A winch cat driven by Slope Maintenance Manager Frank Case drives up the VooDoo moguls course Wednesday at Steamboat Ski Area. The machine uses a powerful winch to help pull itself up steep runs.

Photo by Matt Stensland

A winch cat driven by Slope Maintenance Manager Frank Case drives up the VooDoo moguls course Wednesday at Steamboat Ski Area. The machine uses a powerful winch to help pull itself up steep runs.

Steamboat Ski Area warns skiers to beware of winch cats

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Winch cats

With an increasing number of people hiking at the Steamboat Ski Area, officials urge people to use caution around the winch cats.

With an increasing number of people hiking at the Steamboat Ski Area, officials urge people to use caution around the winch cats.

— With a seemingly larger number of people hiking up Steamboat Ski Area at night, snowcat operators are asking people to stay clear of the winch cat.

“The danger is — to be honest — it will kill you,” Slope Maintenance Manager Frank Case said. “It will cut you right in half.”

The winch cat essentially is a groomer equipped with a powerful winch that can pull 10,000 pounds using nine-sixteenths-inch steel cable. The machine was being used this week on VooDoo where Case was building a table of snow where the mogul course will be carved out. Throughout the season, the winch cats are used to groom the steeper black runs like See Me, Concentration and Vortex.

When a winch cats works on a run, crews connect the machine’s cable to one of the many concrete anchors located on top of the steep runs. The concrete anchors live on the mountain year-round and are buried about six feet deep.

“It probably weighs 20,000 pounds,” Case said.

When the cats are headed down the ski runs, the cable connected to the top of the run keeps the machine from sliding. At the bottom of the run, the cable rotates to the front of the cab and helps pull the machine back up the hill.

“We use it on the steep stuff so we can get up and down without spinning,” Case said.

During routine grooming, the 3,000-foot cable can span the length of the ski run under high tension. The cable is difficult to see, even during daylight, and would be virtually invisible at night. The cable also violently can jump out of the snow when it is pulled by the machine. Case said it could be deadly should a skier or hiker come in contact with the cable. With 10,000 pounds of tension, it’s easy to understand why.

“The operators want people to be aware of what they’re doing and the hazards that exist,” said Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokesman Mike Lane.

He said the ski area has not had any skier vs. cable incidents, but with more people hiking at the ski area after hours, there is a greater possibility that someone could encounter a winch cat.

When winch cats are working, operators place signs at the top of the trail. At night, strobe lights can be seen next to the signs.

“Any time you come across the lights and the sign, you need to stop and go a different direction,” Case said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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