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What does it take to get the mountain ready for winter?


By Sarah Magyar

Opening Day. It’s the day all ski and snowboard enthusiasts look forward to – a chance to be among the first up the chair and down the slopes. But opening a mountain for skiing isn’t as simple as turning on a lightbulb – far from it. Sarah Magyar from the Lake Louise Ski Resort walks us through what goes on behind the scenes.

Photo courtesy Lake Louise Ski Resort.

There’s nothing quite like that first time you pull into the parking lot in the morning, grab your skis or board, load the chair lift, and take off. It’s the start of another great season. 

But for our Mountain Operation teams, Opening Day is just another day at the resort. For the Avalanche Control team, Patrol, Snow Makers, Groomers, and Park Crew, the season started much earlier. In the case of the Trail Crew, the season never really ended. 

That’s because a Trail Crew’s job is never finished. Once the resort closes for the winter, they begin to prep the mountain for summer, which doesn’t take long. They help with the bear fence and then make sure the walking trails are safe for the public, and then they are back getting ready for winter. Throughout the summer they collect things people may have dropped from under the chairlift, put in permanent snow fencing, and then, towards the end of the summer, they begin to install snow fences. They walk almost everywhere since the furthest a vehicle can go on the resort is to the base of the summit sightseeing lift. If anything needs to be done above that point, the only way there is on their own two feet. 

Photo courtesy Lake Louise Ski Resort.

Once September rolls around, a few of the Trail Crew employees move into patrol mode and Trail Crew continues to prepare for winter by erecting poles and raising and tying the snow fences. 

October is when the Mountain Ops teams come into full effect. The Patrol Team begins training at the end of October, which includes first aid, gondola evacuation, and resort-specific training. From there, the job can either be easy or hard, depending on the amount of snow. A week before the resort opens to the public, Patrol is on the mountain installing everything skiers see on a day out on the slopes, such as rope lines, signs, and tower pads, as well as marking snowmaking hazards and avalanche closures.

Photo by Shannon Martin.

For Patrol on Opening Day, if weather permits, they begin working their way up the mountain to help prepare more terrain to have it open as soon as possible for the public. As the Ski Patrol Leader, Remy Aguilera, put it: “You buy groceries because you’re going to get hungry.” Patrol preps the mountain as fast as they can because they know the public is going to be hungry for more. 

The Grooming Team is thinking ahead to the next winter before the current winter even ends. After the hill closes in May, they push snow around to help it melt faster, then leave one of the cats at the upper end of the Top of The World chair so that they are ready to work when the snow starts falling again – anywhere between August and October. Before snowmaking even begins to blow snow, the Groomers drive the cats around the hill and strategically place them so that they are ready for both manmade or natural snow. When natural snow falls, Groomers drive the cats over it to pack it down and make sure it doesn’t blow elsewhere. 

Photo courtesy Lake Louise Ski Resort.

The Groomers work closely with the Snow Makers, as their jobs heavily rely on one another. The Snow Makers can begin blowing snow in the middle of October, however, they do have a small team working throughout the summer as well. In the summer, they replace pipes to make sure everything is ready to go when snowmaking season starts.

They begin placing guns around the hill in late August. Most of the guns can be driven with a truck. However, just like Trail Crew, they cannot drive higher than Summit Base, so some of the guns that are placed higher are done so with a helicopter. 

Without the snowmaking team, the Groomers wouldn’t be able to move cats. Without snowmaking, the Trail Crew and Patrol wouldn’t be able to get up the mountain. As Devan Mather, Assistant Grooming Supervisor, said, “Early-season snowmakers are the real heroes.”

Photo by Shannon Martin.

Once Mother Nature starts to make her own snow, that’s when the Avalanche Team begins to head up the mountain. There are lots of different crews out on the mountain working when the snow falls and the Avalanche Team’s main concern is keeping the workers safe. The Avalanche Team protects all elements at risk. They monitor the weather, snowpack, and conditions, as well as travel around the mountain to gather avalanche information to map out where problems may exist in terrain. Opening Day is just a regular day for them, as they have already been working to protect all the workers, before additional staff and guests arrive on the mountain.

Opening Day is only the beginning because then there is the rest of the mountain to open for the public. These teams, including Mechanical Services (Lift Maintenance), continue to work hard and prepare the mountain to have as much terrain open as fast, and safely, as they can. 

So next time you’re on the mountain and see a Mountain Operations staff, thank them. They have worked tirelessly, for many hours, behind the scenes, to make sure the mountain is the best it can be for your enjoyment. 

Lake Louise Ski Resort. Vast and varied, pristine and inspirational, a friendly wilderness that’s authentically Canadian. The Lake Louise Ski Resort welcomes you with big smiles and open chairs. Located in the heart of the magnificent Canadian Rockies, Lake Louise lets its legendary 4,200 skiable acres of world-class terrain speak for itself, while Mother Nature does the rest.
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