Friday, December 24, 2010

Whale Watching

Until this morning, I thought there was only one kind of whale found on ski hills.

In snowmaking-speak, a whale is the huge pile of man-made snow where the gun or fan is pointed when temps are favorable and the groomers are too busy to spread the man-made around before a long, huge pile the size of a whale piles up.

This morning I heard myself say over the 2-way radio that I'm working on "My White Whale"...d'oh!

First, a little'll remember that I've been trying to build bridges for better than a week now. Almost a week of rain filled the creeks and streams after all my bridges were in, reopening the watercourses, and turning my building material (fresh snow) from bridge building snow to dam building snow.

Let me be clear, the ski hill is in fine shape, all this hydrology trouble is on our cross country trails, a new wrinkle in my morning to-do list.

All the bridges were in place before snow levels rose to rainmaking levels, and I've been trying to rebridge every non-raining morning since...I found myself getting a little frustrated, as each time I built a new bridge, Mother Nature would open it up by morning again.

This week, I endured a one-day weekend and returned Monday to four new feet of dry snow that fell on my night off. Without any machine issues, my crew made short work of the Work Orders and we even threw in a couple of extras. I made exactly five passes of corduroy for the shift, spending my time digging out instead. Off the hill plenty early, I roared off to finish the final hold-out bridge project.

Here's where I got myself in trouble...As I was delegating our workload via my 2-way, I said in passing that "I wasn't gonna let that last bridge get the best of me"...I'm sure there's a parable that fits my crime, but I'm not conversant with all the parables and their names and numbers...

Back on the trail, I worked my way a kilometer at at time towards the last big crossing project...I smoothed out and widened the first two creek crossings, and dealt with a fallen treetop that blocked the trail. (Huge winds tore up the Sierra Crest Sunday night, Alpine Meadows recorded one gust at 155mph!)

As I approached my troubled bridge, I rolled up a huge bladefull of semi-heavy snow...there was no open water at the bridge site proper...I could see the creek downstream of my crossing...I plowed ahead...I sank a little as I expected (the bridge is at the bottom of a small compression in the trail) I feathered the snow out of my blade to fill the compression a little, just As I bogged down trying to climb out of the dip. Backing out of the sticks to give max torque to my tracks, I didn't make it across, I lifted the tiller and backed out of there quick! One track was on the snow, the other was in the mud...on the bottom of what was now a small shallow lake where the creek had overflowed it's banks.

Awful muddy water with weeds was pumping over the muddy track as I spun away from the tall bank. That bladefull of snow was now working against me...I wasn't totally high-centered, but enough to lighten the track that wasn't in the mud...the muddy track continued to pump mud, water and weeds over itself and a tree in my way necessitated a three point turn...which is where it all went for naught...I was my trusty old BR350...oh the humanity...

A fine kettle of fish...I keyed the mic and called my boss..."I'm stuck and could you fire up a winchcat, please? It'll be a straight pull, should be no problem"...I asked him to "bring two winch straps"...he asked: "should I bring my waders?"...I said: "it wouldn't hurt, but we can probably keep our feet dry"...

So the cat was out of the bag...TruckeeDave stuck...on the air for all that care...the rest of the saga would play out on the airwaves as well...for all to hear...sigh...

On the bright side, I needed my sunglasses for the first time in a week...small compensation for my embarrassment, though...

It took us an hour or so to extricate me...the boss widened the road down to the compression area where my cat was now a dam...the unseen lake had risen through the pristine snow at least five inches in 30 minutes...

We hooked up for the pull...the boss dialed his pressure up to 400Bar...I didn't even feel a tug...I was in deep...I keyed the mic: "Boss, I think we need to go blade to blade, you can push me back three feet or so, and backblade some of this snow from in front of my tracks, it'll give me some momentum coming out of my hole" Talk about good radio...

It worked! I popped out of the lake/hole like gangbusters! I left a trail 75 yards long of muddy, weedy adrenaline was still off the charts...I was under an eight of a tank of fuel...please God, I prayed...don't let me run out of fuel today! I made it back to the fuel dock and put in 55.42 Gals...whew that was a close one! No damage to either cat...bullets dodged!

OK, that brings me back to this morning...and my radio call about the White Whale...discretion being the better part of valor, I went the other way around...I stripped 200 yards of trail of enough snow to bridge the creek/lake/hole complex.

A little clean snow to cover Tuesday's muddy tracks, and one final lap around the whole trail and I called it in: Cross country trails OPEN!

Once again I needed the Ray-Bans...and I was out of there early!

Tonight, No Drama...I promise

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