Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Vision Thing Again

The "Salvation Storm" arrived right at midnight Saturday morning. After a month of dry weather and firm packed conditions, it was like Christmas Morning! It did not disappoint! An honest inch an hour until 6AM...I know I watched it pile up around the 24 Hour Snow Stake.

I swung by the stake for my first look at 0200...2 inches. Back at 0400, I checked to see 4 inches and phoned the Ski Patrol Boss with the news. This is when he makes the Go-No Go decision on avalanche control for the day. Six inches or more is an automatic Go. When there's 4 inches and it's still pounding with big winds up top, it's a discretionary Go.

There were times when there was total white-out conditions down lower too. With the crescent moon not rising until after 4AM seeing was problematic. I spread the crew out so each groomer would have total control of his lighting. I put "The Pack" together an hour before first light, so we could really kick it down the "home stretch".

Jeweler caught the pack in action w/ his iPhone
Everyone flat out enjoyed themselves...our first honest 10 hour shift in a month. It was better than Christmas...smiles all over the hill. Even though I deployed sunglasses at 0900, we still tallied 10 inches when all was said and done.

The Vision Thing
"Recognizing Tunnel Vision" was my take-away theme for the night. Eskimo had another over-caffeinated planning cyclone. I told him to "Free your mind" and go with the flow a little more. What we want to do and how we do it are always subject to Mother Nature's whims. Our mission is always to "do the most with the least". In this instance it means leaving the obvious re-rolls 'till last. If you only groom once before the lifts turn, you can make more acres of corduroy overall, and keep up with the digging. "I know you want to do the Bunny Hills right out of the blocks "to get it over with" but we'll just be back redoing it again in the lets go have some fun, do the secondaries, and we'll get the bunny hill, one time, just before opening."

I had my tunnel vision moment too...

My tractor is the oldest, frontline groomer in the fleet. She turned the hour meter over to 8200 hours this week. Old but unbended, she's still running like a thoroughbred. There's been one little problem that's dropped her score from 100 to 95 this season.

She's been making a tiny berm on the right hand side all season. Not awful, but not perfect. More berm going downhill than up, I've been coping by working solo and altering my circuits so I finish with an uphill pass, and coming off the hill with a Skier's Right compensation plan was working fine until storm nights returned.

I repeatedly eyeballed the problem out on the hill and found a spacer at the top of the "Triangle Flap" or "End Flap" of the tiller to be half as tall as specified. I wrote the thing up several times, over the month, and finally took the opportunity of the big snow night to get the Graveyard Wrench to affect repairs.

I backed the BR350 into the middle bay of the vehicle shop, jumped out and kibitzed with the Wrench...In the bright lights of the shop, with the tiller up at eye level, I was showing the Wrench the Mickey Mouse Spacer problem when we saw the underlying problem.

The whole inner "side dam" assembly was MIA...Wrench surmised that it never was replaced during summer service. Wrench consulted the Parts part numbers for the whole shebang! The side dam keeps the snow inside the tiller box, where it's metered out in a controlled manner, preventing berm formation in the first place.

The parts? Not in stock. I rolled out of the shop, refueled, and went back to my Left-Handed grooming world. I mulled over my mistake...I saw what I'd seen in the past on these tillers, and stopped it what it is wishful thinking (or seeing)...more tunnel vision.

There's a Grooming 101 lesson here...I'm not the only pilot of this snowcat...each operator's eyes have missed the missing side dam assembly on every pre-flight walk-around. The BR350's are so robust, so reliable that the natural human tendency to laziness shrinks the scope of the pre-flight check-out...shame on us all.

I understand it...I'm guilty...I wanna get out on the hill more than I want to go over the tractor with a fine toothed the dark...with a Mini Maglite. I got away with it this time. Granted, a berm isn't a blown motor or broken stinger, but one night a weak walk-around could result in big trouble.

Lesson learned.

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