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530 hp. Starry nights. And lots of snow... that’s how a typical working day for our snow groomer drivers can be described. After closing time they make their rounds in the skiing area Bad Kleinkirchheim. But there’s a lot more to it than simply driving up and down the slope. We’ll take you to the workplace of our slope team and show you what lies behind this exciting job. Ready?
Our piste team.
The piste team at the Bad Kleinkirchheimer Bergbahnen consists of 14 snow groomer drivers. They’re often referred to as the ‘heroes of the night’, because it’s all thanks to them that you can make your turns every morning on perfectly prepared slopes. The hearts of these night owls pumps for powerful machines. They also know every hill and mogul in the skiing area Bad Kleinkirchheim. But the best thing about their work: they are regularly rewarded with views of dreamy sunsets amidst the snow-covered Nockberge mountains.
A day as a snow groomer.
The working day on the slope machine begins as early as during ongoing skiing activities. During the day, the fleet mechanics are responsible for the regular maintenance and repair of the slope equipment and prepare it for the upcoming night shift. By 5.00pm all the winter sports enthusiasts have made it down to the valley, and then work of the piste team begins. The drivers check all the functions of their snow groomers again, then it's time to hit the slopes.
By the way: no special training is required to be allowed to drive a snow groomer at all. The necessary expertise about the machines, the slopes and the environment is imparted in a comprehensive training on-site. However, a valid driving licence is required. Good technical understanding, manual dexterity and some sensitivity are also an advantage for working as a snow groomer.
How does a snow groomer work?
The employees manoeuvre their snow groomers through the night using a lever control and a joystick. This requires the utmost precision and sensitivity, because the machine’s snow blade reacts to even the smallest movement. When the machine drives over the slope, it pushes the snow in front of it and thus can level out unevenness. At the same time, the snow is compacted and dug up. Smoothing over at the end creates the familiar grooves on the slope. This allows the snow to freeze better overnight and gives it more grip.
A digital fleet or snow management system supports the drivers in this task. The exact snow depth can then be determined via GPS and the snow amounts spread across the slopes with centimetre precision. This investment in digitalisation not only makes work easier for our team, but also helps us achieve our sustainability goals. It saves us time, fuel and valuable resources.
The employees also use a screen to keep an eye on all the settings of the cutter, overhead winch, lighting and the vehicle.
By the way: each of our snow groomers has a name – from ‘Seth’ to ‘De little princess’, there are no limits to the creativity of our team here.
Steep slope, steeper slope, winch rope.
In the skiing area Bad Kleinkirchheim, half of our slope groomers work with the support of a rope winch. This is a rope that is fixed to the slope machine and hooked onto a fixed anchor point in the piste. It’s up to 1,200 metres long and has a pulling force of up to four tonnes. This means the snow groomer can move absolutely manoeuvrable and against the force of gravity on the piste. Grooming the steep slope Weltcupabfahrt Franz Klammer (8) is no problem either.
Important: when the snow groomers are in use, the rope lies mainly on the slope. When crossing a crest or a hill, however, it jerks upwards to keep the 14-tonne snow groomers safe and stable on the slope. The same happens when turning: due to a large swivel arm on the snow groomer, the rope moves parallel to the slope under high tension. If the machine moves to the right, for example, the rope is still on the left side of the slope. As soon as the machine moves back towards the mountain, it deflects upwards at lightning speed.
And that’s where it gets really dangerous for people, because despite barriers and flashing lights, the rope is barely recognisable at night. If you’re in the danger zone and the tension of the rope is released, you can no longer react and might be caught by the rope.
For this reason, we appeal to all of our winter sport enthusiast: please take the barriers, warning signs and the nightly closure of the slopes from 5.00pm seriously! Unfortunately, many people are not aware of the danger to their own lives that lurks during a night ski tour or descent in restricted terrain.
In the skiing area Bad Kleinkirchheim we work with modern Prinoth Leitwolf vehicles. These are considered to be particularly resource-saving, cost-efficient and precise. However, we are of course aware that even for these highly developed machines there will soon have to be alternative forms of propulsion. Research into this is in full swing and the manufacturer Prinoth is already testing the very first snow groomers with electric motors (e.g. Prinoth Leitwolf h2Motion or Prinoth Husky eMotion). We’re keeping an eye on this development and are curious to see when we too will be able to invest in an alternative form of drive for our snow groomers.
Time to go home?
If everything goes according to plan, the slope team can say goodbye to the mountain at around 1.00am. Depending on the weather, however, the nightly work on the mountain can sometimes be postponed or extended. However, they shouldn’t be out too late, otherwise the slope can no longer freeze over sufficiently and immediately becomes hilly. So there’s a little adventure waiting every day.
A strong community.
Although all of our snow groomers sit in their own warm cabin, they don’t get lonely. They’re in constant communication with each other via radio and arrange to take breaks together at a mountain or valley station. So team spirit is also kept up within the slope team.
There is often a great deal of passion behind the work as a snow groomer. This, of course, needs to be strengthened. The community account ‘Helden der Nacht’ on Instagram and Facebook creates a platform for exchange and networking. Here you will find photos and videos of snow groomers from all over the world. From Austria to Japan. Anywhere where there’s snow and slopes. It’s worth a look!