Craig's Report - January 12, 2005
Fresh Fluff for Kitty
It was an excellent day. The ski hill reported 15 cm of new overnight, but it continued to snow and skied more like 25 or 30. Boot high to knee deep was the norm, but occasional mid thigh shots weren't uncommon. The report title notwithstanding, the snow was actually more like prime grade A powder than true fluff. That was good as true fluff would have done little to hide the hard spots underneath. Even so some scraped off sections did start to appear, particularly on steeper runs. However in my travels they were pretty easy to avoid and did not detract from the fun of swooshing through the powder.
The temperatures started out a quite pleasant and remained so up on the mountain, but by mid-afternoon the temperature had fallen about 9C to -14C at the house and a blustery wind had kicked up. According to the forecasts, even colder weather is in store for the next few days. Brrr.
The treats started for me before the day even began, for last night I got a chance to ride in one of the grooming cats. I think some of the folks in the shop thought it a rather strange way to spend an evening, but my adolescent fascination with cool equipment has stayed with me and these cats are definitely cool pieces of equipment. Cabel, my gracious host and chauffeur, apparently won the nightly coin tossing ritual that determines which drivers get which cats and we ended up with a quite new one with all electric controls.
Watching how the blade worked was extremely cool. Merely saying it can quickly roll, pitch, yaw, change angle of attack and fold its tips forward and backwards, etc., does not really convey the whole picture. This is not your average snow plough blade, for under Cabel's deft guidance, it was continually in motion following or altering the contours of the terrain as appropriate. The impression wasn't of some clumsy mechanical tool, but rather an animate and dexterous appendage feeling and molding the surface. Cabel controlled the blade with his right hand by means a large multi-function joystick, which wouldn't have looked out of place in a F-22, while running the tracks with two tiny levers under his left hand.
To my surprise I learned that in many circumstances the blade will be as or more important in steering the cat as the track controls. This was most obvious when Cabel decided to run a cat track up to the gun tower on Snake Ridge. This began by climbing up the virgin snow of upper Cedar Bowl. I thought this was a pretty impressive feat that occasionally had the tracks completely submerged and seemed likely to be near the limits of the beast's capabilities. However beyond an encouraging "cmon kitty, kitty, kitty", my pilot didn't seem to have any doubts.
The term pilot seemed very appropriate during the descent through the trees down to the Snake Ridge cat track that goes to Red Tree. Tremendous amounts of snow flowed off of the blade and the sensation was very three dimensional as Cabel seemed to literally fly the cat down on the blade. In fact he said during this he essentially left the track controls alone. You can probably tell I thought all this was pretty impressive.
Less dramatic, but perhaps more relevant was the glimpse I got into the complexities and skill involved in leaving behind a nice smooth carpet of snow in a demanding and ofttimes hostile environment. If Cabel is at all representative, these guys are akin to artists in snow, albeit with very cool brushes.
One last note in this very long report. I don't often hear complaints about the grooming other than there isn't enough of it. I couldn't help but think of this as I crossed Cruiser and realized there was virtually no visible evidence of last night's grooming. Undoubtedly things were a bit smoother underfoot in the groomed areas, but few would realize why.
At 20:45 it is -19 C on the porch and there are stars in the sky.