Dec 1, 2009 | Marmot, Winter 2009

Mount Washington Snow Farmers

They’re called the “Snow Farmers” of Mount Washington.

And they’re some of the most elusive staff members during the winter season.

They are the winter groomers. Eighteen strong, the winter groomers work in two night shifts: late (3-11:30 p.m.) and later (11 p.m. to 9:30 a.m.).

“They’re the night prowlers. They get very little recognition,” said Resort Operations Manager Erik Meertens. They groom “every minute we’re not open.”

They earn the moniker “snow farmer” from literally corralling snow to be moved from one place to another. They take snow from heavy areas and rebuild those where skiers and snowboarders have shaved down the snow level.

This past summer the summer grooming staff installed snow fences in an effort to control where snow drifts. With the high snowfall in November they were catching four to six feet of snow every night, Meertens said, and moving that snow to areas that need a little more help early in the season.

When it first started snowing at Mount Washington, in late October, the fences were invaluable, Slope Supervisor James Clarke said. “Now we have a snow farm. We have snow where we can grab it and move it up a hill.”

There’s no set routine to grooming the alpine trails, Clarke said. It’s mostly weather-dependent. “Off the top of the Hawk, if there’s new snow forecast we do…Reverse Traverse, Sunset and Jacks.”

Then they know how much time they will have to do Exhibition and Whiskey Jack. “Generally, we’ll leave runs that need to be groomed until later in the night,” he said.

Many of the runs are groomed up as well as down, depending on the fall lines – how the run is sloped and where the snow naturally goes, Clarke said.

On a run that slopes down, groomers approach it from the low side towards the high side. On runs that are narrow, the middle of the run tends to “dish out”. In that situation they groom from the sides toward the middle to fill in the depression.

“A lot of the time we go up and down the Runs. It’s a lot easier to put in your first pass going down,” he said.

“In some occasions there’s so much snow or the Run is in such poor condition we’ll have to move the snow around and flatten it out. Then we’ll come back and put our tillers on and lay our corduroy.”

All the groomers are skiers, and that’s vital to the job, Clarke said. “Skiing is a really important thing to grooming. With the headlights you can look at the Run and think you did a good job. But until you ski it you don’t really know.”

He said groomers will take the first Runs of the day after their shift ends at 9:30 a.m. and just before the runs open. Sometimes they have days where all the groomers come in during the day and ski the Runs, looking for areas to problem solve as they ski.

Clarke was already an avid skier when he approached the previous Slope Supervisor, asking if he could join the Grooming Crew. He’s entering his fifth winter as a Groomer. He was promoted to Slope Supervisor two weeks before the Mountain opened.

While Clarke is a fairly new Groomer, Dave Paige has been there longer than any other. “He carried material up the road to help build the Red Lift,” Clarke said proudly.

Paige is a night shift lead hand. “He’s amazing,” said Meertens. “He just loves driving the Snow Cats. He’s the last one to stop for lunch and the last one in the yard.”

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