FAQ on grooming at Vail
This year at Vail, we have changed the way that we approach grooming. While we still cover the same amount of acreage, we have altered our operations so that all grooming is finished by the time the mountain opens to skiers and snowboarders. We want to be as transparent as possible in letting you know about these changes and the reasons behind them so have created the following list of Frequently Asked Questions. If you have any other questions please write them in the comment section below!
Photo by Vail Groomer, Mike Willams.
Q. How has Vail’s grooming changed this year?
A. This year we have stopped doing daytime grooming. In the past, our snowcat operators would give a few trails a final pass as they finished up their shift in the morning and moved to where the cats are left for the day. This would include trails only on the upper areas of the mountain like Ramshorn, Meadows, Lodgepole or Bwana, all of which are still being groomed regularly, albeit a few hours earlier than in years past. What was previously advertised as daytime grooming was simply the last grooming shift making their way back to the shop yard after a long night at work. Vail’s grooming crew – some of whom have been grooming at Vail for over 30 years – were genuinely concerned about the safety of our guests after a very serious accident at another mountain and their own experiences while grooming during operating hours. We, and many throughout the ski industry, have decided that the risks involved with daytime grooming are too great to continue the practice.
Q. Have you reduced grooming at Vail?
A. The amount of terrain that we groom is the same if not more – between 900 and 1,200 acres a night depending on snowfall and conditions on mountain. We have added cats to the fleet and employ 70 operators that groom the mountain in two shifts; between 3:30pm to 9am.
The line of snowcats making its way across the mountain in the morning clearly made an impression on our guests over the years; an effect that was not lost on our marketing department. Eliminating this dramatic sight each morning and grooming some of the same trails a few hours earlier has caused some guests to think that that less terrain is being groomed, or that the snowcat fleet has been diminished. This is simply not the case. Snowcats have been added to the fleet, and the grooming shifts have been changed from three smaller shifts to two larger shifts with more operators. The amount of terrain that we groom is the same if not more – between 900 and 1,200 acres a night depending on snowfall and conditions on mountain.
Q. What are the risks of daytime grooming?
A. Because daytime grooming took place on open runs during operating hours, many guests enjoyed following the cats closely in order to get the freshest groomed track. Grooming cats each weigh in at more than 25,000 lbs and daytime grooming was done with a fleet of cats covering the trail in one pass. These machines do have blind spots and are not built to react quickly if a skier or rider were to catch an edge and fall or come out of the trees and into its path.
Q. Skiing and snowboarding are risky sports. Why get rid of daytime grooming just because of safety?
A. We do everything we can to provide the safest skiing and snowboarding environment in the world. While skiing and snowboarding are sports that involve inherent risk, we believe that it would be irresponsible to knowingly increase that risk with daytime grooming.
Q. Without daytime grooming, where can I find fresh corduroy if I don’t get on the mountain until 10:30am?
A. With these changes, the fact is that on most days you’ll have to get up a little earlier if you want first tracks on freshly groomed runs. We focus on grooming Ramshorn, Meadows and Eagle’s Nest just prior to opening so head to these trails for the freshest turns in the morning, and be sure to check out the daily grooming report at m.vail.com on your mobile phone or grab a printed grooming report in the base areas.
Q. Are you doing this to save money?
A. We are not interested in saving money by compromising the guest experience. We have increased the number of snowcats in our fleet to make certain that we cover as much terrain as possible once the lifts close.
Q. I’ve noticed that in the last two years, the quality of the snow has decreased at Vail. Is this because of the changes in grooming?
A. We’ve had some amazing powder days in the last few weeks, but prior to that this year was shaping up to be about as challenging as last season. Up until last season we’d had many of the best snow years in Vail’s history, making conditions ideal for groomers to lay out the best corduroy possible. In low snow years like last year and the beginning of this season, groomers have a lot more work on their hands. They have needed to bring snow in from other parts of the mountain to cover thin areas and groom over icy runs multiple times in order to create a skiable corduroy. This means much more of their time is spent on individual runs than during good snow periods, when a run only requires a single pass in a grooming cat. Better snow years always bring better conditions – from natural, powder runs to groomed terrain.
A crew of Vail’s groomers gather before heading out for the night-shift