Snow cat drivers are a different breed. They pull all-nighters in the middle of winter, cruising up and down ski resorts, and rarely get to actually ride their creations during the day because they’re sleeping and then getting ready for the next night’s work. Talk about a solitary existence.
Lately there’s even a newer class of groomers who consider themselves the elite crew of the grooming world--those who build terrain parks. And they take great pride in how they’re progressing the sports of snowboarding and skiing at resorts across the country.
I had the opportunity to ride with several different groomers at the Cutters Camp at Timberline Resort on Mount Hood and these guys were stoked to be at the Camp, meeting people, and checking out new cats. Brian Scheid, from Cascade Mountain in South Wisconsin, has been grooming for five years and loves building parks. “The kids want something new,” he says. “They’re the future of the sport.” He sees himself as out on the cutting edge, helping them push the limits.
Gary Foster from Nub’s Nob in Michigan, was stoked to be at the Cutters Camp as well. His resort only has 472 vertical feet, which was less than what he had to drive the cat up to the terrain park in the morning of the Cutters Camp. He was happy to be at Timberline, learning from the other resort staff. “This is great. I’ve really learned a lot.”
Everyone agreed that the knowledge they were getting at the Cutters Camp was totally worth the trip.
The agenda for the Camp on day two and three were similar. The group actually got to spend time on the hill, instead of just sitting in the lodge talking about how to build terrain parks like they did on day one. The hand’s-on work really got things going with the group.
Each day, half the attendees would head up on the hill in the morning, drive snow cats around, and work on jumps and rails in the park. Some spent time digging out the pipe. Meanwhile, the other half of the group was meeting and working on different topics such as “Vehicle and Implement Use And Tips,” “Snowskate Parks,” and Park And Pipe Operations and Management.”
The weather on the hill was slightly challenging both days, with clouds, variable visibility, and even some intermittent snow flurries. It didn’t matter--everyone was stoked to get on the hill, drive cats, build stuff, and even go snowboarding.
The activity around the superpipe was organized chaos. Four cats were running through the pipe, digging it out, and spreading snow at the bottom. Since the cat drivers had never worked with each other before, there were times when it looked as if they were going to collide, but luckily nobody did. The drivers kept an eye on each other, and used radios to communicate.
Since the pipe wasn’t ready for the walls to be put in, several drivers were taking turns running a Zaug Pipe Monster on a quarterpipe wall, It was good practice for the groomers, especially since most had never worked a Pipe Monster before.
At the park, cat operators were given mounds of snow to build into jumps. The more experienced crew stood by the sides of the mounds and would periodically give suggestions to how snow should be pushed, how to groom a jump, and if a landing looked smooth.
In the afternoon session of day two, representatives from Piston Bully, Bombardier, and Zaugg all gave presentations on the newest snow cats, particularly the designs built to work on park and pipe maintenance.
In another discussion, snowskates and snowskate parks were discussed. Andy Wolf, owner of Premier Snowskates, showed his most current video to highlight what the sport was, and Liam Griffin from Burton told the audience how his company is using snowskates to introduce customers to snowboarding in its Learn To Ride Program. It was noted that snowskate sales were predicted to hit 200,000 units this coming season alone, and that resorts should seriously be considering building snowskate parks now, if they haven’t already.
“Snowskates are where snowboarding was ten years ago,” said Wolf. “It’s new. Younger kids are into it. They are the pioneers with it. They connect with it and they embrace it.”
Snowskating is ridiculously simple to do, it’ll generate revenue, it’ll bring people to the resort, and it’s easy to maintain. Most of the participants are skateboarders, and resorts will see skateboarders going to snowskates first before snowboarding in the future, panelists added.
Later in the afternoon, there was another fascinating session covering risk management and liability issues surrounding resorts and terrain parks. It turned into a lively discussion with the group asking many questions of the panel that consisted of resort lawyers and insurance company representatives.
That night Salomon hosted a German Brew Pub dinner, which was held in Government Camp. Most of the attendees were glad to get out of the lodge and off the mountain for a little while, because there was a little bit of cabin fever setting in. With good beers flowing on Salomon’s tab, the crew let loose for the evening and more bonding took place between the attendees who came from all across the country.
Day three of the Cutters Camp was more of the same, with on-hill terrain park building, grooming, and finishing the superpipe. There were also more indoor sessions, touching on current terrain park lawsuits, park and pipe operations and management, and competition guidelines.
Bear Mountain’s Karl Klouzer talked about the importance of having terrain park staff (snowboarders) get in the cats with groomers to make sure the different terrain features are built correctly. “It’s easier to train snowboarders to drive cats than it is to teach cat drivers to snowboard and understand parks,” he said.
Some of Bear’s best groomers have come from the park staff, and in fact, the resort is also trying to get the park staff to learn more about snow making and get involved with that part of the resort management as well.
During a later session, Heine Tools owner Kurt Heine showed a teaser of his new snowboard video (he’s also the owner of Strait Jacket Films) and then talked about the tools and rails he builds for resorts. Bombardier’s Chris Perkins stressed that resorts should have great looking rails because the way they look is a direct reflection of the resort itself.
One attendee suggested that resorts could use the side of rails to put signs with safety messages, instead of just putting resort logos. Some already sell sponsorship of their rails, and a Mountain Creek staff member said it raised $20,000 from sponsorship of its rails.
The evening ended with another great dinner at Timberline Lodge and a special thanks from the organizers, including the staff of Ski Area Management magazine and Timberline Lodge. Timberline’s Steve Kruse told the audience, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of. Thanks to all the attendees, staff, panelists, and sponsors.”Mountain Creek’s Shawn Orecchio was stoked to be attending and felt the trip from New Jersey was well worth it. “I hope this keeps going. The best thing about the conference is seeing what everyone else is doing.”
The Cutters Camp, put on by Timberline resort and Ski Area Management magazine, was sponsored by Salomon, PistenBully, Premier Snowskates, Bombardier, Burton Snowboards, Zaugg AG Eggiwil, Snowboarder Magazine, and Acordia The Ski Area Management staff are already planning next year’s Cutters Camp. Stay tuned for updates on www.transworldsnowboarding.com.