History: Smooth ride on S’mass trails | AspenTimes.com

History: Smooth ride on S’mass trails

A snowcat grooms a trail in Snowmass circa 1979.
Michael Kennedy/Aspen Historical Society/Aspen Times Collection

“Snow farming on your neighborhood ski slopes,” read The Aspen Times on Jan. 25, 1979. “Snowmass trails supervisor Tom Marshall and his crew are ‘snow farmers’ and their crop is a daily harvest of skiing pleasure. Marshall has a crew of 15 men and women and 11 snowcats that work round-the-clock to groom the nearly 1,400 acres of skiing terrain at the ski area near Aspen. Their job is to ‘work’ the snow on each of the area’s ski runs as often as possible so that the 650,000 skiers expected to visit Snowmass this season have a smooth surface to slide on. With that kind of traffic, according to Marshall, the harder the snow the better. The more you work it the harder it gets, and the harder it gets the better it wears. That may sound sacrilege to a powder skier, but Marshall says there are plenty of spots in the trees where the cats can’t go and the snow stays soft. On the busy runs, if you don’t have a hard base, pretty soon you won’t have anything at all. Skiing doesn’t hurt matters at all, and the trails crew would just as soon let skiers do the packing, especially on the steep runs that are left for last anyway. The crew starts on the flat runs where the beginners and the ski school students want things as flat and smooth as they can get them. They take big blades and skim off the moguls, then go over the same area with rollers. Or, they use ‘cutters’ which are combination blade-rollers that dot the whole job at once. Gradually, they move onto the steeper runs, and it takes them five or six days to cover the entire mountain, or at least the 95 percent the cats can negotiate.”


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