The Places I Go: Night With A Ski Resort Groomer

Not many people will think about how the snow gets flattened and groomed while they are back at the hotel having a nightime drink and relaxing. In the morning the guests are greeted by pristine white rows of fluffy white snow. 

As soon as the skiers leave the mountain, and the ski patrol has swept the mountain for any stragglers, an entire second shift arrives to go to work. The groomers come in and start their 13,000 pound diesel powered snowcats.

On a regular day I come in around 5 Pm and clock in. After clocking in I walk down to the resort workshop to inspect my snow cat before my shift and make sure everything is topped up. Then I make sure all the wheel nuts are still attached and start warming up the diesel engine. I check the coolant, engine oil and hydraulic oil levels, and make sure all the grousers are still there (grousers are the metal blades of the track). The last thing I do is look under the machine to make sure there are no massive fluid leaks. 

While the snow cat is warming up I meet with the grooming manager and go over my responsibilities for the night and what pattern they want me to groom the mountain in. We talk and grab a few snacks before we crawl into our snow cats for a 6-8 hour shift. 

Snow cats take a lot of focus to drive because there are a lot of operations to manage. There is the blade up front which can move 12 different ways using a single joystick and two buttons. The blade is used to cut the high spots off and fill the low spots. We use the blade to move snow and build anything from jumps to trenches. The snowcat also has a tiller on the back. The tiller has two spinning drums and a set of combs. The drums spin really fast and use the small blades to cut up the snow. After the snow is cut and fluffed by the tiller drums the combs smash the snow into the nice little rows of snow that skiers and snowboarders love. The tiller also has 4 different pressure adjustments and moves from side to side using a lever to help the snow cat make smooth turns. 

This means that when I’m grooming the snow I need to operate the blade, control the tracks, and control/steer the tiller. All while driving straight up a ski run. To provide a constant snow surface I have to constantly make adjustments to the blade and tiller. When I am grooming I use a looping pattern where I drive up a slope that isn’t too steep and drive down the ones that are too steep to climb up. We overlap every pass by about 2 feet and by the end of the night there isn’t any ungroomed snow left on the mountain. 

At Sky Tavern we usually start by grooming the steepest hills first (6 Gun and 5 Rings Race Hill) and use the flatter areas to groom uphill and access the steeps. After we groom the steeps and the rest of the 4 bowl we move to The Drain, Herz Trail and Terrain Parks. We do all the big work in the terrain park with the snow cat and finish using shovels and rakes. This usually takes a combined 18 hours in the snow cat between the 2-3 groomers.

Once the mountain is all groomed we put diesel in our snow cats and park them for the night. We fill out a grooming report and clock out. I’m usually exhausted by the end of a shift because of the concentration required to groom a mountain and when I get home I go straight to bed. It’s a demanding job but it is very satisfying and fulfilling. 

So, that’s a night with a groomer at Sky Tavern Ski Resort in Reno, Nevada. Interested in seeing more? Follow me on twitter and retweet this blog (or follow me on Instagram/Facebook and share my post) for a chance to ride along with me for a night! Always remember that you can reach out to me with any questions and comments you have.

One thought on “The Places I Go: Night With A Ski Resort Groomer

  1. Thanks for this peek into a world I’ve always wondered about. When I’m finally warm and feasting at the resaturant at the bottom of the hill and I see those lights up there, I’ve always wondered what that’s like.


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