Giving the slopes their nightly manicure, from behind the wheel of a Pisten Bully
Although it’s only January, Mother Nature’s already thrown a couple of temper tantrums in the weather department this season. Polar blasts followed by sleet, rain and snow, make good grooming habits on the hills even more important when the mercury roller coasters from high to low.
So we were plenty pleased when the latest addition to our grooming fleet -a new Pisten Bully 400 park pro cat - was delivered last week. The cat joins two 400 standard cats and a 400 winch cat, all Pisten Bully products.
At Crystal, we groom 85% of our skiable terrain every night. During the week, our grooming crew usually runs two cats per night. That expands to three cats on Thursdays, when the new park cat is put to work helping to build up and maintain park features. Three machines are also operating on Friday through Sunday nights, according to grooming supervisor Jason Harris.
Normally, it takes about ten hours per machine, or roughly 22 cat hours total, to complete the job. Obviously, snowfall, weather, and on-slope events factor into the schedule. Race events, both practice and competition, create ruts which take more time to fill in and manicure the surface. A heavy snowfall followed by rain and then a freeze (hello, last week) also takes extra time to get the job done. In lower snow conditions, groomers use the winch cat to pull snow from the base of the slopes back up to the top, thus filling in low spots and keeping the top from getting too icy. And anytime conditions prove tricky thanks to Mother Nature’s antics, the crew will send out three groomers rather than two, to ensure the silky corduroy that skiers rush to carve up when the lifts open first thing in the morning. Transforming surfaces into corduroy is all in the tiller attachments, which act like a roto-tiller behind the cats to churn up hard snow surfaces. Corduroy is the finely ridged surface of the snow resulting from that effort.
Even now, as January snow keeps a solid grip on the slopes, good grooming habits stretch out the ski season. As we head into winter’s prime time, there are lots of corduroy mornings ahead as our experienced Pisten Bully pros man the helm of their machines to rebuild the slopes each night for optimal skiing the next day.