One of the most breathtaking sights when you look out your hotel window in the morning is acre after acre of seamless corduroy runs. Almost by magic, last night's new snowfall has been meticulously smoothed into a carpet of cruising terrain. But, how did it get that way?
Jim Lousberg is the Night Shift Foreman for the Vail Mountain Grooming Department in Vail, Colorado and has been crafting perfect runs for his guests since 1999. To offer a little insight into one of the resort's truly unique jobs, Jim told us what it's like to spend nights behind the controls of a $240,000 Piston Bully Snowcat.
I never really planned to work at a ski resort. For years, I worked on farms in Eastern Colorado operating heavy equipment. One year, my roommate was offered a job at Vail Mountain operating a snowcat, but ended up giving the job to me.
Operating farm equipment turned out to be the ideal preparation for the job. In fact, some of the best grooming candidates are young kids who have learned how to operate and maintain the family's farm equipment, miles away from the nearest ski slope.
Our "typical day" actually begins pretty late. We operate two grooming shifts, seven days a week all through the winter. The afternoon crews begin their work day at 3:30 PM and work until 2:00 AM. The morning crews start their shifts at 2:30 AM and get off at 1:30 PM. Between the two crews, snowcats are operating on the mountain for more than 20 hours a day.
We typically employ around 100 snowcat operators each year. Each night, 40-50 operators keep 26 Cats on the snow. Those Cats are divided into teams of 4 to 6 operators, each assigned by me to groom the runs on a particular part of the mountain. At the same time, I'll usually send out a couple of Cats to take care of the terrain parks or to Winchcat some of the steeper runs.
One of the things that I like most about my job is the freedom that driving a Cat provides. For hours on end, we enjoy incredible views from our "office" and spend the entire evening driving around this alpine playground. Add to that the free season ski pass, discounts on meals, a free place to park and a great healthcare package, I'd be hard-pressed to find another job that comes even close to offering all of these benefits.