Groomers: Tilling resort snow is like a work of art
Written by Jenn Fields, this story originally ran in the Daily Camera
In the summer, Tom Anderson tills the earth at his farm in Longmont. In the winter, he tills the snow on Eldora Mountain Resort's slopes.
Wednesday, at about 10 p.m., another member of the snow-grooming crew started up a snowcat outside of a barely hidden garage just off Eldora's slopes. (The snowcats have to sit outside to chill before they can take off to groom -- warmer metal isn't good for the snow.)
Anderson and the other groomers know Eldora like the backs of their hands.
Jolly Jug is 15 cats wide, Anderson recited. Corona is 26. Klondike is only six.
This intimate knowledge of the slopes is helpful for efficiency, but also because they're out there in whiteouts, 80 mile-per-hour winds and even avalanches (Anderson has been in three).
The groomers also know the sights well. That Wednesday night, a light fog on the mountain masked their frequent views of the Front Range lights from the top of the La Belle run, which Anderson was grooming early for the CU Ski Team's practice there the next morning.
Anderson's other nighttime views include animals from mice to foxes to coyotes -- but he's never seen a mountain lion. They're too clever, he said. The groomers only see their tracks, not the animals themselves."
Brian, over on Nordic, will see more than us, because there are two moose over there, Anderson added.
Learning to groom the slopes takes practice, practice, practice, Anderson said. They only use the plow on the front of the snowcat to scrape little bumps off the slopes. They only dip the till deep enough to lay the cord and cover the cat tracks. They keep the cats moving constantly, because if they don't, the machine's weight will dig into the snow and tear it up. For this reason, every time they turn around, they execute a K turn to avoid churning the snow.
If it's going to snow at night, they'll groom the steep runs first so the powder's where the powder guys like it, and then we end up with the fresh-groomed stuff in the morning where the kids, the beginners don't have to work their way through the powder, Anderson said.
At the end of his day -- when the skiers and snowboarders are starting theirs -- Anderson gets a lot of satisfaction looking back on perfect brushstrokes coming straight down the groomed runs.
But the nighttime's pretty great, too.
I feel blessed, he said as he navigated the cat down the slope, gravity pulling the passengers forward. I feel like I'm the luckiest guy in the world.