A Day in the Life of a Snowcat Operator at Crested Butte Mountain Resort

Posted on Jan. 5, 2024
Nothing says ‘bluebird day’ like cruising on a groomer. Groomed trails are a favorite among all kinds of skiers and riders and are an essential part of the learning process for beginners. Creating the corduroy effect is no small task, which is why we spoke with CBMR Grooming Lead Eric Lauritsen to learn more about how our snowcat operators prepare the mountain for guests to enjoy every day.
Snow Grooming at Crested Butte

Snowcat operators work in two shifts: the swing shift begins just after the resort closes for the day, and the graveyard shift works until the resort opens again the following morning. Between the two shifts, snowcat operators groom more than 500 acres each night. This consists of most of the resort’s green and blue terrain, as well as a few black diamond runs. Grooming does not take place during normal operating hours.

No matter which shift they are on, every snowcat operator’s day begins with a pre-shift meeting where they receive the day’s grooming lineup. In addition to the typical grooming package, there may be special projects to work on, such as grooming lift line areas and smoothing out lift load/unload spots.

The grooming plan may also change daily depending on weather conditions. For example, on a calm, clear night, snowcat operators can typically go out alone and spread across the mountain; however, if it is expected to snow all night, they may go out in fleets and line up side by side across the width of a trail to groom the entire slope in one go. This creates a more consistent groom as the snow continues to fall.

In the pre-and early season, snowcat operators work to prepare trails for skiers and riders by “pile pushing.” Snowmaking operations result in giant mounds of snow, which snowcat operators then work to push and flatten out to connect with other piles. Many of our snowcat operators, including Eric, are also part of the snowmaking team, so they know exactly where these piles are located and how much snow they’ve created. They begin at the top of the trail and push the pile downhill, moving snow down and across the entire trail until it reaches its full width.

Once CBMR’s initial trails for Opening Day are ready, snowcat operators move on to the next terrain area the resort is planning to open.

Most of our grooming operations can be completed with a traditional snowcat, but a few trails – namely, International and Keystone – require a winch cat due to the steepness of the slope angles. Winch cat grooming involves attaching a high-tension cable from a snowcat to an anchor buried in the ground at the top of a slope, extending down the full length of a ski run. With the assistance of the high-tension cable, winch cats are better able to move up steep terrain than traditional snowcats.

Eric works the swing shift, which means he passes his work off to the graveyard shift at the end of his day. To make the next team’s shift easier, Eric’s team closes out their day by bringing the snowcats back to the vehicle maintenance shop, topping them off with fluids and clearing any excess snow off them. Then, they complete a post-shift log detailing which trails they groomed and any special projects they completed. Finally, they chat with members of the graveyard shift to discuss any trails that might need to be groomed again before morning due to snow.

Many of our snowcat operators have construction backgrounds, so operating heavy machinery is a skill they have practiced. Still, snowcats are daunting machines, which is why new snowcat operators often go out on grooming projects with a more experienced operator. Experienced operators like Eric groom our steepest terrain that requires a winch cat.

Eric says his favorite part about being a snowcat operator is the ability to ski every day. Because the swing shift begins at 4:30pm, Eric often gets in a few afternoon laps before beginning his workday. He also appreciates being able to sit in a warm snowcat after spending the early season running around the mountain making snow!

If you’re interested in joining our grooming team, you can apply online.