Summer Grooming Improves Winter Snow Conditions
Grooming is not just a winter activity at Mount Washington Alpine Resort. The Resort has a dedicated group of experienced groomers, led by Operations Manager Erik Meertens, who trade in their Snow Cats for pole cutters as soon as the snow melts in late May or June.
The summer grooming program began four years ago when Resort staff realized some of its original runs, which hadn’t been trimmed since before opening day in 1979, were becoming overgrown.
“We decided to put a three-man crew on the higher elevation stuff,” Meertens said.
Early in the season Meertens had two brush-cutting crews working four days a week, trimming anything that pokes through the remaining snow. Crews patrol the ski runs with chainsaws, brush cutters and pole cutters, smoothing things out in preparation for next year’s ski and snowboard season. The crews expand in June to four-man crews.
In May, they were trimming “Christmas trees and conifers that have never had to be cut back before,” Meertens said. “We’re going to give everything a haircut.” Anything that has been developed in the last four or five years doesn’t need to be touched, he added. “We’re back to doing Round 2 on stuff we started three or four years ago.”
Meertens estimates his crews will smooth out 15 to 20 runs before autumn, and that includes glade work among the trees. There are 60 runs at Mount Washington.
Workers will bring in an excavator with a mower on it to do a few hectares of less steep terrain. They’ll re-grade some of the runs off the top of the Hawk, Sunrise Quad and Eagle chairlifts this summer, including moving some earth around and moving rocks out of the way to make it easier to bring in snow grooming equipment earlier in the season. They’ll do some blasting at the top of the Eagle to rid themselves of some of the bigger rocks.
The groomers will also install drift fences this summer to help corral snow next winter. The fences are set up in areas where snow accumulates, and the winter groomers will move the snow onto runs where it’s needed. “We’re going to snow farm better than we ever have this year,” Meertens said.
All the brush cutting and the drift fences will allow the Resort to open more terrain with less snow, earlier in the winter season.
“The rumour has always been we need one-and-a-half metres to two metres of snow to open. Last year we opened with a metre,” Meertens said. “We’re very optimistic we’ll be able to maintain (ski runs) earlier.”
Especially the first 100 metres off some of the lifts, he added. Last year the snow broke down at the top of some lifts, but that problem will be alleviated. “There will be less maintenance required,” he said. James Clarke (upper left) operates a pole saw to clear away brush. The pole saw is the tool of choice because groomers don't have to bend over to cut low brush. Dave Paige (below) uses a brushcutter to clear away brush that has grown up on one of Mount Washington's more mature ski runs. Photos courtesy of Erik Meertens, Resort Operations Manager.