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The Beauty Of The Snowguns Pointing At The Chair -- Ski Rex Says...


I was part of a conversation recently in which someone, I can't remember who offhand, brought up the sight of a chairlift encrusted in machine-made snow. It's something that most skiers have seen once or twice on the hill, myself included. I've seen it more times than I can count, actually. But, just the sight of it wasn't enough for me, it would seem because my brain went to a whole other place. For me, I began to have memories of riding the chair while it passed through the streams of snow shooting from the snow guns.

Riding on a chairlift while the snowguns are pointed at it isn't uncommon, either. It's likely that a lot of you have had the pleasure of getting blasted by machine-made snow while just trying to get to the top of the run. But for those that haven't had this experience, it isn't always pleasant. You have to remember, this isn't the nice snow that's falling from the sky. This is pressurized frozen water that's coming at you, only made more unpleasant by some not so nice weather. The more bitter the cold, the more unpleasant the experience.

The thing that is going to make this story different is the time of day. This story comes from my days of working at Mount Snow, Vermont, specifically the years that I worked at the lodge at the summit. Each day we had to head up the mountain so early that the only other people to ride the chair before our group was either ski patrol, lifties, or mechanics. It was so early that the sun was barely up on some mornings, which might have helped on the colder days. The point is, it was very early, and the earlier in the day one goes up, the colder it can be.

Now, as many of you know, the snowmakers can be on the hill overnight. They're out there blowing as much as they can to make sure we all have some to enjoy the following morning. Also, it's wicked cold at night, so that gives more opportunity to make snow. As part of this task, the snowmakers have to make strategic decisions as to where to point to guns to cover what they need, which in some cases means pointing the guns right at the chairs that run along specific trails.

In this case, snowguns were sometimes pointed at the old Summit Triple chair. I believe it was Lift 17 if memory serves. I always thought that was a great number for that lift as it took close to 17 minutes to get from the bottom to the top. That's not a long ride, but it isn't a short one, either. Especially when the guns are blasting at the lift, a lift full of teenagers and folks in their early 20s who maybe didn't want to get up that morning anyway.

Imagine, you're already dreary eyed, and in some cases hungover, and you'd rather get an extra few minutes of sleep instead of heading into work. The last thing anyone wants when feeling like that is the rude awakening of being blasted with frozen water. Again, not nice fluffy snow falling from the sky, but frozen water being shot out of a cannon. It can definitely put a damper on one's day. But, there is a bright side to it that most won't recognize until after going through that a few times. The beauty of it, if you will.

You see, when one is getting blasted by snowguns, even though they are bundled up, it wakes that person right up. One is very ready to run inside that building at the top of the mountain to get to work. No coffee needed. Okay, coffee was used by some, but more because it was nice and warm than its caffeine content. Oh yes, one is very much awake at the end of that lift ride.

Just as a side note, there may be those true coffee addicts who would say they need their coffee no matter what. Here's a little experiment for you. It could be dangerous, so I'm not saying anyone should try it, but it would be a great way to experience this on a smaller scale. Get out your pressure washer or rent one if need be. Then get a friend to stand just far enough away that you are right where the water is turning to mist. Make sure you're able to run near-freezing water through the pressure washer. Then let that friend pull the trigger. I'm thinking you'd be awake. Again, don't actually do it since that could be dangerous. Though it would get the point across, it is more of a joke. Anyway...

It isn't just the nice, freezing snow that wakes a person up. It's quite loud as well. I'm sure that most of you have had your experience with being around snowguns, so I don't think I have to explain the sounds they make. It can be kind of loud. It all adds up to just a great, or not-so-great way depending on one's point-of-view, to wake up in the morning to put in a full day's work and earn that pass. 

However, again, based on point-of-view, there is a flipside to that. There comes a time when one has put in enough of days of riding through snowguns during the bitter temps at near sunrise that they be accustomed to it. Yes, it is more than possible to ride through that stuff and not care. In fact, and here is the point-of-view part, that can be a very positive thing, too. When one gets accustomed to riding through the snowguns, when it becomes no bother at all and is no longer that brutal morning wake-up call, one can get a decent quick nap. That's right, on a 17-minute lift ride, one can get a 10 to 15-minute nap that's wonderful. I know this because I have done it, usually, because I was that tired or it was that time or two I may have been a little hungover, or perhaps even a little tipsy still. 

In the end, the point I'm trying to get across is that something a lot of folks consider a negative can be a positive. For me, it's just one of the many fun and great memories I have from working at a ski mountain while I was in, and just out of, high school. Anytime I get caught up in the spray of snowguns now I think back to those days and some of the fun we had. Yes, one can have fun while riding a chairlift within an hour of dawn when it is brutally cold and getting sprayed with machine-made goodness.

Photo: Snowguns At Whaleback Mountain, NH - Credit: Tim Meyer For Ski Rex Media

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