So you spent all day carving up the mountain at Sierra with your friends and you all had such an awesome time that you’re planning to come back again the very next day! When you arrive the next day with your posse in tow, you are greeted by the smiling faces of the Sierra staff (pretty typical) and of course, miles of FRESH corduroy. Sounds like the start to another perfect day, right?! But how did this happen so quickly?
Many of us take those seamless cords for granted, as it seems like they magically reappeared just in time for you to carve up the slopes again. If you had a strong belief in the corduroy fairy, brace yourself because I’m here to inform you that she does not actually exist. The mountain continues to look fresh every day thanks to our talented grooming crew, who works hard all through the night!
As your trusty snow reporter, I went behind the scenes on a Snow Cat tour so I could bring you the inside scoop of the not-so-glamorous world of grooming and snow-making – AKA the backbone of our resort! Just before 6am, I was swooped up by one of our grooming machines to begin the ride of a lifetime.
I was excited to discover that I would travel this sweet journey in one of the industry’s most impressive snow-moving machines – The Beast. This aptly named, high-tech Snow cat is built to be the very best at moving snow and laying down fresh corduroy! Sierra has two Beasts in its grooming fleet of 11 snow cats. Each Beast has a 500 horsepower engine allowing them to cover 9.5 acres of ground per hour. Talk about power!
Coolest part about this fleet is how green it actually is – all of the cats run off biodiesel that we make from used vegetable oil straight from our kitchens! The more sweet potato fries and hot wings you eat for lunch, the more cat food our fleet will have – so be sure to do your part in between Grandview laps!
As I climbed up into the Beast, I immediately gained a HUGE appreciation for the pure skill and talent that it takes to operate these massive machines. We started the tour by heading up Sugar and Spice, and even though I feel like I could navigate across this mountain with my eyes closed – I felt a little disoriented heading up the trail instead of carving down it. My tour guide, Clancy, informed me that carving down the mountain on skis or a snowboard pushes snow downward, so they generally start the grooming process by going up the mountain to push all the snow back up.
I know you love the steeps at Sierra including Castle, Clipper, Lower Main, and Upper Powderhorn as much as I do, and to keep those trails lookin’ pristine groomers using a special technique called wenching. Basically, that means one end of a cable is secured to a tree while the other end is attached to the snow cat.
As I watched one of the groomers make his way down Lower Main with a Wench, I was both scared for the man in the cat and excited to be watching something so amazing! Talk about a high level of skill and bravery – Major props!! The cable connected to the tree is the only thing preventing the cat from plummeting straight down Lower Main – oh man what a wild ride that would be!
Around 6:30 am, the Beast climbed up the steep slope of Hemlock just like it was no big deal. This monstrous machine took us to the summit just in time for a beautiful rosy red sunrise over Lake Tahoe.
On a clear night, you can see the lights all the way down in El Dorado Hills to the West, the lights of Lake Tahoe to the east, and occasionally the crew even catches a glimpse of the Kirkwood groomers’ headlights. When the Kirkwood grooming fleet is spotted, a fun game of flash light tag will usually follow! It’s awesome to know that they are having a blast while keeping the mountain fresh for the rest of us to have a good time!
Don’t make the mistake of assuming it’s only the hard work of the groomers that keep the mountain looking fresh. The groomers wouldn’t be able to do their job without the hard work of the mechanics who keep all the machines up and running properly. Our snow making crew is also a large part in keeping the mountain fresh and maintained, especially with this season’s less-than-average snowfall.
Next time you’re carving up the mountain at Sierra, I hope you appreciate and admire all the hard work and countless hours every person on our team puts in to ensure your experience at Sierra is nothing less than SPECTACULAR!!