Mowing the runs at Vail Mountain
No, it’s not a joke. We really do mow the runs at Vail Mountain.
As mid-summer sets in, we rev up the engines on two mowers; a standard John Deere tractor mower and a Prinoth winch cat with a mower attachment on the front. They go everywhere from the Front Side to Blue Sky Basin, with the tractor hitting easy to moderate terrain and the winch cat focusing on steep pitches; hooking in to an anchor point with a steel cable.
It all comes down to earlier terrain openings. When runs are covered in tall grasses and underbrush, they need greater snow accumulations to evenly cover the slopes. Keeping the naturally tall grasses that grow around the mountain in summer trimmed back means we need less snow to drop ropes on terrain and makes for a smoother ride for skiers and riders in early season.
A little history
Bryan Rooney, Senior Manager of Mountain Operations here at Vail, says that the practice of mowing runs on Vail Mountain started about 30 years ago under the direction of Paul Testwuide, our VP of Mountain Operations at that time. “While it is an industry practice, it is not all that common – at least not on the scale in which we complete this summer maintenance activity,” says Rooney, “we log hundreds of hours each summer providing this relatively unknown service for our winter guests.”
There are some complications when it comes to mowing. We have to be strategic with where and how much to cut back undergrowth on steeper slopes so that we don’t upset the root systems that anchor the hillside in place. Heat can also be an issue for the engines in the mowers as well as for the operators. For that reason, we typically wait until mid-summer to bring out the tractor mower and until the cooler temps of late-summer for the winch mower.
Rooney says that traction and natural on-mountain debris are always a concern with both mowers. “It is no coincidence that we host annual rock-picking days on Vail Mountain so that we can complement our summer mowing operation and our early-winter grooming operation by helping to remove these obstacles,” he says.
All worth it in the end
All this mowing may sound like a lot of added work, but Rooney says that it’s worth the quality early-season skiing and riding experience that Vail is known for. “By knocking down the tall grasses that grow during the summer monsoon season, we can work with our snowmaking teams, and with the natural snow that Mother Nature provides, in order to deliver a great early-season skiing product for our guests.”
Photos and video by Andrew Taylor