After almost 40 years of Alpine Downhill Skiing at Tremblant, it was a genuine and unique privilege to be invited to ride with the Mountain Operations Grooming Crew for the start of a daily night shift as freshly groomed corduroy surfaces were being restored to all the trails on the grooming schedule. We were thrilled to have the opportunity, and excited too, that it was the North Sector we were in that was 100% open with tons of late season natural snow. The added late season bonus was the much better, longer daylight of the seasons final weeks that meant we could get some great pictures that would just not be possible in the early sunsets of deep winter.
Our primary work area on this shift is one of our all-time favorite sectors of the Mountain, the Summit off of the Expo Quad Chair to the North-East including Sissy Schuss and La Griffe, but first, we have to get there from the main Mountain Service Garage, located just North and below the top of the Flying Mile Quad Chair.
Proceeding to Beauvalon, then up to the Summit, down the right side of Beauchemin, up Gagnon half way to turn left into the side door of Sissy Schuss, we start making laps there, including La Griffe.
The first thing you realize is that driving up any of Tremblant’s diverse range of trails is such a completely different perspective than the feeling you have from years of skiing down them.
The steepness seems quite a bit more dramatic for example, as we are sometimes pushing what seems like a wall of snow before us while looking skyward on the most inclined portion of Le Griffe. It’s an impressive sight indeed to watch how much weight our machine is moving upward to be spread back over the run from the days traffic.
It does not take long to realize though, that the real magic of the process lies in the skilled hands of people like our units operator Claude, who has been doing this job for literally decades. His experienced hands move on the controls of of the BR350 Groomer/Packer instinctively. He’s not looking anywhere but where he wants the machine to go and with subtle but firm motions of the control levers, it almost magically travels to the points he’s focused on, all the while miantaining the most level ribbon of finished corduroy you can imagine behind.
This is the point that triggered the connection to Sculpting. Claude is not just driving this machine, he is using it as an extension of his hands and eyes to guide its tracks, blades, powerful tiller and corduroy sweeps to create a rendering of smooth Alpine descents that is nothing less than artistic.
The flow of corduroy from side to side of each run that he works on, is in perfect harmony with the contours of the land. Spots that need attention for whatever reason are given extra snow and carefully blended into a seamless field of immaculate white lines that when finished, go on as far as the eye can see.
An additional facet of our drivers skill is his ability to work with the machine in a rhythm that suits its abilities very well. Even with a heavy uphill load, he is not pushing the machine to the point it seems stressed. Working hard, for sure, but never beyond the point that it is doing anything more than using its muscle in exactly the way it was designed and intended to do.
An efficient combination of man and machine can cover just around 4 acres per hour, so obviously to cover anywhere from below 100 acres at seasons start, to what we estimate would be well over 500 acres at the seasons maturity, it takes an inventory of of equipment and support staff that can be deployed to cover the needed surfaces overnight.
The Mountain Operations Management Staff has that down to a science, so much so that it might be easy for the average Tremblant Skier or Snowboarder to come to expect the fine groomed surfaces we see each and every morning, just because they are so consistently there. Behind the scenes however, the logistical efforts required to generate the smooth morning conditions mean the co-ordinated action of a team that must operate with military precision to not only cover the ground foot by foot, acre by acre, but support the equipment with maintenance and service that keeps everything in top shape.
Like all Ski Resorts, Tremblant does not groom everything on the Mountain because there are many Mountain users that prefer natural conditions on certain trails or runs, so the scope of this article does not involve the strategic decision making regarding grooming on specific runs/trails, other than to say that we understand that many factors including Customers, Ski Patrol, Mountain Operations and Resort Management may all factor in to the final decisions.
A significant purpose for this article is to convey to prospective Tremblant visitors/guests the exceptionally fine quality that Mountain crews here routinely deliver. It is a consistent high quality grooming level that you can not find at many large ski resorts, simply because the groomed acreage is so extensive.
This is a standard feature of the Tremblant Alpine experience from the first day of the season to the last, and every day between.
This point is brought into clear focus with the Ski Magazine 2012 annual resort guide issue where Tremblant ranks ahead of all but one of its big mountain peers in the Grooming survey category. Coming in ahead of names like Stowe, Lake Placid, Killington, and Jay Peak, none of which even made the top 10 of this category as Tremblant did, means that when you make the decision to come to Tremblant, within the scope of Mother Natures weather variables that all Ski Resorts have to contend with, your benefit is that you can rely on having the best possible surface conditions.
We think the Grooming Staff are the un-sung heroes of the very fine conditions we see virtually every day.
They start after we’ve had a great day carving up the Mountain, and they work with the sometimes overwhelming odds of Mother Nature until just before we get back for another fresh start the next morning.
We rarely get a chance to thank them, so here’s our 3 Cheers for the Mountain Operations Grooming Staff!!!
You can read about Tremblant conditions/grooming, both current and archived, in our daily Mountain Reports.
(Get Real Clauses:
Sometimes we get slammed for being too positive, however, some people would complain about the bruising if they fell into a ditch full of gold nuggets.The people that have the most fun in any outdoor sport effected by weather, are the ones that can adapt the most and the quickest, so within that reference, we will always remain positive.
As fine as things are for the vast majority of groomed areas, that does not mean there are no glitches. Dealing with Mother Nature means that not everything can be perfect, only close.
Mountain users need to use common sense with regard to speed, braking and steering control where natural hazards can exist at any time of season for reasons, including, but not limited to: unpredictable weather variables, daily traffic use, steeper pitches, around trail intersections, run-out zones, or areas that are intentionally left un-groomed for experts who prefer those conditions.
Many complaints can be linked to dull edges, terrain selections too difficult for the users skill set, too much speed for the conditions, or all of the above.
If you have sharp edges, select terrain that is within your skills and control your speed, you will have a great day on the slopes of Tremblant. Period.
If you have not had a ski or board tune-up within 10 days, or if you have been running metal rails/features that instantly dull edges, get your edges and bases done if you want to ski or board open Alpine terrain and maximize safety, control and fun!)