Corduroy.  When it’s not a “powder day in the ‘boat,” skiing and riding grippy, soft, pristine corduroy is almost just as much of a treat.  Back on my skis today, I thoroughly enjoyed some groomed runs, covered in perfect corduroy from top to bottom.  With warmer temps, the corduroy is smooth, forgiving and trustworthy; you can really carve some nice turns, trusting your edges completely.  As I skied some of my favorite groomers, I thought about what it takes to make these groomers so much fun for all of us to enjoy.  On Saturday evening, my 3-year-old son and I had the unique opportunity to do a ride-along in a working snowcat with a friend who works for the mountain.  Of course my son was beyond enamored with the 500 horsepower “beast” as they call it, and I was beyond thrilled to see what goes on behind the scenes to create all of the perfectly, pristine corduroy that I talk about.

Before Saturday, I had ridden in the snowcat that whisks you up the alpenglow-covered slopes to Four Points Lodge for an exquisite five-course Italian dinner, but I had never ridden in a working, grooming snowcat before.  I knew my son would be astounded; after all, he is a little boy who loves all things that go, especially big, big, big machines.  I, myself, wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.  When I watch the lights of the snowcats grooming from our house at night, it seems pretty cool, but also seems like it might become a little mundane after a while.  After a ride-along, my perspective would soon change.  My friend has been grooming for 19 seasons (others have been grooming for as many as 35 seasons), and he still absolutely loves what he does, day in and day out (perhaps I should say night in and night out).  When you consider that below is a photo of his office, you can see why it never becomes dull.

There are two shifts once the mountain closes: the swing shift from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., and the graveyard shift from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.  Every night, nine snowcats work hard to create that beautiful, enjoyable corduroy that I especially love.  The swing shift runs one winch cat (that works on the steepest slopes, utilizing anchor points for stability), two 500 horsepower “beasts” (that we rode in) and one smaller 350 horsepower “bison” as it’s called.  The graveyard shift runs four of the smaller “bisons” and one of the larger “beasts”.  In one night, snowcat drivers collectively groom 650-700 acres, covering all of the green runs and keeping the other runs on rotation, grooming as many runs as possible, depending on the conditions.  On Saturday evening, after grooming See Me and Vogue for night skiing, we went straight up Valley View and continued on to the very tip-top of Mt. Werner.  It was spectacular!

Taking in the stunning sunset views, we groomed some of my favorite slopes like Sunset, Storm Peak South and Buddy’s Run.  Despite being in a big snowcat, there was something spiritual and magical about being on the mountain at dusk with almost no one around – I can see why driving a snowcat never gets old!  Every day provides something new when you consider weather, conditions and which runs you’re grooming.  The snowcat itself was quite “plush” if you will, with nice Recaro leather seats, cozy temperatures and speakers to listen to your favorite music (John Butler was our choice for the evening).  It truly was a unique opportunity to see how the cats work together, how the operations team covers so much terrain in just one evening, and to see what goes on behind the scenes while we are all fast asleep.  Watching the corduroy being created and seeing what it takes to maintain our favorite slopes makes you truly appreciate that velvety, grippy, pristine corduroy even more.

With mild weather and smooth slopes, it’s a great time to get out and cruise the groomers before the next snowfall graces Steamboat’s slopes.  Make sure to keep your eye out for the mom and baby moose on the mountain.  This morning, the sweet pair was exchanging nuzzles on Boulevard.  While they are gorgeous creatures to watch from a safe distance, do remember that they are still wild animals and that you need to keep your distance.  Ski Patrol is doing a nice job closing off slopes that would put you too close to the moose, so please do respect those closures.  If you’re lucky enough to see the two moose from a safe distance, stop and take the time to enjoy some of Steamboat’s most treasured wild animals.

Happy February and Happy Wednesday!

Erin Campbell, Alpine Skier

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