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Wednesday, April 26

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Spring Grooming, Up and Down...Part II

You're back for Part II! Awesome...if you are just tuning in, this is what is happening. Boyne Mountain Area Manager, Colin Riviere, takes a seat behind the keyboard to tell us why spring grooming can be challenging: 

Grooming ski slopes in Michigan is some of the most challenging grooming you'll find anywhere. Seriously.  Out west where runs are longer, crowds are thinner, and the temperatures and humidity are more consistent, nightly grooming plans can be made well in advance to calculate number of cats verse acreage, with the occasional threat of powder. Simple math at best.

Here in Michigan, we have smaller runs with more traffic and daily fluctuations in temperature and humidity.  Our equations get more complex.  Take crowds for example:  Big Sky on a busy day will ski 7,000 skiers across 5,700 skieable acres. Boyne Mountain will accommodate 5,000 skiers over 410 skieable acres - that's 12 times the traffic on a given acre of snow, if you believe all of Big Sky's acres get skied as uniformly as all of ours! (I am here to tell you, they don't)  Plus, the runs at Big Sky are longer, meaning that one skier takes fewer trips down his own personal acre, where our 12 skiers can easily lap their acre 20, 30, maybe even 40 times a day on our 6-place high-speed lift. In short, our snow gets a workout.  

Our groomers are the ones who put it back together for the next day. They are the reset button. So, we approach each night by putting together a custom grooming plan, tailored to the particulars of the snow, the temps, and the crowds. In spring, the equation gets more complex, as we add the factor of time. With the freeze/thaw cycle of warm, wet snow freezing at night and thawing again at daybreak; the groomers have to go slooooowly to put out a good skiable product and need every minute between sun-down and sun-up to get the hill and parks rebooted.  To raise the stakes even more, they simply CANNOT let our hills go ungroomed in the spring: frozen slush ruts from the day before are as dangerous to a skier as a 90-foot cliff. Thankfully, we don't offer night skiing in spring because it simply wouldn't give our crew enough time to groom the hill before daybreak. (Plus, the thought of that snow turning instantly from happy slushee to frozen icee under peoples skis and boards makes me shudder.)    

Lately, our plan has been easy, as the crowds have tapered and its been cold during the day and even colder at night. We've continued to groom our family runs and terrain parks last, so they are the softest come morning.  With the warmth approaching next week, we will adjust to accommodate freeze/thaw.  To start we will continue to groom our popular runs in the morning, so we soften the hard snow for the morning skiers.  As the days get hotter and the snow softens earlier, we will switch to grooming runs like Victor right after we close, so it has all night to harden and will remain durable longer during the hot day, being that it gets the most traffic.  Parks ideally get done in the evening, so they set and last longer the next day, but slushy snow is hard to shape and often we have to wait til they cool somewhat for us to play with and reform.

In spring, time is more of a factor than anything else.   I know the groomers are getting tired of our nightly strategizing sessions, it's a lot to think about night-in and night-out for an entire winter. And they have been staring out that windshield longer this year than any other in a long time.  But as one veteran operator reminds me each week, "It'll be over way too soon!"  Keep up the good work guys.


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