|Grooming Grumbling Part 4
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Picture Credit: Bill F.
By Bill Fetcher
Relief from boredom would arrive beginning in the late '60s, as certain fringe
elements of skiing, freestyle and extreme, would enter the arena. Granted, brave or
foolish skiers have been launching off cliffs and slamming through moguls for
decades. Now with improved equipment and release bindings such stunts could be
carried off with reduced risk of serious injury thus widening the appeal. The past 20
years have seen the rising popularity of snowboarding. The above variations-on-a-
theme have given a fresh face … and faces to what was a stagnating sport. Hand in
hand with these changes was the adoption by 27 states (by 1995) of skier safely
codes. Given the force of law, (Colorado's Ski Safely Act was enacted in 1979)
they would shift the burden of responsibility-for-one's-actions from the ski area to
the skier where it always should have been. As they say, what a concept. Ski areas
are still compelled to mark or pad obvious hazards, however now those using the
slopes are obliged to realize that conditions change; that rock that was scraped
clean a moment ago can be buried in the next kicked-up spray of snow.
Grooming equipment would continue to improve in terms of economy of operation,
speed and operator comfort. The venerable Thiokol name would be taken over by
Logan Manufacturing Co. (LMC) in the early '80s. Other firms would join the ranks
such as Canada's Bombardier (makers of Ski-Doo snowmobiles) and Germany's
Kassbohrer (makers of Pisten Bully, a splendid name for any piece of heavy
equipment). Attachments would be developed to meet specialized needs. The winch
cat can lower itself or another groomer down a slope that is otherwise too steep to
be groomed safely. When fitted with an attachment like the Pipe-Dragon* they can
build and maintain snowboard halfpipes. Most grooming operations are carried out
at night. While skier safety is the obvious concern here another reason is to
accommodate, at some areas, a workforce with a reputation for responsibility,
reliability and familiarity with diesel engines and hydraulic systems such as found on
their tractors and combines. I'm speaking of local farmers and ranchers who can
always use the extra income whether they're still in agriculture or not. They can feed
their livestock during the day and groom at night. Continuing this rather fortunate set
of circumstances, it is not uncommon to find a retired Thiokol pulling some rancher's
feed sled in place of his faithful team of horses.
Not everyone is happy with slope grooming. Steamboat Springs has been home to
an underground bumper-sticker movement, "Stop the Brutal Grooming." The feeling
seems to be that if you're going to ski you should learn to handle all types of terrain
including bumps. There is also resentment when a favorite bump run is groomed, or
"cut." ("Darn those people! They cut White-Out last night! It was fine the way it
was!") Not realized is that not everyone who visits a ski area, particularly the family
on a ski vacation, has the physical conditioning and training needed to go bashing
down a mogul field, nor to desire it. Also bump runs must be cut every so often to
maintain a good foundation. And finally, even the most die-hard bump-jumper will
avoid favorite runs if they become too much effort to ski and will move to other
runs. We're back to what Winter Park discovered 50 years ago.
With skiing and snowboarding fun and challenging again, ski areas have had to
provide facilities that are, yes, fun and challenging. Halfpipes have been mentioned.
They have their roots in skateboard parks along with what would supplement them,
terrain parks for skiers and snowboarders alike. Terrain parks have been criticized
as being "injury factories" while area operators defend them on the grounds that
catching "big air" off catwalks, boulders and such puts more people at risk.
Regardless, grooming crews now have to build and maintain terrain parks with their
jumps, tabletops, spines and whalebacks. At the competition level, a freestyle
moguls course requires bumps that are uniform in size and spacing and thus need to
be machine-made. Grooming equipment, once developed to rid ski slopes of bumps
must now form them again, thus bringing the art and practice of slope maintenance
*Invented in 1991 by Doug Waugh (1944-1995) of Berthoud, CO.