Grooming Grumbling Part 1
Copyright ©
All Rights Reserved.
By Bill Fetcher

Feb 98

During the course of these articles I’ve outlined the development and use of various
types of ski lifts, most of which came “on line” just over 60 years ago and are with
us today such as the chairlift, T-bar and rope tow. Prior to that time the determined
skier had little choice, once learning how to stand, balance and walk with slippery
boards strapped to the feet, but to climb hills under his or her own power. For
gentle hills the herringbone pattern works well while for steeper grades the choice is
sidestepping. (And as much as I enjoy riding, this is where a snowboard falls short
of the mark, particularly in loose, deep snow. Snowboarding, for the most part, is
dependent on lift-served slopes.) I should add that during those years before lifts the
various skiing disciplines; Nordic (jumping and cross-country) and Alpine (slalom
and downhill) were more closely integrated. A good skier was expected to be at
least somewhat proficient in them all. Granted, there weren’t very many of those.

Packing snow by sidestepping, whether by one or a gang of skiers marks the
beginning of slope maintenance.  As ski hills began installing lifts, thus opening up
more slopes and trails, the need for packers would grow. A common arrangement
was for an area to allow you free skiing in the afternoon if you spent the morning
packing. Such a deal, provided you had any energy left, at least you were able to
ride the lift up and pack downhill. Ski Patrol and other area employees would often
serve on packing crews. This worked for a number of years, however the hordes of
skiers who would flock to the slopes in the post-World War II years would create a
problem no amount of sidestepping could cope with, moguls.

Some think moguls are caused when a group of skiers kick up mounds of snow
when turning at the same points on the hill as in a follow-the-leader game. While this
may be a contributing factor, in reality moguls occur as a result of varying snow
texture. They become more pronounced the steeper the slope. Our Rockies
“Champagne powder” offers considerable resistance to skiers/’boarders executing a
turn. Resistance decreases as a slope becomes “skied out.”  A skier must now edge
harder and turn more often to check speed on a steep slope. From a slope with new
snow and “first tracks,” to a basket-weave pattern, we now have bumps, which, if it
thaws, can set up like concrete with the next freeze. We’ve all seen what can
happen to moguls when left to their own devices; they’ll grow big as Buicks, if not
Volkswagons, the two standards-of-comparison reserved for moguls. Nowadays,
with improved equipment, skiers and snowboarders alike find moguls a challenge
and many areas have designated “bump runs.” Zipping through moguls as fast and
smoothly as possible has become a competitive event on the free-style circuit. Fifty
years ago moguls were regarded as a nuisance at the least and at most, a source of
numerous and serious leg injuries owing to the bear-trap bindings of the day. Dealing
with moguls and the development of grooming machinery will be the subject of next
month’s article.

(Note: These four articles were combined, with minor revisions, and used with my
permission under the title, "Tracks in Time," printed in a booklet for the 13th Annual
Convention and Trade Show in Grand Junction, CO of the Ski Area Vehicle
Maintenance Institute (SAVMI) held 18-22 May 1998.)