When you tell friends about your Deer Valley ski vacation and before you start explaining the resort famed “corduroy”, nine times out of ten, they’ll ask you: “How was the snow?” Today, I’m spending a few moments with Scott Enos, Deer Valley Resort Snowmaking Manager, one of these experts, with a quarter of a century experience in producing man-made snow that guarantees a unique ski experience.
JF: Before we explore the key role you play at Deer Valley, tell me, why do we need man-made snow in the first place?
Scott Enos: Man-made snow is not necessarily the snow you want to ski on, look at it as a “primer.” It’s a base layer upon which we accumulate natural snow by starting from a safe base, covering rocks, twigs and terrain irregularities. Once this layer is in place, our ski season is secured.
JF: What does it take to make snow?
Scott Enos: It takes lots of water and obviously, huge amounts of electrical power, because our snow guns all run on electricity. So with all that water, compressed air and the right temperature and humidity, you can make snow.
JF: But how do you actually turn water into snow?
Scott Enos: You need a snow gun and we have two types of them. The first type is called “fan gun” and is used on the lower part of the mountain. It has a barrel with a large, 25 HP fan inside; this creates a column of air into which we inject water. To “seed” that water, there’s also a 10 HP compressor that transforms the mixture of air and water into a plume that turns into snow as soon as it hits the frigid air.
JF: What’s your second type of snow gun?
Scott Enos: It’s a compressed air system that directly mixes water and compressed air. We connect it to our slope-side hydrants and both elements are mixed inside a nozzle that blows snow on the ski run.
JF: Are all ski runs receiving the same depth of snow?
Scott Enos: Years of observation and experience, slope grade and traffic patterns define how we lay the snow. Steeper pitches, sun exposure, high skier traffic and terminal areas generally require deeper coverage than average slopes.
JF: What is the warmest temperature at which you can make snow?
Scott Enos: Technically speaking it’s 28 degree Fahrenheit. When we’re talking about snowmaking we refer to “wet-bulb temperature” which indicates the factor of humidity in the air, as opposed to “dry-bulb temperature” which is more like the actual temperature we measure. For instance when the wet-bulb temperature is 28, the dry-bulb temperature could be as high as 36 degrees. This means that high humidity conditions makes snow making less efficient.
JF: Are you saying that the output is greater when the weather is dryer and colder?
Scott Enos: Certainly! Here at Deer Valley we can pump 7,000 gallons of water per minute; which equates to about 10 million gallons per day. As the temperature decreases and the air remains dry, our volume increases to the point that we can’t move the equipment fast enough and have to reduce our water use.
JF: How has technology evolved over the past 25 years?
Scott Enos: Tremendously! Monitoring system used to be non-existent; today, we have multiple weather stations on the mountain that we monitor in real time and integrate automatically with our pumping system. Some of our fan guns are now fully automated and equipped with telemetry that allows us to control them through my office computer. Our new machines are also much more efficient; the new air-water guns have nothing in common with the old ones. Over that quarter-century it’s fair to say that our capacity to make snow has increased one hundred fold!
JF: Early in the season, I see those big mounds of snow that you call “whales”, piled up on some runs, I often wonder “How can the snowmakers tell when they have made enough snow?” How do you measure your output?
Scott Enos: Sorry to disappoint you, but we don’t take any sophisticated measurements; Experience simply tell us “we’ve got enough snow!”
JF: Why do you let these big “whales” sit for some time before spreading them on the trail?
Scott Enos: We always let them sit for a while before we break them; they “cure,” so the excess water contained in them can fully drain out. We want snow that is consistent, without frozen water inside. We let them sit at least a day before the snow cat breaks them up and we’ll let that snow sit for another day. We take the time to make it right!
JF: Let’s talk now about water, your main raw material. Can you tell us where your main storage facilities are on the mountain?
Scott Enos: We have several storage ponds. Three large ones are at Snow Park between the Deer Valley Plaza and our parking lots. Then, on Deer Crest, as you’re skiing down Jordanelle and pass the last bridge, you’ll see into the side of the hill a concrete station that pumps 25 millions gallons of water that we purchase from the Jordanelle Special Service District. This water comes from the Keetley mine before it’s cooled through a treatment plant, as it comes fairly warm from the ground. Finally, for the upper mountain, we have a reservoir that sits at 8,813 feet, by the Homeward Bound run. We buy this water from Park City and it also replenishes itself through the year.
JF: So when environmentalists question the wisdom of using so much water for just making snow, how do you respond?
Scott Enos: We take water that runs in late fall and early winter and that can’t be used for say, agriculture. So, we take that water and conserve it under the form of snow so it can melt later, just like the rest of our mountain snow pack.
JF: Let’s now talk about your people, the ones who make all that snow…
Scott Enos: The snowmakers are an eclectic group of people. There’s 36 guys and girls and me!
JF: Is it all night work?
Scott Enos: More than that, it’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The crews work in teams, with a swing shift and a graveyard shift. The shifts start at 1 a.m. and at 1 p.m. They sign up for five days a week, weather permitting, and at any given time, we always have 12 to 14 snowmakers on duty on the mountain from the end of October through the end of January. When we’re done making snow, many crew members will be doing something else. Some are snow groomers, ski instructors, bakers or snow plow drivers, as snow-removal is another task our department handles.
JF: What does it takes to work as a snowmaker?
Scott Enos: This type of work is physically demanding. The hours are long, the work is hard. These people have to deal with all kinds of adverse conditions; in fact, the tougher the conditions, the harder the work. It’s just remarkable that a large core group of people come back to us season after season!
JF: What do you do in summer?
Scott Enos: We prepare for the following snow season. We start implementing our capital improvements that are a yearly occurrence. Deer Valley is a resort that really understands the value of snowmaking and what it means to its guests. We strive yo make our slopes more fun to ski on, more user friendly and there is no end to our commitment to improve our guests’ experience. Good snow year or bad snow year, we keep on upgrading our systems, investing in our infrastructure that grows incrementally year after year.
JF: Since you’ve worked here 25 years, you’ve seen many different winters. Is there any relationship between natural snow and the quality of skiing?
Scott Enos: If you want to come out and ski the kind of groomed runs Deer Valley is famous for, even if it’s not a snow record breaking year, you’ll end up having a wonderful time. For instance, just now, the mountain is as good as it ever gets. We may not have knee-deep powder today, but it’s going to come soon anyway. I have a very good feeling about that!
JF: How long have you been renting ski equipment, Todd, and how have you seen this activity evolve over the years?
Todd Daines: I’ve been here for 31 years in Deer Valley. I’ve seen quantum changes in terms of ski shapes, lengths, composite materials and of course performance! Predictably, at the same time, I’ve seen our rental activity grow exponentially with the resort and as our rental equipment has gotten better and better!
JF: As you are gearing up for a new ski season, are you renewing your fleet of rental equipment?
Todd Daines: New is the name of the game with us, as we change our equipment every year. We have five categories of skis that we renew either yearly or bi-yearly. As a full-line Rossignol shop, we focus on their Premier products which are the high-end Rossignol skis and boots, with something for everyone, from Junior to Adult!
JF: So, what’s new this winter?
Todd Daines: Skis continue to improve in terms of shapes and construction materials. The new ski that will probably be the most popular this year, the one that’s also the most versatile, is the Rossignol Soul 7, we have those in our Premier line.
JF: Let’s say, that I’m a skier who loves groomed runs, what ski do you have for me?
Todd Daines: I’d get you on the Rossignol Pursuit. It’s a wonderful ski for making large, arcing turns!
JF: The buzz today seems to be all about “rocker skis;” what do you have in this category?
Todd Daines: The rocker technology is build into almost all of the skis that we offer, here at Deer Valley. Some are more extreme than others in terms of the shape they take while some are more qualified for different type of skiing; for instance, we have rocker skis more geared towards groomed runs, other for tree skiing and of course, powder snow.
JF: Do you offer gender-specific skis?
Todd Daines: We certainly do. We offer both women and men specific skis. When women skiers come in and want to try a lighter ski or something more suited to their style, we have it for them.
JF: What are the options for kids and juniors?
Todd Daines: We see kids coming to us at the age of two and a half, three years old, and we get these new skiers on ski length starting at 67 cm and into boots starting at size 7 that are just perfect for them. We have a full line of brand new Rossignol skis, boots and bindings that covers all needs from toddlers to teens, all the way to 140 or 150 cm skis.
JF: What happens if, during my stay, I needed to change gear, from say hard-pack skis to powder boards; is there a way I could switch?
Todd Daines: Most definitely, we have two locations on the mountain, you can just sneak into one of our shops and swap your skis for something that works better for you or the snow conditions at that time. There’s no additional charge to the customer, there may only be a short waiting time, but since we have all your information on file, you’ll be on your way before you know it!
JF: Besides skis, boots and poles, what else do you rent?
Todd Daines: We also rent helmets, of course, and those are designed to fit the smallest child the the full size adult!
JF: If I’ve never rented ski equipment with Deer Valley Resort before, what are my options?
Todd Daines: You can call in or register on line, give us or fill up the information and submit it to us. Depending on how early you make your reservation, you’ll be sent a bar-coded ticket, which contains all your information. Just bring it into one of our rental locations, you can bypass all the lines, go straight to your gear and you’ll be out of the door. If you didn’t have time to get your bar-coded information, you come in, we print out a small ticket, you receive your skis and boots and you’re done.
JF: How long does the process take?
Todd Daines: Since we have such a large fleet of equipment and so many fitting stations, the rental process can be as short as 5 minutes if you have your ticket ready. It might take you up to 15 to 20 minutes if you rent a new pair of boots and want them to fit you perfectly. If you’ve rented before with us, that time can be much shorter because we have your information on file. We also have what we call a “Grab and Ski”, where you can call in, give us all your information and agree to the size of the gear you want. Since it’s all preset, you just come in, okay your rental paperwork and you’re off the door. You only need to take one single step into the rental shop, you bypass all the lines and your skis are ready to go!
JF: So why should I rent skis from you instead of bringing my own equipment?
Todd Daines: It’s such an easy process! When you rent with us, you don’t have to worry about carrying your equipment ever. You can walk up to the shop in your tennis shoes, grab your gear, leave your shoes in the locker and slide on the snow. So once you’re here, you don’t have to leave the resort, you don’t have to call a room delivery service to come bring the gear to you in a van. We’ll take care of it all, right here!
JF: What do I do with my equipment at the end of the day?
Todd Daines: After you’re done with your ski day, you can leave your skis in the coral; likewise, you can leave the boots with us in our boot check. Then, you can then either go to your car, walk to your hotel or take the bus back to your condo. Today, with the breadth of inventory we offer and the kind of high performance equipment we have available, you can experience with us the latest technology in skis and boots and never have the need to purchase anything!
Congratulations to our friendly neighbors celebrating their 50th year ski season, Park City Mountain Resort. Opening day was a great success and snow conditions were great. The excitement of locals and kids could be felt in the lift lines and all over the mountain! It was a wonderful way to start the season and ring in their 50th year. Bravo.
You would think the night before opening day in my house would be a bit like hanging your stockings up on the mantle waiting for St. Nick. Not so much this year. There were no ski boots, ski pants or gloves by the door. Partially my fault for not getting them out of the winter storage, but of course I thought I could quickly do it the next morning in no time. I’ve only been doing this 40 plus years. I assumed I could whip it together.
What I didn’t anticipate was that I had to whip it together for four people with the kid’s continuous negativity. The morning routine was all but routine. It started first thing in the morning with sighs of,
“Are we skiing today?”
“I don’t want white goggles.”
“I‘m not wearing my new warm-ups, they are too big.”
“I don’t like my new coat.”
“We need hand warmers.”
By this point my blood pressure was maxed out. I needed to get to the slopes. I instructed everyone into the car as nicely as I could, especially after I loaded four sets of skis and poles to the car.
We arrived to Park City Mountain Resort and took our first chairlift ride of the season. I pushed off, buckled my boots and made my first run. There’s something to be said once you let go and get the adrenaline going. I went back to my zen spot. For the rest of the day my blood pressure went back to normal, and I was able to enjoy watching everyone ski. I didn’t care if someone’s coat was too small or the color of goggles.
I did take time to remind the group that they were still behind me skiing. It was just my way of saying, “the morning departure wasn’t as I planned, but I’m still Mom and nothing has changed with skis on my feet.”
Now it is time to look forward to Deer Valley’s opening on Saturday, December 7th. My lesson has been learned. I will be more organized on Saturday. I have no choice, but to get everyone out of the door on time because it’s the Deer Valley Celebrity Skifest. I have to try and defend year after year racing the guys (Phil and Steve Mahre and Tommy Moe).
Also on Saturday, Stefan has tryouts for DEVO. Tim and Lucas will be at a lacrosse tournament with his 212 Park City team. We will need to rest up the night before, as I get to host Nicole Miller. Yes, the one and only Nicole Miller, my favorite designer. She and I might be able to exchange tips on skiing and fashion. How did this come about? My mom always told me ”if you can read and ask questions you can do anything”. My friend owns a store in Salt Lake City named JOLI and carries Nicole Miller. I knew Nicole was coming to the event so I simply asked her to come early to meet JOLI clientele and Nicole Miller agreed. I guess my mom was right.
Again, congratulations to Park City Mountain Resort. Thanks for making our first day of the season first–rate.
Now with only one day until Deer Valley opens, what are you doing to get ready for the ski season? Let me know your tips and tricks for getting ready for ski season in the comments below. Let’s hope for big snow, many ski days, and lots of smiling faces. I’ll see you on the slopes.
Sons have a special bond with their mothers. Well, at least when they are little since when most kids enter high school they are embarrassed to be seen with their parents. I remember begging my mother to park down the street when she picked me up from school so I didn’t have to be seen getting in the car with….gasp…my mother. She refused, of course. I dreaded the time when my kids didn’t want to be seen with me.
It didn’t happen in high school with my youngest son, Rick (now 23). He seemed to actually like having me around. In fact, he would even dangle his arm over my shoulder at…gasp….the mall! I thought we had bypassed the “my mom is embarrassing” stage until he came home from college saying things like “You aren’t going to wear THAT, are you?” I guess certain things are unavoidable in life.
We came full circle recently when he came to visit. He is now a college graduate and a contributing member of society. He is also a snowboarder but wanted to switch it up and ski with me at Deer Valley. His last memory of me skiing was not a good one – it was well over a year ago when we first moved here and before all my lessons! He even took embarrassing photos of me traversing back and forth across the run and falling since my technique was so poor. He and his brothers ditched me after one run. Who could blame them?
This time was different. He was on skis instead of his board and I had been practicing, taking lessons and attending clinics. He started off on the Wide West run using the “magic carpet” people mover to get his “ski legs” since it had been 12 years since he had been on skis. Once he had the basics down, we headed up the Carpenter Express chairlift to Success.
I planned on taking the Rosebud cut off since it would be a bit easier for him for his first run. He didn’t see me and stayed on Success where the bottom is a tad steeper. I caught up with him and as anticipated, he had some initial challenges and stopped halfway down.
This was my opportunity – one that rarely comes and I wasn’t going to lose it. You see, Rick is a good athlete, and I knew he would quickly pass me up. I wanted to show off my hard work and newly found mad ski skills. So I did what any self respecting mom would do — I executed a controlled sideways slide then an abrupt hockey stop spraying him in the process.
With a straight face, I said, “Let’s face it, I am better than you.”
Then I took off.
We had a great laugh as he told the story to family and friends at Snow Park Lodge. Rick and I skied the rest of the afternoon with my friend Michelle and in no time, he was skiing beautiful turns, enjoying himself and waving at me as he passed me by. His wave, however, was one of respect.
It takes hard work and determination to learn to ski especially when you start after age 50. To be able to spend the day skiing with my son and have him dangle his arm over my shoulder again is a wonderful feeling and definitely worth the effort.
Thank you, Deer Valley.
In any skier’s typical day, each chairlift or gondola ride always involves a Lift Operator. This key employee is constantly making sure that everyone is safe and well cared for. The constant interaction between Lift Operators and skiers has perked up my curiosity and prompted me to know more, and understand better, what motivates these seemingly tireless mountain workers.
Late this season, one early morning, just before his shift, Kevin Combs, one of the many Deer Valley’s Lift Operators, took the time to listen to my questions and shone a rather enthusiastic light on his daily life:
JF: How long have you been a lift operator?
Kevin: This actually is my first year.
JF: What was your occupation before that?
Kevin: I was a machinist, back east, in Massachusetts. I moved to Utah in November.
JF: How do you like working with Deer Valley Resort?
Kevin: It’s fun. It’s a great experience being here, lots of great people to work with, everyone has a smile on their face and always ready to serve our guests and makes sure everyone has a great experience, whether we’re talking about guests or fellow employees.
JF: Were you a skier before you came here?
Kevin: Oh, yes! I have been skiing since I was 12 years old.
JF: So, I guess you learned and skied in New England?
Kevin: Oh yeah, I skied the ice, which is something you have to learn on the East Coast. I can guarantee that it makes a good technical skier out of anyone who learns over there!
JF: How often to you get to ski?
Kevin: That’s what makes the job so exciting: I get to ski every day; whenever I get a break, I ski, it’s great!
JF: Even on your days off?
Kevin: You bet, I ski every day that I can, I wouldn’t miss a beat!
JF: Where, on the mountain, do you work?
Kevin: I am working out of Empire Canyon. I either work on Empire or Ruby Express chairlifts. I also help around on the mountain when another lift is short of people. I’ll rotate as needed.
JF: Since this was your first season, have you visited other Utah resorts?
Kevin: I’ve almost skied them all; the only ones I think I haven’t skied yet are Solitude, Powder Mountain and Snowbasin.
JF: When you’re skiing Deer Valley, what’s your favorite run?
Kevin: I’m into extreme skiing so I love to ski a lot around Lady Morgan, because of its great tree skiing and its cliffs. I’m particularly fond of Centennial Trees, and of course, I ski off Empire Express in places like Daly Bowl and all the surrounding Daly Chutes. When I happen to find an untouched area, I just “drop-in…”
JF: Are you skiing alone or with buddies?
Kevin: I do a lot of skiing by myself. This said, I have a lot of friends who ski with me; I do my own things in the morning, and then I hang with them in the afternoon because sometimes they can’t quite follow me. But I like to ski with everybody and together, we always have a great time; I guess that’s what skiing is all about!
JF: What would you say are the skills required to do your job well?
Kevin: Before anything, you need to be a great people person. You need to be concerned about skiers’ safety and comfort, especially those who are less advanced and aren’t always familiar with riding lifts. Sure, it also helps to know a little about things mechanical, the lift itself, because it’s a big piece of machinery. For instance I pay attention to noises that may come from the lift; with my mechanical background, I can alert Maintenance to a problem if there seems to be one. Of course, the job also demands that one is a decent skier so you can ski to and from work, can relate well to our guests and have a wonderful interaction with them.
JF: Does a healthy passion for skiing help?
Kevin: Oh yes, most definitely! If you work as a Lift Operator and are not really here for skiing, you miss out a lot. Of course you can take the job just for the love of the mountains, but a passion for skiing shows and makes all the difference. Working no longer feels like work!
JF: What would be your next professional goal with Deer Valley Resort?
Kevin: I’d probably love to move up to Ski Patrol, because I like to help people and be on skis. For me, being outside and helping people are the two main reasons why I love with my life at Deer Valley!
JF: If people reading this blog were interested in a position like yours, what kind of advice would you give them?
Kevin: Don’t be scared by the responsibilities and by all the impressive machinery; the work is totally doable. The training Deer Valley provides is great, everything is fluid, all the kinks have been purged, and of course, there’s all the skiing!
JF: What will you do this summer?
Kevin: I’m planning to get a job with an online sport equipment supplier in the Salt Lake Valley. During my spare time, I also plan to mountain bike a lot here and around Moab!
JF: Sounds exciting! So, you’re looking forward to another winter season with Deer Valley Resort?
Kevin: I think so; I’m now convinced Deer Valley is the place to be. It’s a lot of fun here. We’re surrounded with lots of great, helpful people all the time. I’ve never had a bad day here, which is simply… amazing!
As this winter season ended, we wanted to try one more great snow activity: a snowshoe tour at dusk just before a delightful dinner at Fireside Dining at Empire Canyon Lodge! Marrying these two activities is almost like taking a trip through nature that miraculously leads directly to some old-world mountain setting.
Because of the changing snow density, spring season snowshoeing always entails more workout than during mid-winter and after a strenuous trek all the way to the bottom of the Daly Chutes, we returned to the Empire Lodge where a true “mountain feast” was awaiting us at Fireside. I have a soft spot for Raclette and took full advantage of this high-energy, Swiss delicacy while reminiscing the good old days when I still was living in the Alps.
After one generous serving of Raclette and its delectable accompaniments,
That first – and only – snowshoe tour of the day was led by Justin, who works for All Seasons Adventure, Dear Valley’s on-site, independent activity provider. Before dinner, I spent a few moments chatting with Justin and here’s what he had to share about snowshoeing at Deer Valley Resort.
How long have been guiding snowshoeing tours?
I’ve been guiding for 4 1/2 years, snow-shoeing the whole time and guiding in a number of other activities.
What kind of special skills – if any – are required to snowshoe?
Nothing in particular; just go out and do it. We cater to any fitness and skill levels. From beginners to the most advanced and ambitious snowshoers.
What’s a good time to go snowshoeing?
You can do it during the day, morning, afternoon, dusk or evening, by star-light. We can organize a dinner snowshoe like tonight at Fireside, or hike over to Silver Lake Lodge and go to the Mariposa, Royal Street Cafe, Glittertind or Goldener Hirsch.
Do you provide lights for these evening outings?
We do. A lot of time we don’t need them, as the moonlight or even starlight is usually sufficient, but we have lights in case there’s some cloud cover.
What happens if your guests are into stargazing or astronomy?
We actually have a device that you can point at the stars and that uses a laser and GPS locator which can tell you what star you are looking at.
How long does a typical snowshoe tour last?
Usually one hour and forty-five minutes to two hours, but we can do them as brief as 45 minutes or as long as four hours.
Can guests cancel the outing when snow is falling hard and there’s too much snow?
If it’s snowing, it’s generally a wonderful time to be out snowshoeing. If the snow fall is significant, we make sure our guide stays ahead of the participants to pack down the snow. If the weather is simply too harsh, the outing maybe canceled and there’s no-cancellation fee to the guest.
Where are you taking your guests?
It depends a lot on what they like. Often times the trails are through the trees but we can go off-trail, through powder or just stay on the packed trails. A lot of our trails offer a wonderful diversity, so we’ll just pick an itinerary based upon our guests’ needs and desires. Our main concern is to keep everyone safe within the constraints of avalanche conditions…
Is snowshoeing a family activity?
Absolutely! Younger kids may have a harder time with it, but it works perfectly for anyone from about six or seven years old up until … indefinitely. We have had octogenarians take a tour with us!
Do you have gear to fit everyone?
Yes, we offer a full range of sizes in snowshoes and poles.
How should people dress?
We normally recommend that people wear snow-pants, dress in layers on top, have sunglasses, gloves, a hat and wear sunscreen on sunny days. We can provide over-boots which are like a Cordura gaiter that cover the whole foot in the case guests don’t have good shoes and can cover their tennis shoes to keep their feet dry.
How long in advance do we have to book a tour?
During the busy season, like Christmas, Sundance Film Festival, Presidents’ Day week-end, 48-hours in advance is recommended. Other times, we can get people out with just two or three hours notice!
Can special event be combined with your snowshoe tours?
Definitely. We can cater to our guest’s needs to create a custom tour however they’d like it. We’ve done anything from a 50 year old birthday party to even marriage proposals; you name it!
How can we reach you and where are you located at Deer Valley Resort?
We have a desk at the Snow Park Lodge that is staffed from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. everyday during the ski season. If you need to contact us on the web our address is allseasonsadventures.com or you can reach us by phone at 435-649-9619.
**Snowshoe tours and Fireside Dining will start again in December 2013. Please call to make reservations after Labor Day.
One late evening recently, I spent a couple of hours with Brian Johnson, Lead Groomer at Deer Valley Resort. Brian took me for a ride in his snow cat and I while doing that, I learned quite a few things about weaving white corduroy during the hours the slopes have been temporarily deserted by skiers…
JF: How long have you been a snow groomer?
Brian: Twenty-five years; it’s amazing how time flies when you’re having fun!
JF: What do you do in the summer?
Brian: I work in construction, operating heavy equipment.
JF: Are you a skier?
Brian: Yes, I grew up in the Bay Area, but I learned to ski in the Sierras and began as an alpine and freestyle competitor before discovering Deer Valley.
JF: Does it help to be a skier in order to drive a cat like this?
Brian: Definitely! It helps understand what skiers need and want in terms of slope preparation and give us a much better understanding of how the snow feels, performs and the way it changes over time.
JF: Are all the other groomers skiers?
Brian: Yes, even though some of them no longer ski for a variety of reasons, most do. We pretty much have people who love the mountain environment, the snow and the ski industry. People who work with us have been doing it for a very long time and seem to come back to work with us, season after season. That means most of them have lots of experience, and still enjoy both skiing and grooming slopes. As a result, we rarely have to train new drivers and our new recruits are few. Most of them learn the job and generally stay with us, which is really good.
JF: How do you recruit and train your drivers?
Brian: Some have experience when they start at Deer Valley and others don’t. In both cases we train them to do the work, or if they already have experience, we train them to Deer Valley’s specific procedures and quality standards. It does take a long time to get very good and proficient at that work and training plays an important role.
JF: What makes a great snow groomer?
Brian: Experience and lots of it! Consider this: groomers can only do that type of work for about 22 weeks per year. With most professional trades it typically takes three to four years to become proficient. For a snow groomer, that translates into a full decade of work before one becomes perfectly skilled. That’s the technique then comes the art, when you consider an elusive material like snow. That’s right, snow is an amazing creation, it’s constantly changing, it never stays the same from the time it falls out of the sky; it remains in constant state of change and I guess that’s part of what keeps the job interesting.
JF: So there’s also an art in addition to a grooming technique?
Brian: That’s right. A groomer must understand where the snow is, where to find it during lean years, have a good eye for what needs to be fixed and so on. For a first-time groomer it’s essential to understand how the runs are laid out, especially at night. We never let new people groom alone during their first season, they always work with an experienced groomer.
JF: I see other snow cats working along with yours; do you always work in teams?
Brian: We’ll work in groups depending on the project and at Deer Valley, two cats working together is about the norm.
JF: How many drivers are needed for grooming all of Deer Valley runs?
Brian: To cover both shifts and days off requires about 30 people. We need a fair amount of personnel because we cover a lot of runs. Then, since conditions are everything and constantly changing, they always dictate how we will conduct grooming on any given night.
JF: Are there female drivers?
Brian: Yes, we currently have three female drivers with one of them being a Lead Driver on the graveyard shift
JF: In a typical night, how many runs does the team groom?
Brian: About 45 to 50, which is about half of the total number of marked trails at Deer Valley. We’re responsible for certain runs on swing shift because we want them to set longer overnight. We want the runs more durable during the day, especially on our high traffic runs. This applies to Bald and Flagstaff Mountains then our graveyard shift will complete the work and take care of all the lower runs and any other runs we can’t get to on the first shift.
JF: What do you mean by “setting longer overnight?”
Brian: It means letting the snow “rest” for a longer period; it makes for a much more durable skiing surface, which skiers really like. They feel more comfortable on a snow that’s consistent from top to bottom and get more enjoyment out of it. We call this “setup time” or “curing time,” from late afternoon until the next morning when the sun and skiers begin softening the snow surface and we start the whole process over again.
JF: How hard is it to drive a snow groomer?
Brian: First and foremost, it demands lots of attention. It takes time and experience to drive a snow cat. You must be looking everywhere, constantly. I look in my mirrors to see how the grooming is coming out of the back, I check my side-mirrors to make sure I have clearance on both sides; I look across at all of my front plates, how I’m cutting the surface in front of me. Your eyes are constantly looking in all places and behind you after you groom for a fair amount of times; it comes automatically. You’re just looking everywhere to avoid objects, to make sure your sidelining looks good and to see what needs to be adjusted as you go along.
JF: Do you run into wildlife when you work at night?
Brian: We see lots of it. Of course, it depends on the type of winter or snow fall patterns we’re having. Some animal will stay at different altitude depending on the snow conditions. We often see deer, moose, and many different birds, like owls. We have our fair share of coyote and occasionally we’ll see a fox.
JF: Over the years, how has grooming equipment evolved?
Brian: It has come a very long way. It’s been the result, I guess, of constant interaction between us, (the groomers) and the machine manufacturers. The manufacturers often come to see us, ride with us, and ask us how their equipment performs. We both interact and see how we can improve things. Manufacturers also come here to test their new products because they value our reputation, the way we work and the product quality we want to provide to our guests. In turns it helps them in refining their product, from cabin comfort, to overall reliability of the machines and grooming performance.
JF: What’s steepest run that you groom?
Brian: That would be Stein’s Way, is has an 88% grade! Generally groomers from other resorts that visit us never fail to be impressed by how steep the runs we groom are!
JF: How does a fresh snow fall impact your work?
Brian: Just like when you ski, new powder makes the work much more fun! We look forward to grooming when it’s snowing. Of course, the snow cats won’t climb or descend as well in new snow. We must be particularly careful when we’re going down: The machine can slide and the operator needs to control that slide. I find it to make our job much more challenging and fun!
JF: Have you told us all the secrets behind Deer Valley’s legendary “corduroy?”
In this blog, a few seasons ago, I shared an obsession of mine to rack up as much ski vertical as I possibly could. I’ve since gotten over it, and this season, I’ll be focusing instead on a new challenge a friend of mine suggested we try to accomplish: ski as many runs at Deer Valley Resort as we possibly could, in just one day. When I heard about the idea, I liked it a lot, thought it was a great way to further my knowledge of the resort. So, I immediately began researching the subject.
With 100 designated ski runs at Deer Valley and six open bowls, I would have my work cut out for me! At first, I was not quite sure how to go about defining the project. What originally was intended to be a team event ended up becoming my sole responsibility as my friend and his busy calendar couldn’t join me within the dates we had originally targeted.
So here I was, on my own and compelled to design the project from scratch. Being one’s own boss isn’t that terrible though; I would be able to make my own rules and fashion them so the contest would be as user-friendly and as convenient as I wanted it be. With that in mind and since there was no one to watch over my shoulder, I also committed to follow my rules to the letter.
I began by deciding that I would only focus on marked ski runs with perhaps one exception: I like some of the kid’s runs. I’m particularly fond of Bucky’s Backyard, a whimsical bumpy run off the Bandana ski run. I would also leave the resort’s six bowls out, as the infinite variations they offered might complicate things and be subject to endless interpretations. I would also allow myself to conveniently count one small run that would be close to a larger one so I could score an extra run without having to take the same lift one extra time for just completing a tiny trail. For example, Trump is a sub-set of Ontario, and I assumed that going through Trump, while skiing the remaining balance of Ontario should count for two runs.
With that in mind, I began by inventorying all the marked trails that I could see on the official Deer Valley Resort map and tried to organized my findings in a sequential order that I felt, would maximize the number of runs I could cover during the time most lifts were open, that is from 9 a.m. until just after 4 p.m.
For each trail, I estimated the time it would take me to ride up the lift, plus the necessary time to safely ski down to my next lift or run, and I added everything as I went through the Deer Valley trail map. I came up with a total number close to one hundred and figured it would take me more than twelve hours to navigate the whole itinerary. With the lifts being opened just seven hours, I would not be able to ski all the runs in the space of one day, but would do my best to ski as many trails as humanly possible.
They were, of course, a few unknowns like the possibility for some bad weather and, if that were the case, perhaps some wind-hold during which certain lifts could be temporarily stopped. In addition there was also the likelihood of fairly large crowds as I wanted to run my experiment during the Spring Break holidays. More skiers would demand more attention and reduced speed while skiing down the hills. Any significant delay would have a detrimental impact on the total number of runs. At first, I had considered taking a break for lunch, but that possibility quickly appeared to be a luxury I could hardly afford if I wanted to rack up the highest possible number of runs.
I could also have tried to optimize my course so I would hit only those runs or lifts that provided me with the best return on my time and efforts, but I decided against it. I had in mind that I would begin with the Little Baldy Peak area then move to Bald Mountain, Empire, return to Flagstaff and conclude the day around Bald Eagle Mountain. Finally, I was asked by some why I wouldn’t use a smart phone app to account for my day, but I must say that I didn’t want to take any chance and suffer any breakdown due to failing technology, so I planned to keep the running tally by hand.
Shortly, I will let you know how the project went and how many runs I was able to cover in just one day of skiing. Of course you don’t have to wait for these results; you can try tomorrow if you feel like it and discover what a typical ski day at Deer Valley Resort can be worth in terms of total ski trails visited. Modify or change some of my rules if you have to and please, ski safely!
Last year during my Max 4 lessons, my instructor gave me some poignant advice. While trying to keep up with the two guys in my group, I fell. He counseled, “Nancy, skiing is an individual sport; always ski at your own pace. We will wait for you at the bottom.” Since then, I have not had a problem skiing alone. I often grab my equipment and ski for a couple of hours by myself.
The truth is, you are never alone at Deer Valley. The skiers are very warm and friendly. After my New Year’s ski day with my neighbor, I decided to go up by myself to practice what he’d taught me. It was going to be an “intermediate” day for me and my plan was to warm up on a couple of green runs and then hit the blue runs on Flagstaff Mountain. At the bottom of Blue Bell, my day took an unexpected turn for the better.
Standing in the single line waiting for the chair, the lift operator asked, “Do you know Ron?” I smiled though no one could see the smile since I was covered completely with a scarf, face mask and helmet. He went on to tease that Ron always buys you a latte if you ride the lift with him. I mentioned I would hold him to it as Ron and his son, Paul, visiting from Chicago, and I took our places on the chair lift.
With the latte as an icebreaker, we chatted it up. When they found I was skiing alone, they invited me to ski with them. Turns out, Ron was someone I wanted to meet anyway since he is a ski technician in the Rossignol Demo Ski Yurt near Empire Canyon Lodge. You can try before you buy so you know what you like when you are ready to make a purchase. “Sure I’ll ski a few runs with you guys,” was my answer.
So off I went to all the intermediate runs on Flagstaff with my new buds. I followed them all over the mountain – cutting through the trees between the runs. We took a break at Silver Lake Lodge, where a latte was placed in front of me. There plans were hatched. You see, I had never been to the top of Bald Mountain (in winter) at 9400 ft., since I was too nervous to go by myself.
It became their mission to take me. So we got on the Sterling Express chair lift and headed up. They warned me that Bird’s Eye was a little steep at the top but wasn’t any more challenging than the runs we had just done on Flagstaff. The views were amazing at the top of the mountain and the guys watched me traverse the top of the run with super slow methodical (but safe) turns until it evened out. At the bottom of the hill, I embarrassed myself and ran into the ropes while queuing up at Homestake chair lift. They teased me saying, I was supposed to be fast at the top and slow at the bottom of the hill, not the opposite!
My new friends skied all the way to Snow Park with me to “walk me home” and as we said goodbye, they said, “It’s good that you were slow since it’s Paul’s first day out and you helped him to pace himself.” They were being kind, of course, but their gesture was appreciated.
Speed is relative, you know. Little did these guys know that this was the absolute fastest ski day ever for me. Fast or slow, the truth is you never truly ski alone at Deer Valley.