Mountain Operations in Extreme Weather
It’s a Powder day in the Boat! It’s what we wait for all season: to see the Champagne Powder® cam piled high with snow, hear the snowplows busy on the roads, and watch the Meadows Lot fill up quickly with guests eager to get up the mountain with skis and boards in tow. We have visions dancing in our heads of the perfect deep pow day, snow flying all around us, tickling our noses like Champagne.
To get skiers and riders on the slopes on a big powder day, it’s not all sugar plums and unicorns. It takes a massive effort from our hardworking teams to get lifts running, trails open and terrain ready. On and off ramps for lifts need to be shoveled out, chairs need to be cleared of snow and safety checks need to be performed, staff need to be transported/commute to work in the early hours on icy roads, hazards need to be marked, and all of this usually needs to happen while battling a foot or more of snow.
A storm like this one brings its own unique challenges. The storm that arrived Wednesday came in from the west with high winds and warmer temperatures- that means higher density snow (more water content). What more water content means for our equipment is the possibility of frozen parts. Our upper mountain lifts sit above 10,000’ which, coupled with high winds and wet/heavy snow, resulted in drive terminals being fully encased in rime ice. To combat this possibility, we had crews working through the night to make sure our drivetrains on the lifts were ready to function when we opened. Our staff usually arrives for the day between 5:30am-6am. Ahead of this storm yesterday afternoon our teams met to make an action plan to arrive 1 to 2 hours early and bring on additional employees in key departments to lend extra support (Ski Patrol, Lift Maintenance, Lift Operations, etc.) Being onsite is half the battle. Getting our teams to remote lifts like Sundown, Storm Peak and Morningside, etc. can be equally as difficult during these storms. Sometimes it’s a slow trudge, which can slow down the opening process. Once in position, Lift Operators get to work on clearing ramps, patrollers dig their way through the snow and begin to prepare trails and perform avalanche mitigation work.
Days like today make us appreciate the Champagne Powder® snow we are so used to seeing. We thank you for your kindness and understanding and make sure to give a little love to the incredibly hardworking staff you see out on the mountain each day. They would probably rather be in your boots, but instead they are making sure you have the best day possible.