Saturday, March 27, 2010

That's More Like It!

Practice makes perfect goes the old saw. The forecasters at the Reno NWS Office nailed the timing again last night. The latest wave of winter weather was leaving my corner of the High Sierra just as I left for work. Up on the Mountain, I was greeted by more than four inches of freshly fallen snow...without the gale-force winds of the night before.

The Swing Shift Crew were buzzing...all smiles at the return of Hero Snow! WooHoo! They really kicked it! There was some celebrating too...the Groomers scored a big victory with regards to the New Lunch Break Regime.

A near mutiny ensued after management began to comply with State Ordered Work Rules two weeks ago. Grudgingly, we all complied, and the nearly 20% loss of productivity was impossible to miss come morning, when the Marketing Department would call for the Grooming Report.

We bargained our way out of having to come off the Hill and punch out for the half hour, opting instead to enjoy lunch in our cats on the hill. There's several places on my Mountain where you're a fifteen minute trip from the shop. That can mean a half our round trip to the shop for that half hour lunch break. That's where the 20% went! Management relented and we began taking our lunch on the hill.

The Crew was happier now that compliance didn't seem so onerous, and the folks in HR refined our program upon further research into the actual Law...Now, we get paid for lunch when we take it in our cats! Problem solved...Trumpet Fanfare...Victory Dance! Productivity back's a Textbook Win-Win Situation.

Rumbling off into the night, I cracked a new smile the first time I launched the Bison's tiller, and noticed that it was set for up pressure...not the down pressure that had been the rule since the last snow almost two weeks ago. Coming out of the trees at the top of the Bunny Lift, the beautiful waxing Moon spawned another smile on my old mug.

Speed was necessary the night before to master the wet piste, tonight speed was possible, and made for joyful grooming. With new snow beneath our tracks, the ride improves from a grind to something like flying or floating...CD's stop skipping in the stereos and the operators don't take as much of a beating. You don't feel as tired after a fresh snow shift...physically anyway...

Visibility was optimal all night, with the Moon looking spectacular setting behind our Westernmost Peak. We added a couple of extras above and beyond the Work Orders, and still wrapped it up early.

Back at the Fuel Dock, the Graveyard Crew was buzzing like the Swing Shift had at the end of their shift. To a man, each uttered the word: "Lovely" We all went home happy, and our guests would be happy too...sliding down acres of beautiful fresh corduroy, or hunting fresh untracked powder on a sparkling fresh Bluebird Day.

How often do you experience joy on the job? I love what I do, but it's a rare night when joy is on the menu. Last night most of the crew found joy, rare, beautiful and restorative. Springtime at it's very, very best...stay tuned, there's a "pattern change" coming Monday. They're teasing it with the phrase: "Kick the Storm Door Open" On tonight's 10 O'clock news, the WeatherDude said: Several feet of snow for the Sierras next week!

Oh Joy!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lion or Lamb?

Wednesday's Play by Play

Snow it did! new Tiller Food everywhere! How sweet it was...prayers answered and all...

The weatherman had this one timed to the minute going in it seemed. Pellet-style snow was just starting to fall when I left the DaveCave for work. Light snow fell all the way to work, and up top the forecast winds started to ramp up during Shift Change. By the time I was settled into the Bison's throne, the wind was blowing like stink.

Conditions were difficult right out of the box. Even though the afternoon temps were 5F cooler than they'd been running all week, the piste was wet, wet, wet with a thin skin of new snow laying on top. We had to go as fast as we dared to keep the wet stuff from streaking and balling up. One touch of the blade to the pack, and you were looking for somewhere to hide the resultant glob...there was no feathering a blade-full until the temps dropped and the new snow started accumulating.

It wasn't snowing hard, but it was really starting to blow, making for tough going. We were joined by our newest team member Jake, an experienced winch pilot who's just learning our Mountain. He had a short To-Do list but the visibility wasn't helping any. I kept in radio contact, and offered to guide him to each successive trail as a precautionary sense making extra work for ourselves. My regulars were getting lost an hour in...thankfully they weren't trailing a long invisible steel cable!

The forecast said the system would be short and sweet, and come through fast and furious. I dispatched everyone to their "Home Turf" where they'd be most comfortable (and most likely stay out of trouble) I went to my usual haunts as well...right in the Mid-Mountain WiFi cloud. I wanted to know when it would be over, so we could greet the morning with our best foot forward.

Having the internet in the palm of your hand, behind the sticks of a SnowCat is really something. I pulled up at the bottom of the incredibly wide, featureless home run trail I was working on and fired up the Radar Map from WeatherUnderground. What a beautiful picture! Vivid blues, greens and purples scudding right over us. I grabbed the mike and told the Guys: "It looks like this thing is more than half way over" "It should be clearing up by 4:00, 4:30" I opined. The pack was starting to get dry enough to put the blade into, but tight turn-arounds were bringing the goo up into blade territory, so I went with the Long Lines to keep turn ruts to a minimum.

An hour later, I checked the Radar again. I radioed "The trailing edge is east of Reno now, so this should be breaking up anytime now" I was transfixed by the images in my hand, I launched Tweetdeck and checked on Chain Controls, Weather Advisories, and the Local News. Chain Control was all the way down at Nyack to the west and down to Truckee in the east. I composed and sent my first message from the seat of my SnowCat on the iPod...I stepped into the 21st Century...with both thumbs.

I looked up and saw three hundred yards up the trail, and three hundred feet in elevation up the Mountain. I saw the vestiges of several wandering passes I'd just made, and decided to go to Plan B...I went up the mountain to find more confined spaces (read Landmark-Heavy trails) I'll come back down when things really clear up...before I even made 100 yards, the ceiling dropped down again, and the snow and wind kicked in again...big time. The Moon was up now, so at least I could navigate with my lights off, but the wind wasn't done yet.

Around 0430 I took my Lunch Break back in the WiFi Cloud. The Radar didn't show a single return, yet it was still snowing and blowing like crazy! My Twitter Feeds showed Chain Control had moved way up the hill to the west, and moved downhill in the east. This thing was nearly over, but didn't seem to know it yet! We chatted about it on the radio, and when I finished lunch, I lead Jake to the other side of the Mountain for his last two projects of the night.

Mercifully, the cloud deck rose off the piste just before sunrise as the winds subsided, making for a pleasant Home Stretch. We did everything the Work Orders asked for, the fleet performed flawlessly, and there was even some Sun breaking through the clouds when we pulled up to the Fuel Dock!

Evening Update

There's another little snowstorm working it's way across the State tonight. Chain Control has moved 1000ft up I-80 since I started this blog entry, and the Reno AFD says the bulk of it will be over by midnight's Shift Change. The wind will remain gusty into Friday afternoon, giving way to a nice sunny weekend.

It looks like winter weather will rule the day for the last three days of March...out like a Lion! Sweet!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Too Excited

Damn, I'm up way past Bedtime again! I'm such a kid!

I enjoyed a productive weekend...I bagged my trip to the Ancestral Digs in lieu of getting after some oft-postponed chores around the DaveCave...besides, with all my new aches and pains, I didn't want to give my Mom anything new to worry about! Getting in touch with my inner sloth, I put off my Re-provisioning trip to Reno, to spend more time on the DaveCave...

Now I'm all excited because today's weather forecasts are promising some snow tonight! The Sun barely came out over the High Sierra today, and temperatures were colder than they've been all week...not to mention, I don't want to revisit the hellish night that ended my week! My knee and hip aren't bothering me now, so I'm filled with enthusiasm, and a new sense of purpose going into this week.

In reality, I'm hanging my hat on the vague promise of one or two inches of possible snow...but that'll be more than enough to pump me up for the week! A week and a half out, I'm still longing for the squeaky snow of Mid-Winter...not yet ready to settle for the slow, boring grind of spring, when we graveyard groomers earn every last penny of our paychecks.

Holed up at the DaveCave, I did the major recycling effort...and resolved some of my ongoing tech issues, cleanedup the DaveCave, and wrote some letters to post. I measured and drew up some plans to update the Galley and Pantry areas here in the DaveCave, cruised craigslist for some materials to aid in the construction of said updates, and even caught up with my Landlord, my sister, and several other friends across my world.

This afternoon, I made pizza and baked up a new recipe for "Bacon-Peanut Butter Cookies"...just how decadent are Bacon-Peanut Butter Cookies? I'll have to let you know the next time I make them. I followed the recipe...and found it's errors...the cookies turned out to be leather not cookies. I've refashioned the recipe and made adjustments, so next time we'll get cookies to evaluate...oh, the leather tastes great, so chewy cookies should be to die for!

I wrote an impassioned blog on the new health care law, and lamented on the loss of my newest friend, who passed away from Hospital Pneumonia after he fell and broke his hip a few weeks ago. I watched President Obama sign his Healthcare Takeover Bill while I was on the phone getting the news of my friend's passing, and I caught up on my TiVo with Formula One racing, IndyCar racing, and even managed my Fantasy Bicycle Racing Team.

Major League Baseball's Spring Training is in full swing now...damn, I love the Great American Pastime...In early spring...every team is going to the World Series!

So many little time for weekend turned out to be bittersweet...but paradoxically restorative. In a couple of weeks, SturgeUrge and I can go Salmon Fishing...for the first time in three seasons...all the Hard Pack/Spring-Like Boilerplate will fade into memory, where it's easily forgotten, until next Spring...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Night In Hell

After my most enjoyable Friday night shift, I didn't in my wildest dreams believe Saturday Night would be the Polar Opposite.

Whatever did I do to deserve a night like last night? Karma Chameleon? Karma Godzilla is more like it!

I pulled into the parking lot at the usual time, and was greeted with a warm west wind as I walked up to the Shop. Swing shift had a decent major troubles...their half of the Work Orders was finished without undo drama.

Shift change flew by and I was back in my favorite BR350, and heading into the night, with time to spare, with welcome anticipation of another good night, pumping me up.

Gone was the Groomer-Friendly "Raised Glaze Piste" of Friday's fun it's place, remorseless progress seemed interminably it was for everyone else, too.

A couple hours in, my attention was zeroing in on a pain in my knee that I woke up with Friday...only now it was starting to really dominate my world. This is the leg I so enjoyed swinging out the door of my cat Saturday morning on my Lunch Break, while viewing my crew from on high as the rising sun painted the sky overhead. Now, my hip joint was joining the chorus of discomfort, too.

The Boilerplate wasn't helping...I couldn't find a comfortable position in the New Recaro Throne...I took all my breaks in two hours...nothing was helping, and our progress was glacially slow.

I stopped twice as often as usual...I tried to "walk it off" no avail. In the end I just" toughed it out" Time morphed into Salvador Dali painting

Mercifully, nothing blew up in our faces, and we were off the Hill early. Thank God I've got a three day weekend to rest and recover!

Rather than worry my Mom, I've decided to stay in Truckee for the weekend...more tech housekeeping to do...not to mention real housekeeping!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Livin' It

Last night's Lunch Break was One For The Ages!

East Winds combined with High Overcast to answer my prayers...I could have been my imagination, but the piste seemed drier,and more cooperative last night. It brought out the risk taker in me...a little.

The Work Orders were circumspect not ambitious for a change. The Boss was in covering for our young winch pilot who's taking a few days off to celebrate his birthday by kayaking the remote Middle Fork of the Feather River with some kayaking friends...miles of Class 5 motels or campgrounds...pure primitive fun.

Swing Shift had no problems and set us up nicely. Actually one problem came up. The Bison I've been driving these past few weeks started acting up...wild, unpredictable gyrations when backing up. Not good for yours truly, who spends the first hour of every shift backing up around expensive ski lift machinery and architecture! Handing off to one of the guys, I jumped back in my favorite BR350 and got organized. After some radio chatter with the guys about the song "Reunited", I rumbled into the Night.

A hundred feet into my night, I noticed a difference in the had a sort of Raised Glaze on it...all the ski tracks seemed raised somehow, and scraped off easily enough, without releasing any of the wet stuff lurking beneath. Just enough to feed the tiller so some more ground speed could be made compared to the last few nights.

With a full crew for the weekend, things moved right along, and I realized we could do more than the Work Orders asked for. Everything that hadn't been groomed since the last storm looked like hell, and the Mountain had a full slate of Early Race Training, Races and Events. Coupled with a nice forecast, and judging by the Eastbound Traffic on I-80 Friday night, I knew we'd have a good crowd. I wanted them to have the most good terrain we could offer, so they'd come up next weekend too.

I kept reminding the guys where to save a minute here and a minute there, and told the Boss "I could do this trail and that trail so he could winch these extras..." I pushed, albeit gently all night. I planned just right, the fleet held together, and I took my Lunch Break atop the Mountain's Westernmost Peak.

Perched atop the precipice, facing the East, I watched the rising Sun paint the skies over My Mountain, while I could see all four of my Stereophonic Compadres slowly laying down their corduroy far below. It was my "Around The World In 80 Days" view...I pulled out my digicam and snapped a few pix. I had the door open and I was swinging my leg out over the tracks to wake it up a little...It was a wonderful few minutes taking in the vistas...knowing I'd nailed my plan for the night.

In the end, we totally kicked it. All my guys were off the hill in time for an 8:30 opening save for the Boss who winched above the Terrain Park until 8:45 (benefiting from the cover of the park groomers who push it reliably every night to seconds before 9AM!) My Evil Plan worked again!

The Vernal Equinox came and went before I hit the sack. One more shift and it's my three day weekend. The Bison's problem was diagnosed before I'd finished filing my After Action Report. Should be another good night tonight, too.