Friday, January 29, 2010

The One that Got Away

We had a good night going last night, even though I was driving someone else's snowcat. My cat was downed on my days off by a drive problem.

Scenically, the night was stunning. The nearly Full Moon shone on my Mountain from a cloudless sky, and a modest East Wind kept things crisp without blowing any corduroy away.

Things were going swimmingly when the first cat of the shift broke down...a major hydraulic leak stopped it in it's tracks...on the final pass of the Homerun he was working on. I picked the operator up and drove him back to the shop where another cat was waiting. Chalk up my first lost hour...

Back to my project...opening some new trails that had enough new snow on them, that I couldn't till uphill. I climbed with my tiller in the air, and was making modest progress when our winch operator called. He had his cable hooked to a chair over a steep Double Diamond trail on the farthest away peak from my location. Compounding his troubles, his spotlight wasn't working, so he couldn't even see his predicament! The winch's super bright zenon boom light focused beneath the chair.

I left my project again, and rolled over to help him out. On my way over, I woke up my boss and got the Cavalry alerted. I wanted the Lift Mechanics input and advice...when you find yourself in a hole...stop digging!

So I rolled up the trail as close as I could get to the chair in question, and put my spotlight on it. The winch cable was laying across the seat back, and didn't appear to be wrapped or trapped. I called the winch operator on the 2-way and had him dial up the winch pressure gradually while I monitored the situation. No the fog started blowing in on the freshening East Wind, obscuring my view of the cable/chair package. My phone rang, the Boss let me know the Cavalry would ride in just after sunrise to climb the lift and disengage the winch cable manually. I transported the winch operator back to the shop, and he got another cat to finish the shift with.

Chalk up another lost hour and a half...

Hero Snow conditions sped our recovery, but we didn't get as many new trails busted out as we'd planned. We got the remodeled Work Orders completed with time to spare, when the 2-way called me to transport the winch operator back to the scene of the crime.

Watching the Ski Patrolman climb down the chair's haul rope to the chair with the winch cable on it, I noticed just how deep the snowpack has become. This is why the cable got into the chair in the first place! The Patrolman lowered himself to the chair and unceremoniously kicked the winch cable free...the winch operator chose that exact second to look at something on the ground and missed the whole thing!

Lesson learned? As always, it's better to have Gravity on your side! I'll be giving a little talk at shift change it my attempt to ward off the Cavalry in the future! I just want my guys to tighten-up their thinking going forward...

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