Friday, March 7, 2014

Little Ripper Dream Job: Alpine Groomer

"This is going to be a GREAT day!" 4-year-old Timmy was all smiles as he bounded into the car at 6:30 on a below-zero morning for what the preschool set might consider the trip of a lifetime: a ride in a little ripper's favorite Mighty Machine: THE GROOMER.

We were meeting our friend Keith Huntoon, Snow Miser and head of snowmaking at Bretton Woods to "help" with some very important jobs.

In addition to showing us how a groomer works and taking us for a ride, we got to help Keith with one of those very essential "behind the scenes" jobs that makes our skiing and riding experiences at BW so comfortable: we had to take a fresh port-a-potty up to the Stickney Cabin and take the old one back down.

Keith had the port-a-potty attached to the front blade of the groomer with a frame around the porto that had hooks to hold onto the blade.

As we lumbered up Two Miles Home trail towards the Cabin, Keith showed Timmy all of the different controls that make this multi-hundred-thousand dollar machine create that dreamy surface skiers and riders call corduroy.  Keith told us, "when corduroy freezes up and sets it creates that 'squeak-squeak' under your skis."

In addition to the very warm and comfortable cab that we were sitting in, Keith told us about the other main parts of the groomer. In the front, the blade plows down all of the bumps and moguls we create as ski down the mountain.  Underneath us, the giant comb provided traction for us as we climbed up the slope.  And the tiller dragging behind us churns up the snow and presses it into corduroy.

Since the porto was directly in front of us, Keith asked Timmy to "keep an eye out for trees" that he might not see on his right side.  We also watched for animal tracks.  Timmy was happy to find out that at night, when they are out all night grooming, they also have to watch out for animals like moose and deer that might be out on the trails.  Timmy chattered away as we approached the Cabin, explaining that since Waumbeck was Mommy's favorite trail, it was his, too.

Bretton Woods alpine has five groomers in their fleet, and they use at least three of them each night to groom their 341 acres of trails.  "We start around 5:00 each evening, and it takes all night to get every trail ready for the next day" he said.

After our important errand with the porto was complete, Keith treated us to a ride up Waumbeck, one of the steepest trails on the mountain.  The big Prinoth cruised smoothly all the way up without hesitation.  We stopped to see some big cat tracks along the side of Joseph's Run that we guessed we probably fisher cat.  On the way back down Range View, Keith let Timmy use the joystick to move the blade and its "ears" to see how he adjusts it to smooth the snow.

Although Keith and his crew are big strong guys who can work on all kinds of machinery, it's still apparent that this is a labor of love for them.  Keith spends most of his time managing the snowmaking systems at Bretton Woods, but he said,  "this used to be one of my favorite jobs."  And knowing that they are out all night long, all season long, means some sacrifices.  Jenn, Keith's wife, often refers to herself as a "snowmaking widow" in those peaks months of the year when there's snow to be made and groomed.

It's easy to see why SKI Magazine readers rated Bretton Woods as No. 1 in the East for Snow and Grooming.

Our early morning adventure surely made an impression on little Timmy.  On our way back to the base lodge to begin our ski day, Timmy reported: "I know what I want to be when I grow up, Mommy.  I want to work at Bretton Woods and I want to be a groomer."

Later, as we cruised down all our favorites, including Waumbeck, Timmy explained to his Dad and sister, "This is the corduroy that I groomed."

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