Behind the snow scenes: Focus on slope grooming

Who hasn't dreamed of going for a ride on a Pistenbully? This wish was also at the top of my to-do list and that's exactly why I went along for the ride.

In addition to my interest in heavy machinery and the thrill of the ride, I was particularly fascinated by the people and the work behind it. What does it really mean to drive a Pistenbully? Is it as impressive as most people think? I got to the bottom of all these questions a few days ago.

Our journey began at 5 p.m. at the Hornspitz valley station, from where we set off on the skidoo to the middle station. Our colleague Johann and our evening program were already waiting for us here. While we hopped into our vehicle for the evening, our colleague started the Prinoth next to us.

Anyone who knows me knows that a trip like this with me can be a long one, because I have lots of questions. So on the way up to the Hornspitz, I didn't just marvel, film and take photos. I was mainly busy asking my colleague Philipp questions, thank you for your patience at this point.

I asked myself what a snow groomer can actually do and what it means to groom a slope. Behind the scenes, specialized teams and impressive machines work in unison to create the perfect snow surface.

A total of 14 machines and drivers go to work at 5 p.m. to make the most of the next few hours to prepare the slopes. There is a reason for this: the snow needs a few hours to bind and solidify so that it is compact for winter sports enthusiasts the next morning. This is known as the sintering process, did you know that?

Another reason for night-time use is safety. The use of winches on snow groomers can also pose a danger to the lives of skiers and ski tourers on the slopes. It is therefore essential to adhere to the relevant piste closures!

For your own safety - watch now!

As we continue towards the Edtalmbahn, I am fascinated by the interior of the machine and the many displays and buttons available to the driver.

Philipp explains to me that every machine has an integrated snow depth measurement system. This means that it is calibrated using a GPS device and shows the driver the snow depth behind and in front of the machine and, above all, in the area of the blade in real time. This means the driver knows exactly how much snow is needed and where. So that's what one of the colorful displays means. I learn that we can be relatively relaxed when it's blue, while it gets a bit critical when it's red.

But why is this integrated snow depth measurement so important? It helps with internal communication, especially at the start of the season with colleagues during basic snowmaking. It provides information on how much snow is available in the individual areas. Depending on the additional natural snow, the machines can then be used to assess how much artificial snow is still needed where. This is not only efficient, but also cost-saving!

In addition to the display, there are the usual vehicle displays and steering wheel, as well as a joystick for operating the milling machine. Fascinated by all the inner workings, I immediately ask myself: "Is it possible for me to control a machine like this?" "Yes and no," says Philipp. It is a self-propelled machine that does not require a driver's license. But you need good internal instruction and a lot of experience (at least 3 winter seasons) to know the terrain well enough and to be able to handle the machine. A driver's license is therefore required in any case.

Before I change vehicles, there's one more thing that interests me: what's it actually like to be a snow groomer driver, what are the sunny and shady sides of the job? That's not difficult for Philipp to answer:

"You're the first and the last on the mountain, the peace and quiet and the atmosphere are unique at this time of year. But you have to remember that we work in all weathers, even when it's raining, storming, snowing and there's no visibility. And you have to be aware that you're working when everyone else is already at home. You have to like that."

While my colleagues continue until midnight and beyond, I make my way back to the starting point with European snow groomer champion Johann Wallner. As I sit next to Johann in his Prinoth and chat with him about the last few decades as a snow groomer operator, he prepares the slopes in Fredy-Land calmly and with great sensitivity and it becomes clear to me that he has found his calling.

Dear Philipp, dear Hans! Thank you for taking me with you and for your time. But above all, thank you to the whole team for preparing the best slopes for us every day. Now I appreciate it even more!