Ben Pinki checks the condition of a groomer inside Steamboat Ski Area’s maintenance shop. Routine maintenance and safety checks are a big part of the shops day-to-day operations.

Photo by John F. Russell

Ben Pinki checks the condition of a groomer inside Steamboat Ski Area’s maintenance shop. Routine maintenance and safety checks are a big part of the shops day-to-day operations.

Nuts & Bolts of Opening: Slope and Vehicle Maintenance get ski area and machines prepped to go

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If nothing else signals the start of ski season, a mid-November trek up Burgess Creek and into Steamboat Ski Area’s Slope and Vehicle Maintenance shop is all that’s required.

By the numbers

2 1/2: miles of new pipe installed for snowmaking

44 1/2: years Director of Slope and Vehicle Maintenance Davey Crisler has been at Steamboat Ski Area

49: feet the crane mounted on a snowcat can reach to install light poles for night skiing

664: bolts in a snowcat track

6,000: acres the snowcats groom in 80 hours

18,600: gallons of water used for snowmaking as of Nov. 19

Nuts & Bolts of Opening at Steamboat Ski Area

Before you can make the walk down the steps to the gondola, before you can wait in line in anticipation, before you can board a car to the top of the mountain and before you can enjoy endless refills of snow, crews are working tirelessly to get Steamboat Ski Area ready for Opening Day.

Outside, near Thunderhead Express, midmorning snowmakers were blasting guns. Closer to the base, welders were grinding poles — sparks and white mist clouding in the cold air — that will be used to hoist lights for night skiing.

Inside the building, The Steamboat Grand shuttles were getting snow tires, snowcats were receiving final maintenance checks, snowmobiles were in various stages of being rebuilt, and a group of new snowcat drivers was getting instructions for the upcoming season.

And to think, this really isn’t the busy season.

“After Christmas, we can breathe a little easier,” Slope and Vehicle Maintenance Director Davey Crisler said while monitoring his computer, which was giving him updates on the operation of snow guns across the mountain. “Usually after Christmas, it’s steady as it goes.”

But to get the fleet of machines ready for Opening Day, the Christmas rush, the frigid temperatures of January, the rush of MusicFest and eventually spring break, planning begins much earlier.

And like most things on the mountain, that means work begins the first week after the ski area closes the season before. That’s when Slope and Vehicle Maintenance workers do their best — and most important — work.

When the season ends, the job begins. Vehicles begin to filter into the shop, and snowcats are inspected for any deficiencies.

On average, each of the 20 snowcats is completely rebuilt every other year, and the tracks and tillers on each snowcat are rebuilt every year. The tracks take a day or two to rebuild because each one contains 664 bolts.

According to Frank Case, manager of trail maintenance, it takes about two weeks to rebuild a snowcat depending on what needs to be done. From there, the maintenance crew focuses on servicing, and sometimes rebuilding, the shop’s 44 snowmobiles.

But Slope and Vehicle Maintenance duties aren’t limited to the vehicles in the shops. The crew also was instrumental in helping build the new Four Points Lodge. Grooming supervisor David Hudspeth and his crew installed the utilities for the water, electrical, fiber optics and phones at the new building.

They also helped install 2 1/2 miles of pipe for snowmaking.

The most interesting project, though, was the fabrication of a new tool. The resort purchased a crane and bucket that the maintenance crew mounted onto a snowcat. The contraption will be used to help install the lights for night skiing.

The crane can extend 49 feet and can lift 5,000 pounds. The crane was ordered in August from Canada. Once it arrived in the shop, the entire crew spent a week doing the fabrication, plumbing, welding and mechanics work to create the new piece of equipment.

“It was very impressive,” Case said.

Now, with the opening of the ski season just days away, the shop is taking care of minor details because most of the machines work has been completed. And, same as in other departments, a good summer usually equates to a good winter.

“It’s fun,” Crisler said. “No two years are the same. No two days are the same. We run by the seat of our pants trying to plan everything. But there are days it just doesn’t work that way.”

Steamboat — The Zen of Snowmaking

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