Friday, January 27, 2012

A Lesson in Grooming, Mixed Precip and Snow Conditions from Plattekill's Macker

The Macker – his name well earned, starts a fire with a blowtorch.

Macker is a tough guy. Smokes, drinks, skis. All hard. Man is also a perfectionist. Witness the Stockli skis he rides. (He's also open for teasing and makes fresh donuts at the mountain on weekends). He can tell you lore about the hill, but beyond that he could be seen as the master of grooming. He once described being on the groomer at the end of the day – alone – as his kind of meditation. (It's done with a smoke and the nice scent of diesel fumes).

So what does he have to say about this sort of weather? Which others might call Liquid Sunshine, and Jay Peak has called, ahem, “transluscent snow.”

Right now we're having a very strange winter. But to explain what happens when it rains and freezes goes like this:

"Natural snow falls from the sky as a crystallized flake. If you were to look closely at one they are pretty much flat. As natural snow accumulates and sits, it becomes dense. When natural snow gets warm or packed down it turns to ice rapidly. Granted it’s fun to ski in but it takes a lot to hold up to heavy ski traffic.

"Now I’ll give you the description of Man-Made snow. When snow comes out of a snowgun, the first thing that happens is a small amount of water is mixed with compressed air to start a process called nucleation, this freezes lots of little pellets and these pellets are forced into a larger water stream of spray which in turn act like a pearl in an oyster. They bounce around and get bigger and help freeze the rest of the water stream. End result SNOW. But manmade snow is technically a frozen pellet of ice (a bit like “graupel,” jk). You need to think about which one water will go through, a stacked-up pile of pellets, or a dense pile of mush. This is why, when it rains on manmade snow and then freezes you are left with frozen granular once the groomers grind it up.

"One of the biggest complaints that you hear when a winter is like this is, Oh the slopes are icy. This is a statement that gets blown out of proportion . Usually it’s hardpack they’re having a problem with, not ice. (Now this last statement was meant directly for me) Always remember, just because you can come down a Black Diamond doesn’t mean you’re an Expert Skier. An Expert Skier never complains about conditions…”

All of this means that because there's a lot of manmade snow, the conditions will actually be better. So all of you who are hoping (or even pondering) coming out to ski tomorrow, come. Because once that   frozen granular has been groomed and skied on, it becomes loose granular. Think sugar.

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