Saturday, February 5, 2011

The State Of The Mountain

...Is Strong.

Yes, I'm so glad to be outta the DaveCave and back on my mountain!

While I was off slicing myself silly, the Vehicle Shop got all the parts in for my tiller, and installed every one. Now my Old Thoroughbred, is running like a gazelle, and once again making perfect, berm-free passes.

This is a very liberating development! Now I'm free to groom in any manner I fancy...surprisingly, having to groom from only one side is more stressful than I thought...I can't say how much I enjoyed my shift last night!

Our blustery East Wind is blowing Arctic Air into the region, so the snow that fell overnight Saturday is staying cold and dry...Hero Snow for sure.

Graveyard shift kicked it last night...right after swing shift did. We groomed almost everything...with just six used to take twelve shifts and a lot of good luck to do that when we were running BR275's.

Here in the 21st Century, we run two winch shifts and four free cat shifts, all in BR350's and Sherpa Winches (BR350 Winchcats) The BR350's cost more than the previous generation groomers, but with that sweet extra 75 horsepower, we've cut the labor by half!

Is it possible to halve the labor while doubling the operator's enjoyment? Almost!

I've been running BR350's for 4-5 years now, and I still marvel at how much work these cats do. The extra 75HP, the great visibility, on a frame that's perfectly balanced, and the peak of Gunfighter Grip Evolution controlling a snappy fast, perfectly aggressive blade, still cause nearly nightly grins and giggles...

Jeweler and the iPhone Camera catch me in full-stick flight Friday Morning
Oh, and my finger slice doesn't fall on any of the Gunfighter Grip's buttons...cue grins and giggles...

Friday, February 4, 2011

More Wind In The Lodgepoles

The morning after my Excellent SushiFest, I decided that a photo or two of the new sashimi knife would be good for the Blog...thanks to the Celebration Ale, I'd passed on cleaning up the kitchen, and the knife was filthy...

I filled the dish pan with hot soapy water, and enjoyed another cup of French Roast. On the radio, Armstrong & Getty were in fine fettle...I was even laughing out loud as they riffed on the latest Train Wreck News, Charlie Sheen Dept.

In time, I did the new knife air dried in the dish rack, and I grabbed my digicam, some yardage for a background, and set up my little photoshoot.

Just Damn...the knife dried with a haze on the beautiful steel blade...I grabbed the Windex and a paper towel...spritzed and began to buff out the haze...

I held the blade with the hollow ground side down, the back of the blade was just wall to wall shine, you know that dripping wet chrome look?

I rubbed for all I was worth...the blade was buffing out nicely...then the tip of my index finger snuck around the edge of the knife and I effortlessly sliced the fingertip...OUCH!

Day Two's BandAid...more for cushion than anything else.
Pay attention douche! Yes, it bled like crazy...I messed up the sink in the bathroom. I trussed it up with some BandAids and spent the rest of the day banging the offended digit into just about everything in the DaveCave

I slept on it, and took a look 24 hours later...what a beautiful slice! What a blade!

OK, now with my Prime Index Finger on the bench, I had time to head out with my camera to make some photos of the new snow...Stepping onto my driveway, I was greeted with quite a zephyr...the East Wind was howling...I hadn't opened the curtains all morning, so I'd missed the trees thrashing around in the wind.

I drove past Donner Lake...wall to wall whitecaps. Looking up at Donner Peak, it looked like the Himalayas...right out of the pages of National Geographic! Up I went, scouting for a good place to shoot. There was tons of blowing snow, which eliminated my first few choices. Finally I found a wide spot on the shoulder, rolled down my window and snapped a few pics...

My shutter release finger was just a little tender, even with a new BandAid, so I used the middle finger. The wind had to be 35MPH. I was surprised at how much snow was still around to be moved like that. It was freakin' cold too!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Wind In The Lodgepoles

Gosh, what a let down. Saturday night and 10 inches of snow, then Sunday night featured Full Stick, Fast Hero Snow...we rocked the mountain...I finished my week all amped-up going into my weekend. Headed home, I knew I wouldn't be having the kind of peak experiences I'd enjoyed over the past two nights...sigh...

Undaunted, I took a good nap and woke up eager to wield my brand new Sashimi Knife on some beautiful Fresh Albacore Tuna I picked up at the Reno COSTCO. Two inches thick, and alive with the telltale opalescence of fresh mouth is watering just remembering!

I washed the sushi rice, cooked it, sweetened it with Seasoned Rice Vinegar, and cooled it. While the fan was cooling my sushi rice, I unboxed the new tool, and marveled at the effortless, precise cuts it made in the firm albacore. Wetting my hands, I rolled up a half a dozen nigiri-sized rice logs, and arranged them on a rustic glazed sushi plate. I dabbed a fingertip of wasabi on each new slice of fish, and placed them atop the rice.

I did this twice, the fish was remarkably fresh considering the source...almost four hours driving time from the nearest ocean...still the Jet Age, I guess...I can close my eyes even now, and almost feel that fish melting in my mouth...

I broke with tradition as far as my beverage alright, but not my traditional Sapporo Lager...I supped Chico-Style, with a Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale...their signature India Pale Ale. Wow! Hops and Wasabi...a marriage...definitely...Made in Heaven.

The Knife
I've wanted a "real" sashimi knife for years...Oh, I could never afford the real damascus-style knife, where the knife maker hand forges the steel, and folds the knife blank onto itself dozens of times just as the Samurai Swords were made in antiquity...those knives go for several hundred dollars an inch, and are so amazing, I'm not sure I'd ever get one dirty...the are just plain amazing to gaze upon...sort of a Time Travel Talisman, that transports one to the Feudal Japanese Past.

Sashimi knives are long and slender, sort of like a western slicer or carving knife. Unique to the application, the sashimi knife is hollow ground, but only sharpened on one side...this is the knife's secret...the flat, un-sharpened side slides through the fish almost without drag. Without the hollow grind on one side, the knife can't make a low pressure area there, hence no's like an airplane's wing in theory, only upside down. The hollow ground side makes the low pressure compared to the side without the edge, and that slight low pressure lifts the un-sharpened side of the blade a micron or two off the fish, reducing the drag...genius!

That's my theory, and I'm sticking to it!

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.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Here It Comes!

A fast moving Winter Storm is headed our way! January has been almost devoid of snow since New Year's Day. Gazing upon my calendar I realize it's been four weeks without!

My month long battle with this stubborn chest cold insured I'd be asleep early again Saturday morning, so I woke up in time to view some local weathercasts Saturday evening. Oh man, everyone is all excited!

The buzz started mid-week. KTVU's WeatherDude, Bill Martin, my Go-To Bay Area WeatherGeek/Surfer/Radio Control Model Enthusiast, was first out of the box via Facebook and Twitter. Martin is enthusiastic, but he's no Blowhard...He geeks out on meteorology like I do, and as a Bay Area Surfer, he pays extra attention to ocean conditions that favor saltwater fishermen like myself, as well as the "Gnarly Dude!" set.

My Sacramento Valley Go-To Guy is KCRA3's Mark Finan. Finan has been focused on the Valley be expected as the dense fog has the greatest impact on his audience. Mark's Twitter Feed shows a man who's deeply in love with meteorology...Finan's been quiet since Friday, so he may be outta town for the American Meteorology Society Convention in Seattle.

I got out of bed at 6:30PM, threw on some clothes and ran upstairs to roll up the windows of my pickup. The SW Wind was still blowing, so the storm will get here tonight. That SW Wind was blowing when I got to work at 11:45 Friday was still blowing when I left work at 0900.

The forecasters at Reno's NWS Office have been issuing plenty of updates to their AFD this afternoon...makin' hay while the sun shines! Maybe 5-10 inches on tap!

Let's hope the snow will be falling when I get up tonight...Good Night.

10PM Update:
So far this storm hasn't found it's way to the West much for the "fast moving" moniker...Reno's 9:04PM AFD Update says they're pushing back the arrival well into Sunday, but they think we'll still get 5-10 inches...back to work with crossed fingers...