Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Shopping

I don't have a big Christmas Shopping List. There are no little children in our family, so we adults have downsized the gift exchange. I've been making presents for the family for the last few years.

When my Dad took ill a few years ago, I became the Thanksgiving Chef for the family. Aside from Mom's famous jello ring salad, there was no paper trail to Thanksgiving Feast Nirvana.

Now Dad was no Galloping Gourmet, but he did enjoy making the Thanksgiving turkey feast. The feast was Dad's culinary Mt Olympus...but no known recipes survive him. I never saw a scrap of paper in the kitchen while he joyously prepared the bird and all the fixins.

I found my recipes in my email inbox! I subscribed to "Fine Cooking" magazine from their first issue, and for several years before I didn't renew as part of the simplification jag I got on when I moved to the DaveCave. When the magazine came to the internet, I signed up for their weekly newsletter, and many of the key recipes I used came from their Thanksgiving newsletter that first year. Without exception, they were all a hit.

The next Thanksgiving was our first without Dad. The recipes I'd printed from the ,magazine's website were lost in the shuffle. Fine Cooking's website evolved into a membership site, and I couldn't search it unless I joined and paid up. This was no way to run an airline...fortunately Thanksgiving was still a couple of months away.

The November newsletter arrived, and the recipes were no longer pay-walled. With a sigh of relief, my idea of a Family Cookbook was born. Everyone in the family got a copy for Christmas, and every Christmas since, I give new pages with new finds from Mom's recipe file, and recipes I've culled from the newspaper and my Food Channel favorite chefs. The cookbooks are looseleaf binders with a photo of Dad carving the turkey on the front, and Mom watching the show from the kitchen table on the back. I print the pages on National Geographic's Adventure Paper, which is waterproof once the printer ink dries. It's not actually paper, it's tear proof too. It's heavy and has a surface feel like velvet. I suspect it's made of spun olefin fiber similar to Tyvek housewrap.

This year's pages are the Thanksgiving recipes. Some of the Juicy ones I blogged about in November.

So I finished my shopping when I woke up a little early tonight. I won't be home for Christmas...not on the 25th anyway...I'm taking the train home from our family Christmas, when we have it later in the week.

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Dark Places

OK, here I am on my first night off of the season. I had planned to chronicle last night's shift when I punched out this morning. After sleeping on it, I've decided to protect the guilty. We made the unrecoverable mistake during shift change, and circumstances prevented us from recovering before tonight.

So I guess all the anticipation and waiting, coupled with the excitement and emotional investment since I climbed back into my BR350, catalyzed by last night's failure follies, have caused my brain's give a damn center to shut down...a temporary condition one hopes...

Given my position as a card carrying "glass half full" guy, I'm sure I'll recover full function when I get back on the hill tonight. Prime snowmaking conditions hold sway tonight, so the recovery will be complete by the time I grind past the scene of the crime.

Well then, I'm off to the grocery store for some midnight retail therapy.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Do No Harm

First, do no harm... It's a long way from Hippocrates' Classical Athens to Captain James Tiberius Kirk's 23rd Century United Federation of Planets and The Prime Directive. Whether the founding of Western Democracy, or one of it's most fully realized Science Fiction futures, the Principal endures. As it should.

The quality of early season ski trails isn't a life and death issue the way medicine or a balky warp drive can be, but those trails are My Universe, and they do seem perilously frail, given the forecast outlook and skier interest.

This season's quiescent start to the water year is unlike any season I've experienced in my 30 years on My Mountain. KCRA3's Chief Meteorologist, Mark Finan cited the record books for his 11 O'clock News Tuesday night. Mark said in the past 100 years, 19 winters started in similar fashion. Of those 19, three finally finished above normal precipitation-wise.

From my memory, I would cite the 1990/1991 Season as most like this one. Californians will remember that winter for it's "March Miracle". The season ended with about normal precip after a slow start. I have a feeling that it was the 90/91 winter that was responsible for finally bringing snowmaking to Northern California.

So here we are tonight...My Mountain is running half of it's chairs, and one fourth of it's trails...all on 100% Man-Made Snow. The AFD's say clear weather for the foreseeable future. One side effect of the entrenched blocking high off the Pacific Coast are the Temperature Inversions plaguing the Tahoe Sierra snowmaking crews. Which brings us to last night.

I pulled into the shop parking lot at the usual hour. The compressor farm was running and there was a breeze coming from the East. I donned my slicker for the walk to the shop. This was an improvement over Sunday's shift...No wind Sunday=Inversion Layer=No Snowmaking Temps.

Snowmaking was marginal at midnight. Warmish for snowmaking, the fans and guns weren't pumping much water, hence not a lot of snow was being made. As the night continued, the breeze died down, and temps slowly rose from bottom to top (classic inversion profile) until my 2-Way crackled. Jeweler wanted my advice.

We met 10 minutes later. Jeweler was looking a little tortured, his shift was turning from bad to worse. He wanted an ally to help him justify the Shutdown Call. He made his case, and ran through his laundry list of increasing negatives. I stopped him before the bitter end. "Don't make rain" I told him. "Right" replied Jeweler. We discussed the options, and I reminded him of the Prime Directive, and said we can't afford to make a mistake we that can't recover from on that shift... making rain would be that worst case mistake. Crestfallen but slightly vindicated, Jeweler transmitted the decision to his crew and rumbled into the night.

Two and a half hours after the snowmakers went home, the east winds began to freshen and the temps plummeted into the teens. As I tiptoed about the trails, I ran through the inventory of my shifts since I started back on Friday night.

Thanks to the coordinated attack of our snowmakers and groomers, I'd watched the conditions improve every night until last night. Skier Visits are holding steady at around 1000/day. 1000 happy sliders is a lot of sharp edges scraping away our precious piste. Throw in some stiff east winds and that snowpack can shrink daily. At least we held our ground last night...we didn't improve from the previous night, but we forestalled any degradation.

So that in a nutshell is our mission for the rest of the year. Hold the line...improve wherever possible...don't make any unfixable errors, and those 1000 will tell their friends about the amazing conditions at My Mountain, and 1000 scrapers daily will come and enjoy our wares.

Looking as I always do at the remote sensors, there will be great temps tonight. The winds are up, hopefully they'll stay low enough to ward off the inversion and allow us to capitalize on what the Reno AFD says will be a couple of cold dry days.

We should do fine as long as the well doesn't run dry...but that's a story for another night

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

1000 Words

I earned it this's the nature of the beast known as snowmaking.

My Mountain is open in Limited Operation due to Mother Nature's intransigence. We're running half our chairs, and two dozen trails...all on manmade snow. This is no small miracle as the weather keeping our winter storm systems at bay has also brought a pattern of temperature inversions that have made snowmaking impossible many nights...hence our limited acreage.

It's Christmas Week, so 1000 skiers and snowboarders were on My Mountain Monday...when I was logging the Grooming Updates this morning, ticket sales were 20% ahead of Monday's numbers at the same time...word is getting out, we've got good conditions...all things considered.

All those sliders confined to such limited acreage, do take a toll on our snowpack...throw in some East Winds, and a little of that snowpack escapes into the sky or into the trees where my fleet of BR350s and Bisons, and BisonXs can't retrieve it...enter Snowmaking!

Of all two dozen of our currently open trails, only two are soldiering on without nightly snowmaking. Thanks to aggressive "Summer Grooming", these trails are golf course smooth, so a good 6-8 inches of snowmaking get them in opening shape, and they stay decent as the skier traffic doesn't find any obstacles as it scrapes away our pricy piste. One groomer can groom all of these acres, plus ancillary projects in under three hours.

Over the rest of the trails, snowmaking holds sway. Weather permitting, tons of water is turned to snow, that when the planets align, falls right onto the myriad obstacles...this is a good thing!

Most of the time however, Mother Nature isn't exactly a team player, so that snow must be moved from where it falls to where it's most needed. All these machinations take time...we pray for 24/7 snowmaking conditions, but of late...were lucky to get 12 hours in. This sets up a game of Groomer's Chicken...for lack of a more refined term.

Having the mountain meticulously groomed when the lifts open at 9AM sharp, always means a little juggling to get it right. When we're making snow to cover bare ground and rocks on open trails, you want to keep the guns and fans running until the last possible second.We routinely run late enough that we sacrifice any "margin of error"...if we a machine breaks down, we're screwed.

Last night I pushed it to the limit...two minutes over the limit it turns out...when I run the crew this close to the deadline, especially during a Holiday Week, the 2-way radio comes alive with my call number...or worse, my name, as Operations starts quizzing me and reminding me of the impending deadline. This always begins 10 minutes before opening. As the deadline gets nearer, I become sort of a Morning Zoo-style DJ who can't shut up over the precious airwaves as I almost end up narrating our egress from the piste...As my crew moves down the mountain, I'm telling Operations our position, which lifts they can open safely, and out ETA to safe cover...whew!

Do 1000 words fly back and forth during our rumble to safe cover? Some mornings...Easy!

Take a look at this, it's easily worth 1000 words:

Tale Of The Tape, from Reno's NWS Office
I'm guessing I've written ten thousand words about it this fall. The forecast says this will be "The Same Old Story" until the New Year

Monday, December 19, 2011

Quick Phobos/Grunt Update 4

@SPACEFLIGHT101 reports: Attempts to fire Phobos-Grunt's engines are stopped.

"Attempts to start the Main Propulsion Unit of the Phobos-Grunt Spacecraft via direct commands from the ground have been stopped. ESA has ceased contact attempts last week and will not continue its efforts unless the Mission’s situation changes which has not been the case since our last update. During the brief period of constant sun-exposure, no contact was made with the Spacecraft suggesting that there is no chance of establishing any type of communication with the vehicle. Russian Mission Controllers have also stopped sending commands to the spacecraft that would fire its engines blindly to raise its orbit somehow. According to Russian Sources, the engine can not be fired because the vehicle’s orientation is unknown and an ignition could send the spacecraft the wrong way. Teams will continue attempts to obtain vehicle telemetry should there be any life left in Phobos-Grunt. These communication attempts via Russian Ground Stations will continue until the Re-Entry of the Spacecraft, but officials have already indicated that the Phobos-Grunt Spacecraft is lost.

The Spacecraft is currently in a 198 by 270-Kilometer Orbit inclined 51.4 Degrees. Phobos-Grunt’s decay rate is showing normal properties and is responding to solar activity which has reduced drag over several days of last week – pushing back re-entry predictions by about 24 hours. Also, the Vehicle seems to have found a stable orientation as satellite trackers did not report any new indications of obvious signs of tumbling. This is not necessarily due to the attitude control system making adjustments. Many previous re-entering spacecraft have shown a stabilization period because the vehicles achieve an aerodynamically stable position due to trace amounts of air particles that are present at these altitude levels. Official Russian Entry estimations range from January 6 to 19. Space Surveillance sources are currently predicting a January 12 (+/- 5 Days) Re-Entry."

I planned my workflow perfectly last night to put myself in optimum position to see Phobos/Grunt transit the early morning sky...alas a building East Wind brought a cloud of moist valley fog right over my position minutes before the Mag. 1.5 spacecraft was due. That wispy cloud, backlit by the waning quarter moon made seeing the dim satellite invisible to my trained eyes.

Phobos/GruntWatch will light up first week of January pending status changes in the probe's orbit.


Well Saturday night was pretty much like Friday night's shift, except I got more done, and took a 30 minute lunch break. Mostly I buried geological outcroppings (Or as we've called them for decades...rock groups- Without irony I must say)

The weather was a little too nice, I parked and only heard the sounds of snowcats far up the mountain. The silence of the rental compressor farm only confirmed my shirtsleeve temperature observation. I walked up the shop road with my jacket over my arm, quite the difference over marching into the brisk East Wind the night before.

Long story short...The snowmakers finally fired up around 0430...just barely. The persistent temperature inversion kept temps warm all over the mountain save for the lowest trails around the base areas. Snowmakers were shutting it all down at 0830...I felt their pain...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Good Night!

I just woke up from a solid 8 1/2 hours of deep sleep after 9 hours of slowly grinding around My  Mountain.

In 2 hours, I'll be checking out my tractor in preparation of doin' it all over again.

My Boss didn't trusty ol' BR350 is running like a Ferarri! In 9 hours, never once did I use max RPM or max Track Speed. Her performance belies the 9000+ hours on her clock.

All things considered, conditions were great...yes, there was more geology lurking below the thin coating of manmade snow than I'd prefer, but that's the hand we've been dealt.

I saw a great sunrise from the Top of The World, and tonight I've got a shot at seeing a pass by Phobos/Grunt, seeing that the moon is in it's last quarter. Monday morning brings a more optimum opportunity at 0615.