Saturday, February 14, 2015

Working with the groomers

Suddenly I realize I've been remiss in telling you about riding with the groomer...

As with all clubs the Coldbrook Snowmobile Club is basically run by a small group of people who do all the work. I've seen this a bunch of times in a bunch of different clubs. Not wanting to be a freeloader some years ago the last time I was part of the club I got in on a work day and helped prep one of the groomers. That was kind of cool but just a one time thing.

This year I thought I'd help out with the actual process of grooming. Technology has progressed and the club has a Facebook page, I got on there and found that they were looking for people to help out so I volunteered. Last week I met up with Chris and rode in the ASV on the southern run. Last night I rode with Ben in the Pisten Bully in Lake Dennison State Park.

The ASV is a fair sized machine, maybe the size of a family sedan, the Pisten Bully (pictured above) is a brute the size of a box truck. The blade is about eight feet across and its sports a 200HP Mercedes turbo diesel engine. The guys say that grooming is "like watching paint dry" which is more or less true. Its a bit like snowmobiling very slowly, the machines creep along at about 6mph. Its also a bit like plowing snow but backwards. Where your average snowplow pushes snow off the road the groomer's job is to pull snow into the trail, both to fill in the low spots but also to build up a base.

Here's some of Ben's handy work, even after half a day of riding it still looks real good.

I don't know yet if this is going to end up with me actually being a groomer driver. I'd guess I'll be a backup, it seems like they've got enough actual operators right now. It also takes a long time to get qualified to operate a machine, about 2 years. The reason for the long training period is that the groomers only really run about 100 hours a year which if you think about it is really only 2 and a half 40 hour weeks, it takes time to get proficient. Honestly I could probably run either of the machines through the woods right now and keep the drag on the ground but theres so much more to it, theres knowing how to fill holes, which high spots to cut and when to leave them alone. How to raise the drag before the top of a hill so you don't scrape the snow off and when to drop it on the back side. 

Ben is a great teacher and I started to absorb some basic theory last night but clearly I've got a long way to go. I've also got to learn to deal with problems that show up, the machines are generally pretty old and stuff breaks so you've got to be self-reliant. I'd like to think I've got an advantage there but I bet I really don't. These guys are mostly blue-collar folks who have real jobs where they work with their hands and tackle mechanical problems all the time. Being a "thinker" I'm way behind on that front and have to work harder to make up for it.

Anyway I don't know where this is going to lead other than to some late nights, last night I met Ben at around 6pm and headed home around 12:30am which was better than the week before when I met Chris at 6:30pm and headed home at 2am...

No comments: