big Picture, their overarching Game Plan, but they're focused like the laser beam when they're hooked up and making their steep corduroy.

Snowmakers are out there with us, but they are all over the Mountain, all the time. Once they've got their Game Plan made, they get everything set up and ready to go pending the conditions coming into prime spec. Once Mother Nature decides to do her part, they get the system up and running. Then they run routes around the system, checking on the performance of the guns and fans, adjusting for optimum results for as long as conditions permit. As the conditions change, adjustments keep things in the groove, always optimizing towards the goals for the night.

Snowmaking is not a job for a fat old guy, snowmakers work harder than anyone else out there. Sure, they get to zoom up and down the mountain on High Performance Snowmobiles, but they do way more digging than anyone else on the Mountain. They dig down to the Vaults where the Air and Water Hydrants hide from the wrath of our cats. Other Vaults protect the Water and the 480V Power for the Fans. Winds are variable and guns and fans start to bury themselves...more digging. Hoses go under...more digging. One wrong turn on their sled and they're off the pack an into the bottomless stuff...stuck, in deep...digging again. Meanwhile, the ManMade piles up.

Before all their new ManMade is ready for the Public, it has to be spread around, moved precisely where it's needed, and tilled into a safe, pleasing surface. Most nights, all this can't be done until the guns and fans are pulled back to the edges of the runs, hoses moved to a safe location, and the air and water adjusted, or turned off all together. Nothing is worse than making rain all over a major homerun an hour before opening.

Snowmaking in the Central Sierra is a grind. It's a long slow slog to cover the granite and basalt, the scree and tree stumps, and to bridge the creeks and gullies that cross every "Easiest Way Down" It's cold, wet, noisy work that never gets the recognition it deserves...except from the guys who are out there doing it, or working along with the Snowmaking Crew. It's very expensive, and no matter how good the shift goes, it's still "only ManMade"...what could be worse?

Well it was worse before Snowmaking. The last season before the Mountain took the Snowmaking Plunge, was a decent winter, but it took it's own sweet time to get going. We spent weeks farming and hauling snow to the choke points around the Mountain.

With lower than usual snowfall, the Snow Removal Crew had time on their hands, so they brought a big Cat 966 Loader with a big bucket out to the base of the mountain. The groomers pushed all the snow they dared into a huge pile so the loader could scoop it up and load it into a tracked trailer. The loaded trailer was towed by an aging Tucker Sno-Cat up to the thin spots where the cats with blades spread it far as it went. The Main Drag took on the color of Turkey Gravy after a few was ugly. Some wag dubbed it the Gravy Bowl...not pretty.

The "Gravy Bowl" is where the mountain began it's Snowmaking Program. Dual pipes carrying Air and Water were laid from the newly built "Pump Houses" up the Mountain to a series of hydrants where the need for Snow On Demand was greatest. These first forays into snowmaking were strictly "Seat of the Pants" installations...engineered by eyeballs and experience. These first steps did the trick and kept our heads above water as we learned more about the technology, and how best to apply it.

At the same time, quantum leaps were being made industry-wide that allowed us to bridge the gap to the 21st Century. Standing here astride today's snowmaking world is like looking down into the Grand Canyon...all ancient rocks down below...only progress ahead.

That's the hope going forward...we'll see...

Friday, September 25, 2009


I spent better than an hour reconnecting with a former colleague last evening. We were co-workers on the Mountain some twenty years ago. When I started CorduroyPlanet, I emailed everyone in my address book who I thought would be interested, and only SmokyV's address bounced. Not a bad average really, I even heard back from Austria...another 10 year old address. I widened my search and asked our mutual friends for SmokyV's latest address, but she'd slipped away from everyone I'm still in touch with.

Armed with her new town and the middle initial from her old email address, I searched the Web and got a phone number. I called the number and got only rings...a good sign. SmokyV works in the field and gets home only a couple of days a week. I kept calling every evening that I thought of it for a few weeks. Last night I got the Answering Machine, and a few minutes later a call-back! Yes, I had the right SmokyV!

We caught up on the Mountain, former co-workers, and the changes the Mountain has made since she moved out of town. I filled her in on the new Cats we run today, and how much improved they are over the fleet of "The Old Days". We talked travel and family, and our little passion, small craft. SmokyV's canoes...TruckeeDave's kayaks. We talked Baja and South America, our travels and what we're doing with our off-seasons.

We talked radios, a core subject for career groomers. SmokyV said: "Hey TruckeeDave, I got my Ham Radio License!" I asked if you still needed Morse Code for a General Ticket, and she replied: No! I asked if she'd worked Art Bell on 80 meters yet, to which she said: "Not yet, I don't know his Call Sign"

We wrapped it up, and I promised to send her all the links to stuff we'd talked about. I composed the email, included the bounced original message, and looked through CorduroyPlanet to direct-link the Grooming-Centric Columns. That's when I noticed that I've neglected to do much writing on grooming itself.

SV and I had talked about Julie and the other "Women On The Mountain" in the Industry Trade magazine story, and she said: "Twenty years ago I was on the mountain, and twenty years later they're still writing stories about it like it's a new thing"

"Some things never change, print journalism seems stuck in amber lately" I replied. The web is where the cutting edge reporting and writing is today. It's time I get back to CorduroyPlanet's Core Mission. It's Autumn, and time to decide...Fish? or Cut Bait?

October is only five days away, Snowmaking starts around the end of October. I'll start covering Snowmaking vs Grooming tomorrow.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Indian Summer

This morning I was surprised to find fog over the Ancestral Digs when I picked up the newspaper and checked on my driveway project. Yesterday I applied a second coat of asphalt sealer as the sun was setting, and marveled how quickly the temperature fell once the Sun lowered behind the southwestern ridge of the Inland Valley.

While I waited for the day to cool enough to apply that second coat, I checked on the Local Forecast Discussion. They made no mention of the falling overnight temperature, and pretty much said "Summer for another week" No wonder I was surprised.

More surprising are the radio weather spots this morning promising two days of cooling off, before the heating begins again. This morning's Discussion says: "Focus is on Hot inland temps...coastal stratus/fog...then cooling next week, and today likely the coolest day of the week". It goes on to say the Pattern Change promised for next week will be a Classic North Wind Event, with clearing of the Marine Layer at the Coast, a Thermal Trough building over the Coast, and Hot Conditions Inland. Jeez, the different local weather outlets are all over the map this morning!

That Pattern Change would be "Indian Summer" in Bay Area-Speak. It's San Francisco's Real Summer, unlike the oft-quoted Mark Twain quip: "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco" Academic types still haven't agreed that Twain actually ever said it, but Chamber of Commerce types agree he should have. What's a little Literary Fib to The City with panache?

Climate Fib?
Little white lies to prop up a City's literary bona fides are probably harmless, though some would argue for Historical Accuracy. What if raw data used by Climate Scientists and Public Policy Makers was treated similarly? Nobel Prize winner, Al Gore keeps "reminding" us that Global Warming is "Settled Science". If so why are stories like this still seeing the light of day? By it's nature, Science is never "settled" Half of all working physicists today are still trying to disprove Einstein's Theories. Providing data from published scientific papers is required for peer review, so other scientists can try to replicate or refute the results postulated by the publishing scientist.

Policy Makers across the Industrial World are deciding if spending huge sums of money to mitigate Climate Change is going to please or enrage their citizenry. The crisis-response-mode has been activated because the drumbeat of the Climate Alarmists is being heard loudly. Something must be done! Look at the Computer Models!

Remember the Geek's Lament: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Visit Anthony Watts' Surface Stations Website, and decide for yourself if the data warrants wholesale changes to the way the First World does business.

Latest estimates put Earth's age around 4.5 Billion years. The Climate's been changing the whole time. What's the hurry now?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Good Morning!

The Sun Awakens
What's this? Sunspots visible on the Earth-Facing side of the Sun? Not one, but two Earth-Size Sunspots are visible today. The Solar Community is abuzz...Is the Solar Minimum over? Is this the true start of Cycle 24? There are two spots visible for the first time in more than a year. Two sunspots don't officially end the deepest Solar Minimum in a Century, but thankfully Sun Watchers are no longer bored to tears. I really want a decent Solar Telescope.

I know it doesn't have a thing to do with the heat in the Ancestral Digs tonight...still it's keeping me up later than I want owing to the physical work I've scheduled for the morning. Finally I'll finish the driveway rehab. SturgeUrge will be happy, he's got a long punchlist for me to work through!

This morning was sweltering by 10AM, dry heat thankfully, but baking hot after some cool Sierra nights over my weekend. I waited for the Sun to get low in the West before finishing the driveway prep. In nylon shorts with no shirt, I couldn't overspray enough water on myself to cool off...thank God that's done! I'll finish applying the Asphalt Seal Coat before the Sun starts really baking, and do a good's not a day on the Bay, but it'll do.

Fall Back
Fall began this afternoon, and we'll have the heat all week. There's still "Indian Summer" due for the Bay Area, though it hasn't seemed as reliable these past few years. I saw on tonight's Local News about a new fire in NorCal that was started by Spontaneous Combustion! The News Reader didn't give the ignition specifics, but I thought: "It's sure hot enough for a heap of oily rags to cause trouble"

Southern California has some new fires today too, with the 100F temps, single digit humidity, and the Santa Ana Winds to make them volatile. The State can't seem to get a break. The NWS says another three days of this, anyway. Red Flag Warnings continue.

I just read tonight's Forecast Discussion, they say a week of Summer Weather at least, with freshening Northerlies. The Coast is getting drizzle in the AM, and not much burn-off, so afternoon temps are Summary 60's.

According to the Discussion, their model runs have them looking for a "Strong System"to come to Far Northern California about a week out, that may bring a "Pattern Change"...we'll see.

I can't make an educated assessment of the Monterey NWS product. I've only just started paying attention to their Non-Marine Forecasts. Based on the past few seasons of Marine Forecasts, I'm going with the High-Sodium Diet. I haven't been impressed over the past couple of years...Always with more wind than they call for, except whe it's so hot and still on the Bay that I'd kill for a cooling breeze...

Tough crowd...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sunday in the Desert

Back On Top
I guess I've got to admit it to myself. I'm getting up there in years a little, though I doubt I'm "Old" I have plenty of "energy" so I multitask a little more than I should...(especially at your age, some wags would say-see comments)

After waking up in the DaveCave at 04:30, I've been after some little DaveCave chores all morning.

Sacramento's "Trainwreck News" reports: Temperature overnight in Truckee down 14F from Friday night. I slept like a baby...who am I kiddin', I always sleep like a baby, unless the house is in the 80's!

I just got the bright idea to break up my afternoon at Stead by slipping into Reno between the Silver and Gold Races to catch a screening of the new Tarantino flick, "Inglorious Basterds" A couple of hours out of the High Desert Sun wouldn't hurt either.

Well, the movie is two and a half hours long! Counting driving time and hiking to the fenceline time, only Superman could make it work. So my Fall-Back Position is: bring the camp chair, the full bottle of SPF30, and the transistor radio. I put new batteries in it last week. Add the Sunday Reno Gazette Journal and an ice chest with some cool beverages, and I've got it covered.

Happy at Home
Well, I got caught up in those DaveCave chores, and scratched the Silver Race...I made it out there for the Breitling Gold Race, and was well rewarded for the trouble!

A clean start by all eight aircraft, with two Mustangs out front. Strega and Voodoo looked to be running away from John Penney's Rare Bear, who allowed in the Post-Race Interview that the Bear was running a "Stock" powerplant! He promised that they'd be full of Unobtainium next September.

It was a good race, in good conditions. The wind had turned Northerly, and wasn't an issue. The three leaders were pushing the throttles forward as late as the fourth lap of eight! Strega turned her first lap at 507mph and change! Voodoo hung in, but pulled up and Mayday'd about Lap 5. Voodoo made it back to the field safely. Strega backed off after Voodoo stopped fillin' her mirrors, and the Bear didn't seem willing or able to chase Strega down. Sherman Smoot's Yak 11, Czechmate went faster than last year to take fourth. Another Mayday was called by the Rare Bear after the checkered flag, and Mr Mayday, John Penney retrieved the Bear, no problem. Official Timing had the race at 491.882MPH!

As I wended my way back out to HWY 395, I listened to the Post Race Interviews. Strega's Owner and ex-pilot Tiger Destefani was gushing over the performance of his new World Champion Pilot Steven Hinton. Stevo is the 22 year old son of Reno Legend Steve Hinton who flies the Pace Plane since Bob Hoover's retirement. Dad's also a Two Time Reno Unlimited Champion! They're the first Father&Son Unlimited Champions at Reno.

It was a great weekend at the races, even with the changes. I saw that Fall Light in the sky, though I couldn't be sure until Sunday when the wind wasn't whipping up the dust. Fall begins Tuesday Afternoon. I best get after it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Look, I'm a Baby Boomer, and all the apologies I'll ever make for My Generation won't change the fact that My Generation has changed things for the worse in many arenas. That being said, I think you'll agree that we Boomers move thru life with an unheard soundtrack playing in our skulls. Boomers, you know it's true...admit it...OK, Embrace It! You'll be Empowered!

The Pop Music of the Boomer Generation has many Hit Songs about change. I don't know how many albums Billy Joel's "Stranger" sold. Multi-Platinum to be sure...all on the strength of the "Don't go changing..." lyrics of "Just The Way You Are"

For Boomers, the Change meme began in 1966 when the Chambers Brothers recorded "Time Has Come Today" Following the same theme, 1970's "Them Changes" by Buddy Miles...1971's "Changes" by David Bowie, all laid the groundwork for the orgy of Change Tunes that have provided the Soundtrack of Our Lives.

Change is the ONLY constant in our experience that doesn't only accelerates.

I was reminded of this while shooting up the Hill Friday night. CalTrans is rebuilding Interstate 80 from Colfax to the Nevada State Line. New asphalt pavement made last night's journey as smooth as any 70's/80's Sci-Fi Movie's Spacecraft Flight. The pavement reminded me of the early days of our Interstate Highway System...smoother than a baby's bottom, and reminiscent of driving the same Interstates when they were new, in the long-wheelbase land yachts of the day. Changing back to better days is still the status quo, anyway.

The only thing to distract me from my nostalgia, was the unchanging reality of timid drivers on the open highway...clogging the travel lanes, real danger in the name of caution, on the ever evolving highway universe that is our Modern Interstate Highway System.

I forgot about all of that when I arrived at The Valley Of Speed Saturday afternoon. I've been enjoying the Reno Championship Air Races from "The Fenceline" for almost Three Decades. The Fenceline is the Stead Field version of "Freeloader Hill" The place where "True Fans" watch the action, year in and year out, without the "benefit" of an Event Ticket.

The Fenceline was always private property, but the owner was absentee, and there was no problem up until a couple of years ago. That's when some Jerk showed up in his Dump Truck, towing his Backhoe, with his Trophy Wife in the Motorhome with their Kids and their ATV's on the trailer. Mr Jerk assumed that as a FreeBorn American, it was his Constitutional Right to "Improve" the terrain on the Fenceline Private Property, so his kids could enjoy "Better Motocross Riding" while the Thousands of Well-Behaved Fenceliners enjoyed the Unlimited Class Air Racing.

As you can no doubt imagine, this didn't exactly sit well with Absentee Landowner's Neighbors! The Brack Brack Brack of 2-Stroke Motocross Race Bikes kicking up clouds of desert dust, drove home the obvious to the Full Time Neighbors, and Paradise was Lost.

This afternoon, I rolled up to the top of the old Fenceline Road to shoot some video of today's Unlimited Gold Heat 3A. The Fenceline Road as I knew it is gone. There was some "Crime Scene" Tape across the old right of way, but the desert has reclaimed the roadbed. Sagebrush and exotic grasses have obscured the old road. That was just the little change!

At the Top of the Hill, there was a brand spankin' new Electrical Substation. Surrounded by a new chainlink fence and crushed rock parking areas, it looks ready to supply electricity to at least 400 new Ranch-Style homes, and maybe as many as 1200 "ranchos".

I was looking at the end of the Reno Air Races. The largest Air Race in the World. It's so very special, that my words can't convey to you just how special they are. Some day, I'll miss the National Championship Air Races. A half-thousand new homes will spell the end of the fun in the Valley Of Speed...

Another piece of American Culture will be gone...gone without a whimper, with nary an obituary, or the realization of how important these American Touchstones are to the survival of our Great American Experiment.

As always on Saturdays at Stead, the favorites started out front and ran out front. By lap 3 of 6, the leaders had backed off some 80mph...after all, you can't win Sunday if you Blow Up Saturday! The favorites were in front as always, Strega, Voodoo, and Rare Bear will be the contenders Sunday...Voodoo is on the Pole owing to Strega's cutting a pylon. it's Voodoo's first Pole at Reno, but tomorrow's Unlimited Gold Race will be contested by two extremely modified Mustangs, perennial contender and winner Strega, Johnny Come Lately Voodoo, and the Big Modified Bearcat, Rare Bear...perhaps the extreme Hawker Sea Furies were sandbagging today, but tomorrow will be another one for The Ages. I'll let you know.

Oh yeah, Strega was going 480.077 mph average...dogging half her laps...