Monday, February 14, 2011

The 411 on Okemo Grooming

For this week’s post we reached into our mail bag. The topic? Grooming. We get questions about our grooming often, so we turned to Eb Kinney, our mountain manager of 21 years to fill us in on Okemo’s grooming philosophy. Here is what he had to say:

After last season we took a hard look at our grooming and snowmaking techniques. Making changes in the way you have done something for years is never easy, but we knew it had to be done. To give you a little background, we run two shifts of 7 snowcats from 3:45 pm – 9 am and we groom roughly 500+ acres a night, most of which is groomed twice. We have changed 3 major components in our grooming and snowmaking philosophy. What we have learned is that timing is everything, when dealing with snow.

The first thing we changed in grooming is our mountain tilling program. A mountain tiller is a drag behind cultivator or as we like to call it an aerator. It breaks up the hard surface into chunks and will cultivate to 4-6” in depth. The reason for doing this is to keep the surface from getting hard and eventually icy. Even with as much natural snow as we’ve been getting, without doing this, the surface would get hard as a rock. The next step is to run a power tiller over this, grinding up the snow and leaving the corduroy finish. The timing of this is very important. In the past we did the entire mountain tilling on first shift, from 3:45- midnight. What we found was that this allowed the mountain tilling to set up hard, not allowing the power tillers to grind it up. This also seemed to leave the small ice balls that all skiers dislike. So, this season we never let our mountain tillers get more than 2-3 hours ahead of the power tillers. This seems to have made a noticeable difference to the surface and our guests.

The second change we made was in the timing of opening the snowmaking trails. Whenever possible we let our heavy snowmaking trails leach out for 24 hours before pushing them out and opening them to the public. What I mean by leach out is let the excess water drain out from the snowmaking piles. By doing this the snow is less dense, drier and makes for a better product on the first day we re-open the trail. The first runs will be a little rough, but will typically ski in very quickly. This in turn makes for a great surface the second day after we’ve mountain tilled and power tilled. This again has been well received by our guests.

The last thing we’ve changed in snowmaking is our re-surfacing program. Our snowmaking manager has been experimenting with different nozzles in our snow guns. When re-surfacing we install smaller nozzles making a finer crystal and a nice light surface that our skiers can enjoy right away. This also allows us to move faster across the mountain. This also has been well received. Although you don’t feel our grooming has improved, we have gotten many compliments on the noticeable changes. By no means do I think we can’t become better. You have my word that we will continue to make improvements and push hard to re gain our guest’s confidence.

I hope that helps explain our grooming strategies at Okemo. As always I look forward to and appreciate all comments - both good and bad – so keep them coming!

Best regards,

Eb Kinney
Mountain Manager
Okemo Mountain Resort