Grooming Grumbling Part 3
Copyright ©
All Rights Reserved.

Picture Credit: Bill F.
By Bill Fetcher

Apr 98

Visitors to the West Portal cafeteria at the Winter Park base can find photographs
displayed of a Bradley Packer-Grader (Bradley Packer for short) among others of
historic interest to the area. For the rest of us a thousand words will have to do.
Imagine a horse-drawn wagon. Remove the box and widen the frame six feet.
Replace the rear wheels with a roller with wooden slats as described earlier.
Replace the front wheels (used to steer) with short, broad skis of the sort used on
snowmobiles. From the frame, between skis and roller, hinge a blade six feet wide.
The blade is fitted with heavy teeth like a garden rake. Send the horses out to
pasture and at the tip of the wagon tongue position a single skier, sans poles. The
skier will stand in and hold a U-shaped yolk, the points of the U to his left. At his
right hand is the crank of a boat-trailer winch, the cable from which is used to raise
and lower the blade. Finally, except for the wooden slats, the entire machine is made
of steel. This essentially describes a Bradley Packer.  (Another, briefer description
states "they looked like a sawed-off combine on skis.") Winter Park had a fleet of
these machines as well as several T-bar lifts needed to drag them to the top of the
slopes. (It should be added that the T-bars' tow-tracks needed maintenance as well
as the slopes themselves.) The offending slopes would then be groomed by sending
the machines down them, guided by the appointed skier/operators, usually Ski
Patrol members. By turning the winch crank the depth of cut as well as speed of the
Bradley Packer could be controlled. With enough speed the tops of moguls could at
least be knocked off; clearing a field of moguls would have probably taken several

The skiers who piloted these machines put themselves at some risk. Bradley himself
stated that they were "potentially hazardous," his choice of words implying that there
were no accidents, at least not serious ones. My experience with a Bradley Packer
is from that of a spectator only, mind you. Steambat's Howelsen Hill, where I
learned to ski, had one during the '50s, likely a hand-me-down from Winter Park.
The skier who operated the packer didn't appear to be so much as guiding it as
being pursued by it, fleeing for his life before 600 pounds of crashing, whirling
machinery, its roller kicking up a rooster-tail of loose snow. Such a sight is not easily

Tracked snow vehicles would need to be improved before slope maintenance could
really take off.  The Tucker Sno-Cat, while a fine machine, had the profile of a truck
with a turning radius to match. The WWII Weasel would fade from the scene
through attrition. Enter the Thiokol, everything the Weasel wasn't. Its broad tracks
could take it anywhere and when caused to rotate in opposite directions the machine
could turn, indeed spin on its own axis. Its name, "thiokol" would become a generic
term for snowcat. Fitted with a variety of blades, tillers and rollers, moguls could
now be effectively be dealt with.   Fleets of Thiokols would be shipped from their
Logan, Utah factory to hit the slopes in the wake of the litigious '60s. Ski area
operators, fearing a damaging lawsuit by a skier who'd caught an edge on a rock
could now keep those rocks covered; they had an obligation to. Areas could now
offer trails that would be free of rocks and trees, groomed within and inch of their
lives, smooth as pool tables, predictable, . . . and boring. (To be continued.)