Grooming Grumbling Part 2
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Picture Credit: Bill F.
By Bill Fetcher

Mar 98

Information for these articles has been gleaned from the writings of Stephen J.
Bradley*, Executive Director of Winter Park during the 1950s. He and other ski
area managers realized early on that all the latest additions in new lifts, lodges and
other facilities would count for naught if the on-slope experience were miserable. A
good skier on a good day, he observed, moves about four tons of snow. (Your
tonnage may vary.) Multiplying that figure by several hundred skiers gives you some
idea what area maintenance personnel are up against. Bradley would gain the title,
"Father of Slope Maintenance."

The first attempt to mechanize snow packing was a fairly obvious one, a simple
roller, like a broad lawn roller fitted with wooden slats which simulated sidestepping
skis. Steamboat Springs' Howelsen Hill had such a roller that could be handled by
one or two skiers. Its drawback was its light weight, which couldn't pack snow as
firmly as a skier's own weight. Nevertheless it was a start. Heavier rollers that could
do a better job would need to be towed by a period snow vehicle, usually a Tucker
Sno-Cat or Studebaker Weasel. The latter, looking like a breadbox on crawler
tracks, was a leftover from World War II, a result of the army's need for a snow
vehicle for winter combat. Heavy, with narrow tracks giving poor floatation, the
Weasel was not the most successful design to come out of WWII. They tended to
bog in any snow except hardpack. However lots of them were made which meant
lots would enter the surplus market after the war along with spare parts. By contrast
the Tucker Sno-Cat, still in production, could handle the deepest powder, floating
on its pontoons encircled by crawler tracks. Both the Sno-Cat and Weasel would
see much use not only at ski areas but also during the polar-cap explorations of the
'50s.

Rollers, still used today, work well for smoothing green and blue runs. We still need
to deal with those moguls. Breaking them up with shear manpower was both slow
and laborious. Winter Park had moderate success with a small crawler tractor fitted
with broad tracks and a bulldozer blade. The blade would shear off the mogul at its
base producing a chunk of compacted snow and ice the size, in Bradley's words, of
a Steinway concert grand. The tractor would then drive over these pianos, the
tracks crushing into what we now call "death cookies." This too was a slow process,
particularly if the slope was too steep for the tractor to back up. It would have to
"deadhead" around on a less steep slope or service road for another descent,
wasting time and fuel. At least these efforts left a slope that could be considered
skiable . . . by the standards of the day. What was needed now in the
war-on-moguls was a means of making the process more efficient. Next month we'll
deal with a formidable 1952 invention, by and named for, guess who, the Bradley
Packer-Grader.
      
*Steve Bradley died 13 November 2002 of pneumonia at age 86.