Boulder Mountain prep well
By MATT FURBER
Express Staff Writer
The men who maintain the
cross-country ski trails for the Blaine County Recreation District are
vain about their grooming. Nearly an obsession, they are up at all hours
working to perfect a look and feel that will be appreciated in the
"Itís extraordinary. We have
dedicated staff who have been with us for years," said Trails Director
Shelly Preston. "They really care about their work."
In preperation for the Boulder
Mountain Tour, Blaine County Parks and Recreation District Nordic
trail groomer James Coyle cleans ice from a Pisten Bully tiller before
his last pass grooming a southern section of the North Valley Trails
under moonlight at midnight, Wednesday. Express photo by Matt Furber
Piloting four Pisten Bully
snowcats, some of them aged and a bit rickety, is a team of eight
drivers. The snowcats clatter away on aluminum treads and are used seven
nights a week, tested with 800 operator hours every season, said Trails
and Parks Supervisor Jim Mayne.
The groomers work nightly to
renovate the snow on the 140 kilometers of trails in the system that
include the Quigley Canyon Nordic trails, the Wood River Trail between
Bellevue and Ketchum, the Lake Creek loops and the North Valley Trails,
north of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters.
The North Valley Trails comprise
100 kilometers of the total system. Grooming is completely funded
through user fees and donations. The area is where the Boulder Mountain
Tour, a 33-kilometer Nordic skiing event from Galena Lodge to the SNRA
is being held this weekend.
The groomers are hard at work
prepping the course. The latest report is that it will be fast.
"Everyone has their own grooming
style," said James Coyle, a seasonal Alaska fisherman and five-year
valley grooming veteran. "Scott Thorne does the final groom for the
Boulder. He can make the nicest ski trail Iíve ever known. Skiers donít
always realize the quality they are getting. We try to avoid leaving
soft spots. You donít notice them until your $200 carbon fiber pole goes
through the snow and breaks in half."
Most of the groomers are avid
skiers themselves and take pride in a buffed surface.
"I like to ski before work," Coyle
said. "I like my job. It gets me up north in the mountains."
Groomers are rugged individuals
working mostly in the dark during off-hours for skiers. They do what
they can to control the frailties of man and machine, but weather is the
biggest factor in a job with hours scheduled by Mother Nature.
"I thought I was going to be
starting at 1 a.m.," Coyle said just before midnight Wednesday while
working on a section of the meadow by the Harriman Trail, between
Murphyís Bridge and Cathedral Pines Camp. The five-kilometer section
looked buffed and smooth.
As Coyle drove, he dropped the
front-end blade for his third pass to disturb the hard snow and get air
into it. Snow pealed up off the blade as he shaved off the surface
packed with day old ski tracks and dogs prints. The tiller on the back
of the cat aerated the field to leave a textured finish.
Under the textured base are a
series of manmade snow bridges built over rivulets in the meadow. As
Coyle took his last pass over the snow a pan that sets the classic track
is hydraulically lowered. When the snow is loose and creamy it leaves a
crisp, clean track.
"Two cats canít groom everything
in one night on the North Valley Trails," Coyle said. "We try not to
leave any of the trails ungroomed for more than a day ... it is a huge
demand for these two cats. This cat has about 5000 hours on it, itís
like a car with 100,000 miles that you drive on dirt roads."
The groomers are constantly
juggling the changing conditions so skiers have fresh corduroy to ski
when the sun comes up, Mayne said. "They are weathermen. They have to be
able to look out the window and make a judgement about when to groom."
"Communication is also awkward for
the groomers," he said. Once they get around the bend at the SNRA they
loose cell phone contact.
"If I break down out here, I have
a coat and a hat and Iíll be walking to the highway to look for a ride
home," he said.
But abandoning his rig is the last
thing he or Mayne want to see happen.
"Jim does maintenance, logistics
and scheduling," Coyle said. "The county takes good care of us, but they
operate on a tight budget. Jim was on his back eight hours working on
this machine today getting it ready for (the Boulder Mountain Tour)."