The Unsung Heroes of Aspen Snowmass

While the Aspen Snowmass ski areas may seem magically ready with fluffy powder and neat corduroy runs when you hit the slopes in the morning, many unsung heroes pitched in through the night to give Mother Nature a helping hand. From the time the lifts close until they start running the next morning, an orchestrated team of ski patrollers, groomers, and snowmakers work to make each mountain safe and ready for guests. And, they all have one thing in common — they love what they do.

Afternoon Sweep and Morning Trail Check

Ski Patrol Afternoon Sweep at Aspen Snowmass
Ski Patrol Afternoon Sweep at Aspen Snowmass

It’s 3:30 pm. Enter the ski patrol.

Ski patrollers interact with guests and respond to calls throughout the day. But once the lifts are closed, the patrol “sweeps” the slopes to make sure that everyone is safely off the mountain. The patrollers move down at the same time visually scanning to their partner so that the entire mountain is webbed to clear the trails. The dispatcher at the top of the mountain tends to the phone all day and is the last to descend with a partner. Ski Patrol is back on the scene at the top of the mountain for an 8:30am meeting to discuss grooming, safety concerns, and sign up for morning trail checks where patrollers look for grooming mishaps or hazards before the lifts open.
“As a patroller, you are the first one on the mountain and the last one off,” said Mark Campion, Training Coordinator at Buttermilk. “It’s a great job.”

Grooming Through the Night

The swing-shift snow grooming crew shows up on the scene to manipulate the snow with snowcats once the lifts close. Then, from 11:30pm until 9:30am, the graveyard crew takes over grooming.
Night Grooming at Aspen Snowmass
Night Grooming at Aspen Snowmass

On Snowmass Mountain a staff of 28 groom an average of 30 trails a night with nine snow cats, plus two additional snowcats and a winch cat for terrain-park work. According to Operator Mark Gressett, one of the biggest challenges for the grooming crews can be early season snow conditions with little snow. However, Mother Nature was generous this year before the ski areas opened, so crews have had ample snow to work with.

“After 42 years of grooming, I still love my job,” said Gressett. “It’s gratifying to put the mountain together and make it all happen. I look behind and can see the results of my work.”

Snowmaking Night and Day

Through the night — and often throughout the day — a crew of 30 operates snow guns to supplement the natural snow on the slopes. Arguably, the most difficult and demanding job on the mountain, this team manages unmanageable variables: temperature, wind, water pressure, not to mention repair and maintenance of air compressors and pumps, as well as frozen lines. “Snowmaking is never easy, it always fights back,” says Snowmaking Manager Tony Wrone.

Aspen Snowmass is one of seven snowmaking crews selected for the I AM A SNOWMAKER Award by HKD Snowmakers, a snow gun engineering and manufacturing firm. The contest highlights the hard work, determination and camaraderie of snowmakers and recognizes how critical they are to the success of their resorts and the ski industry.

Wrone has been in snowmaking since 1996. He continues with this work “because of the tens of thousands of people who enjoy the work I do.” You might just want to buy this guy a beer!

Hats (helmets) off to the hardworking ski patrollers, groomers, and snowmakers that help make the Aspen Snowmass ski experience so exceptional.

About the Author

Susan Linden IAS
Susan Linden, writer

Susan Linden has been wordsmithing as an advertising copywriter, feature writer, and storyteller since her college days. She left the whirlwind corporate world to live in the mountains and spends as much time as she can hiking, biking, and skiing in them. Working, playing, and raising a family in the Roaring Fork Valley for the last 29 years gives Susan a unique insider’s perspective to share

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