Nov 22, 2020: For our new skiers, I’d like to explain the grooming process. When I started skiing, it seemed as if the tracksetting appeared like magic, and I had no idea what was involved. There is a lot more to it than I’m covering here, but in the interests of brevity I’ll keep it simple.
Grooming and tracksetting terms
Snowmobile packing: The snowmobiles start the grooming process by packing the snow with no implement attached. It leaves a rough and uneven surface with the imprint of the snowmobile’s track and ski runners. It can be difficult to ski on this because of the ridges and ruts. Depending on snow depth, hazards can be present such as rocks, dirt and tree roots. MaSid(see photo) is lucky to have wide skis for negotiating Boulton Creek which has been snowmobile packed. Click on the photo for a larger image. Sometimes the snowmobile will pull an implement for flat-packing the snow.
Rolling or Roll-Packing: The snowmobile pulls a roller to pack the snow and leave a corduroy surface. If snow cover is thin, there can still be hazards present such as rocks, dirt, tree roots, and uneven surfaces. A good example of a rolled but still unskiable trail was yesterday when I attempted to ski down Packers. Skiing uphill is relatively safe because you’re going slow, but downhill would be suicidal. I was lucky to have encountered two groups of uphill skiers just as I started out.
Grooming is a catch-all term which can describe the entire process of working the snow to make it better for skiing. On here, it usually means the machines have left a corduroy surface.
Tracksetting: Setting tracks is normally the final step in the whole process of trail grooming and can be accomplished with a snowmobile pulling an implement or a snowcat. Depending on the temperature, the snow characteristics, or previous grooming, the tracks can be very soft for a few hours after tracksetting. A snowcat will generally make a firmer track than an implement pulled by a snowmobile.
Starting from scratch on unpacked snow, the grooming process from start to finish can require three or four passes with the snowcat. On Thursday night, when James was working on Elk Pass, it would have required four passes to complete the process.
The grooming process can be done by snowmobiles or snowcats. Did you see my photo of the PLPP snowcat “pulling” snow onto the trail by blading on Hydroline? Snowmobile grooming isn’t able to do this.
As the grooming personnel start the process, they often encounter fallen trees which require clearing. Many times they will stop to shovel snow from the side of the trail onto thin spots. Think of all the picnic tables in PLPP where the snowcat operator has to groom underneath without leaving any footprints in the snow Picnic Table Mystery Solved.
The number of controls and settings in a snowcat’s cab would befuddle anyone who’s inexperienced. The operator has a myriad of things to watch for and adjust accordingly. What variables do you think the operator takes into consideration when adjusting the controls for the best results?