Here comes the noon groom: Resort lays down corduroy for midday carving
Valentine’s Day aside, it’s now easier to find that sweet spot on the slopes of Heavenly Mountain Resort with noon grooming.
“They’re going to get that today,” director of snow surfaces Jim Larmore said Monday.
Heavenly started the program, established for skiers and boarders on the quest for corduroy, just three weeks ago. Already, the word has gotten out.
“Thanks,” yelled a skier standing with a cluster of people at the top of the Comet run that afternoon.
“This is 100 percent guest service. We do this just for that following we have,” Larmore said.
With a joystick in the right hand and levers in the left, Larmore leads the groomers on a path followed by skiers seeking to make their wiggles through the finely tuned lines. The group followed the cats when the routes opened.
On Mondays as well as Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, they groom Nevada runs including Comet, 49er, Sam’s Dream, Upper California Trail and Tamarack return. The California side is groomed on the Ridge run and Maggie’s on Tuesdays and Fridays. The tubing hill gets polishing seven days a week.
On Monday, Larmore made a few swipes to the glee of tubers waiting at the top of the hill. At the summit, the cat turned on a dime.
“Now you’ll see more of the finesse with the cat,” he said, making a tilted bank turn.
The groomers – 15 total, four of whom are women – go through a comprehensive training program at Heavenly. The skill includes making the waves carved on Orion.
Heavenly ski patrollers provide escorts and close the runs for the groomers, which take out four snowcats. The cats are a cross between a toy and a tool – a very expensive one at $200,000 each. Heavenly plans to replace five in the fleet of 20 by next season.
The cats – powered with a 350 horsepower engine – come equipped with blades with flaps in the front, tillers that chew and combs which put on the finishing touches.
Larmore controls the speed and turns with the left hand, while an assortment of buttons on the joystick keep his right hand busy. Five cables and connectors are attached at the bottom. Larmore activates the 3-foot windshield wipers and door handles with his feet.
Overhead, the stereo rivals some home systems. The heat makes it a comfortable ride.
“It’s like a big Nintendo game,” Larmore said. “I love my job.”
“Watch,” he said, as the cat mowed over a scarred slope.
The view was quite different from the back, where corduroy appeared.
Larmore, a 30-year veteran of ski resorts, said Heavenly intends to continue the noon grooming.
“We’re going to see how the demand goes, but it’s here to stay,” he said.
Beyond the day shift, the groomers will work swing and graveyard.
“We have a lot of acres to do,” he said.
“Noon grooming is complete,” Larmore called out on the radio while parked at the gondola end point.
To that, he made notations in a log used for comments about mechanics and fuel intake.
Some skiers and boarders stick with the ungroomed runs, but many on the slopes in the last week said they enjoy the red carpet treatment.
“We were noticing what a great run this was but didn’t know why,” Kathy McClusky said, while skiing on the Ridge Run last week. The South Lake Tahoe resident and her husband, Terry, were out enjoying their first year of retirement.
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