By Jesse Wood
After a particularly arduous two weeks of warm weather in late January, the grooming staffs at Appalachian Ski Mtn., Beech Mountain Resort and Sugar Mountain Resort deserve props for keeping the slopes open.
While the folks making snow do a fabulous job as well, when the weather is 60 degrees in January – as was the case on Wednesday – the snow guns aren’t much help. For more than two weeks, grooming operators like Ric Wilkinson, grooming supervisor at Appalachian Ski Mtn., have been doing their best to keep the slopes in the best condition possible.
“All this weather we’ve been dealing with makes things quite difficult in general. It’s optimal when it’s cold outside to say the least,” Wilkinson said. “When it’s 55 degrees it makes it difficult to make anything look nice, but our snowmaking system at Appalachian Ski Mtn. is second to none and makes our job easier.”
Wilkinson will be back out grooming the slopes at Appalachian Ski Mtn. once the resort closes tonight at midnight. Also the lead terrain park builder, Wilkinson will also be grooming and building jumps and terrain-park features for the USASA Southeastern Series boardercross and skiercross competition on Saturday and Sunday into the wee hours of the night.
Appalachian Ski Mtn. has three grooming machines. Usually running two at a time, staff can groom the entire mountain in a few hours. For his part, Wilkinson has been grooming at Appalachian Ski Mtn. for about a decade now.
Asked about having fun riding around in the PistonBully grooming machines, pushing snow around and making features on the slopes, Wilkinson responded, “Oh man. That’s why I still do it. I love my job.”
Like every other skill, there is an art to grooming.
Gunther Jochl, president of Sugar Mountain Resort and also one of the resort’s groomers, said you have to know when to groom and how much to groom to ensure a “nice and smooth” texture throughout.
Jochl said that his crew always has a “pretty intense” meeting before each grooming session.
“So many variables there,” Jochl said. “Generally, we try to groom twice a day, once in the morning, around 5 a.m., before skiing starts and in between sessions before the slopes open for night skiing.”
Sugar Mountain Resort has invested more than $1 million in grooming equipment, and Jochl complimented his experienced grooming staff for keeping the slopes in tip-top shape, especially when Mother Nature delays Old Man Winter.
“It’s tough to do [with the weather we’ve had lately] but with the machinery we have, we try to do the best to move the snow around,” Jochl said. “The guys we have are all experienced guys. They’ve been doing this a long time and are doing a really great job.”
Likewise atop Beech Mountain.
Beech Mountain Resort spokesperson Talia Freeman touted the “incredible job” of the grooming staff to create those beautiful corduroy rows of snow more than 5,000 feet in the air.
“They have been able to keep great coverage on the lower half of the mountain,” Freeman said. “We had almost a 16-day warm spell and were able to remain open with a normal operating schedule.”
Beech Mountain Resort General Manager Ryan Costin said that grooming and snowmaking operations are the foundation of the product that Ski Beech serves up to its enthusiastic customer base.
“The slope conditions are always changing and snow maintenance guarantees the best daily surface. With the constant fluctuations in the weather, we have to maintain snow depths in areas to move as conditions change. We are always monitoring the forecast to make sure we are distributing snow as needed,” said Costin, who is also groomer.
Here’s a shout out to the groomers in the High Country.
Appalachian Ski Mtn’s Cat Operators
- Ric Wilkinson – Lead Park Builder, Grooming Supervisor
- Drew Fuller – full-time groomer
- James Bradley – Mountain Ops
- Evan Snipes – Snowmaking and groomer when needed
- Steve Stanley – Mountain Manager
Sugar Mountain Resort Grooming Staff
- Gunther Jochl
- Andrew Jochl
- Erich Schmidinger
- Joe White
- Chris Leonard
- David McManus
Beech Mountain Resort Groomers
- Luke Bailey
- Bryant Cook
- Chase Krause
- Ryan Costin
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