Groomer For a Day
By Alesha Damerville
Image from Matt Irvin
As a groomer, it’s important to study as much of the mountain as you can. “It’s one thing to see the mountain. It’s another to go up trails,” Patterson says. “Most people are headed the opposite way – getting lost is easier than you think.”
The conditions on the mountain are ever-changing. “Working at night during heavy snowfall and during low visibility conditions are the hardest parts of the job,” Patterson says. “The scariest experience you can have is a cat locking up and going for a slide. You just go for a ride and try your best to control the slide.”
The machine Patterson operates packs a lot of power. He often drives the largest cat, the Prinoth Snow Groomer 500 – also known as “the beast.” “It’s a larger, bigger cat, so you’re putting down a much bigger ski surface in one pass,” he says. “It has more torque and power than our other cats.”
“We use the winch cat for some of the steeper runs and for opening up new terrain. Working on the steeper terrains with the winch cat is a lot of fun, and a challenge,” Patterson says.
Working as a groomer mixes work and fun; picture being in a very slow-moving rollercoaster, but with incredibly steep ups and downs. You can earn a living and catch an adrenaline rush at the same time. Groomers work a swing shift or a graveyard shift, with some of them working 4:30 p.m.-2:30 a.m. and others working 10 p.m.-8 a.m.