Grooming Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs has its perks
December 23, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Ask David “Marv” Shively how much fun he has every night behind the joystick of the large snowcat that grooms Howelsen Hill, and he suddenly gets very serious.
"Hold on tight to that handle," he says inside the loud, bumpy groomer as it rumbles down the steepest face of the hill.
He makes a move at the controls, and the machine does a fast 360-degree turn more easily than a bumper car.
In a few seconds, he’s back to plowing that perfect line of corduroy down the hill.
He makes driving this complex machine look as easy as playing a video game.
"Oh, yeah, it’s fun," he says.
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As his snowcat claws back up the hill on its own power, Shively shakes his head every time his grooming machine hits ice or leaves behind an imperfection.
“It’s got to be just right,” he says after he fixes the marks.
The flurry of snowflakes falling in front of the giant windshield of the snowcat can make it appear as though Shively is driving at warp speed.
Climbing up and down in the groomer at Howelsen has been a joy for Shively for more than 14 years in Steamboat Springs.
He’s meticulous about the tracks he leaves behind because he knows that countless numbers of winter atheletes depend on his grooming to train and enjoy themselves on the slopes.
At the end of the night, Shively even tries to go back and pack down the snow crumbs his hours of work inevitably leave behind at the very bottom of the hill.
"They don’t bother anyone, but I still like to get rid of them," he says.
When the snowcat reaches the tip-top of the hill, he marvels at the sweeping views of the city like it’s the first time he’s seen them.
He’s seen a lot from this vantage point.
He can watch the firetrucks leave the downtown public safety campus and follow them visually all the way to where the call is.
He has a unique view of sunsets, sunrises, fireworks and funky fog that blankets downtown.
He also has watched foxes chase his groomer with the hope it has unearthed a mouse’s hiding spot.
"You really do see a lot of things from up here," he says.
Shively started grooming on "the big hill" of Steamboat Ski Area back in the 1980s, but he says he now favors his job at Howelsen.
It was easy to get lost in the shuffle up on Mount Werner, he says, and he appreciates the small-town feel of the city-owned hill.
He says the greatest reward of the job isn’t the corduroy or even the praise he gets when the slopes are groomed to perfection.
No, he says the biggest reward is watching young athletes practice on this slope day after day, then grow up and celebrate getting a scholarship and going off to start a college career.
Grooming Howelsen can take 45 minutes or eight hours, he says. It takes an average of three.
And there are some challenges.
Last Wednesday, he was grooming for a snowboarding event.
On Thursday, he was grooming for upcoming Alpine ski races down the hill.
Each requires its own type of grooming patterns.
When he’s not grooming at Howelsen, Shively is doing snow removal at the Steamboat Springs Airport.
He recently earned an award from the city for pioneering a new method of grooming snow on the runway so planes that slide off don’t end up damaged in a snowbank.
While his job is to remove snow at the airport, he’s hoping for more of it at his job across town.
"If I’m lucky, an inch or so will fall overnight and cover up all the imperfections," he says as he finishes up the groom at about 10:30 p.m. "Then I’ll be a hero tomorrow."
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