Saturday, December 25, 2010

Stuck In Time

Getting a snowcat stuck is such a rare occurrence that getting stuck this week turned on my Way Back Machine.

In three decades of grooming on My Mountain I've got stuck three times.

Technically the second time, in the late 90's I could have driven out (save for all the trees below me)...I had to get pulled back up on the cat road that I fell off of (or more precisely, the cat road that fell away under me)

The memorable stuck was during my rookie season. Back then the fleet was all Tucker SnoCats and one Thiokol 3700. The Tuckers didn't have a blade out front. Groomers towed various implements for different conditions...rollers, mogul cutters, powdermakers, even huge drag chains.

The morning in question, I was pulling a 30ft roller.

The trail I was grooming was a steep intermediate run that we usually got a little toboggan action from at the breakover a third of the way down.

Working left to right, I crept down towards the breakover...sure enough, once the Tucker's pontoons were past the breakover, she slid. I punched the throttle and away we went...this time was different than the times I done this trail before...this time the whole run crowned...wall to wall...a 3ft slab avalanche that roared down the 50 yards or so to the compression at the bottom of the steep.

My Tucker went into the compression like a lawn dart into soft turf, and the avalanche debris piled up around me. It was up to the top of the hood, and up to the windows in the doors...I couldn't even get out to shovel myself free. My only tool available was the Motorola 2-Way Radio.

I called the boss who was digging out the top of the mountain. He advised that I'd better start shoveling...I explained that I couldn't get out of my cab to shovel...he replied: "I've gotta see this!"

The boss in his 3700 roared up about 20 minutes later...clearly amused at my predicament. He made quick work of removing the snow around my cab and that 30ft roller. As he roared off to return to his digging he keyed the mic: "Now you can shovel your way out!"

Maybe twenty minutes with my shovel, and I was free.

That was the only time I slid a whole run at once. Back then I didn't know what I didn't know. I chalked up the thrill as just another bit of  Groomer Esprit de Corps. Today I'd be scared shitless if I crowned a whole run!

Thirty years ago we had lots of thrills on the hill, but today we could never leave the ski surface the way we did back then. For the most part, we've evolved the adrenaline out of the job. That trail is only groomed by winch cats today...I can count on one hand the number of times we've groomed that run with a free cat since the turn of the century.

Having been in the trade all the way through this evolutionary epoch, I've evolved to enjoy the cerebral thrills in lieu of the raw adrenaline rush. Do I miss it? is fun...but the satisfaction I feel knowing how perfectly we groom the slopes in the modern era is deeper than I'd ever imagined back in those "Wild West" days.

Merry Christmas!

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