When I was a younger skier, I thought snow surfaces were naturally flat and smooth and moguls were made with shovels and built for hot doggers.
What I did not realize, and still often take for granted, is the momentous effort it takes to maintain groomed runs. Heavenly is one of the largest ski and snowboard resorts in the U.S. with 4,800 skiable acres. Of the 97 runs on the mountain, Heavenly consistently grooms 50-65 runs.
Grooming Manager, Todd Rudis, says a lot of high-tech machinery and hard work is needed to groom all of those runs. Heavenly’s grooming team is made of 31 drivers and around eight mechanics running 13 front-line groomers, two winch cats, three utility cats and one people transporter. This doesn’t include the four to five additional drivers who specialize in building jumps for Heavenly’s terrain parks! Many of these groomers bring decades of experience to the driver’s seat, which really makes Heavenly’s groomed runs stand out. Todd Rudis has been grooming for 25 years and Lupe Barrientos, a lead groomer, has been grooming for 30 years.
According to Heavenly’s Snow Surfaces Director, Barret Burghard, a number of factors can affect the snow condition and therefore the type of grooming done that night has to change. When snow melts and refreezes, the surface condition becomes more firm, heavily used areas may be worn down and as skiers and snowboarders turn they pile up little mounds of snow, eventually growing into moguls. The goal of the grooming team is to address any of these adverse conditions and leave the surface flat and soft.
(Side note: moguls actually “move” uphill over time. Learn more about this phenomenon from the Science Daily.)
Heavenly spends time and money to replace and to utilize the most state of the art technology for grooming. Heavenly often cycles out older machines for more innovative machines. Burghard says the fleet, comprised of the Prinoth Beast and the Prinoth Bison X, are extremely versatile in what they can do and are top-of-the-line.
Three main pieces of the cat are used to shape the snow: the blade in the front, the tracks underneath, and the tiller in the back. “The blade can push the snow and it can roll it back,” explains Burghard. “The wings can fold out and it can tilt from side to side.” Along with shaping the snow, the blade is one of the primary tools in chopping it up. “First you drop the blade down to break through the first surface layer. That snow passes under the tracks, which break it up some more. Then the tiller lays down the corduroy behind it,” says Burghard.
Burghard says the drivers are experts in modifying how deep to drop the blade depending on the consistency of the snow. The blade will go deep on firmer days, and it tills softer when there’s fresh snow, but you have to get it just right. It takes 20 to 25 drivers a night to keep Heavenly’s runs in top condition.
“We start grooming at 4:30 in the afternoon as soon as the lifts stop turning. We stop grooming at 8:30 a.m. or so when the lifts start spinning. So we’re out there all night long,” Rudis says.
Burghard says their responsibilities go beyond grooming runs. They also flatten the ramps leading up to lifts, ensure the magic carpet areas are up to Ski School’s strict standards, and cut the pipes and mold the jumps in the terrain parks.
During the day, Burghard and Rudis ski the mountain and take notes of places that need work. They combine their thoughts with input from Mountain Operations, lift operators, Ski Patrol and ski instructors. This information is passed on to the drivers and then they get to work.
So next time you’re driving by Heavenly at night, look up and see the grooming cat’s lights move up and down the mountain. We tip our hats to the groomers, because we love that beautiful corduroy in the morning! The work of these unsung heroes make everyday an excellent day at Heavenly.