Vail Mountain trims the steeps |

Vail Mountain trims the steeps

Edward Stoner
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Preparing the slopes Vail Mountain, winch cat operator Brad Munz mows the grass on Prima run Thursday in Vail using a modified snow cat. The mowing operation is intended to remove debris, making the runs skiable earlier in the season. (Preston Utley/Vail Daily)

VAIL ” It’s like mowing your lawn, if your lawn were on a 35-degree slope. Or, like grooming a ski slope, without the snow.

Brad “Sparky” Munz jumped into his snowcat among the tall, green grass of the double-black-diamond Prima run high on Vail Mountain. He revved forward and lowered the lawnmower mounted on the front of it.

A curling arm above his snowcat held a cable that stretched up the slope in front of him, out of sight. As the cat moved forward, the cable went taut, helping him up the slope.

To his left was grass that he’s already mowed. To his right were brush and tall grass that were yet to be cut. A bit of early snow clung to the edge of the run in the shade.

His chair ” and his whole cockpit ” tilted back until he was looking forward into the sky.

He headed straight for thick pine bushes that had sprouted out of the slope over many years. The mower effortlessly chewed up the bushes and spit them out. A fresh pine scent, the ultimate air freshener, wafted through his cabin.

Vail Mountain workers mow hundreds of acres of grass on its trails each year using a four-wheel-drive mower. But some slopes, like Prima, are just too steep for a conventional mower.

So Vail modified one of its older Bombardier winch cats to be used as a lawnmower for trails like Prima, Riva Ridge and Look Ma.

“If you don’t maintain and mow them, small trees and bushes start growing,” said Paul Fillion, director of mountain operations for Vail Mountain.

The end result, hopefully, is that people can bash bumps on Prima a little earlier this season, and with fewer obstacles.

“People won’t get snagged on those bushes,” Munz said.

Vail, scheduled to open for the season Nov. 16, got the idea from a resort in the Dolomites in northern Italy. As far as Fillion knows, Vail is the only mountain in the U.S. that’s using a winch cat to cut grass.

Munz grooms steep slopes, such as Pepi’s Face and Blue Ox, in the wintertime using the winch cat. The 14-year Vail snowcat veteran said grass-mowing is pretty similar to snow-grooming.

“I’ve always been interested in big machines, since I was a kid, playing in the sandbox,” he said.

When he gets home, though, mowing the grass is not a necessary chore.

“I own a condo,” he said.