I hope by now that everyone recognizes that there will be a winter this year and we will be skiing and riding at Smuggs! Certainly the weather of late is reminding us that it’s not too far away. The Smugglers’ Mountain Operations team has been hard at work getting ready.
If you’re wondering what happens up here over the summer, well, we’ve got a lot going on, much of which you won’t necessarily notice but which is critical to smooth operation. Here are some highlights:
Planning: During the ongoing COVID pandemic, our first priority is the health and safety of our guests and staff. Across the ski industry and at Smugglers’, planning for safe operations this winter has been ongoing and will probably continue until the day the first chair gets loaded. Countless webinars and Zoom meetings have been attended and continue. Best practices and lessons learned from those who re-opened last spring and who are running now in the southern hemisphere are being closely examined. Conversations amongst resorts across the country occur almost daily. Here in Vermont, the Vermont Ski Areas Association has been diligently working on an opening plan that will require the review and approval of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development and the Department of Health. This effort is ongoing. Under the umbrella of this overall plan, each ski area will be required to have their own plan specific to the needs of the individual resort.
So, while we don’t have all the details worked out yet, here’s some of what we do know:
- We have to make every effort to keep our staff healthy. An outbreak amongst our essential staff such as lift operators, mechanics, or ski patrol could cause us to have to close! Expect to see this managed by the use of staggered arrival and departure times for employees, enhanced disinfection practices, plenty of PPE including face shields on lift loaders, extra warm-up spaces for lift crews, daily health checks, and more.
- Lift corrals may be spread out to allow for social distancing. The term lift maze may take on new meaning this winter!
- Snow Sport University will be taking many measures to enhance staff and guest safety but the learning will go on!
- Masks or face coverings will be required around the base area, for indoor spaces, while in the lift corral, and loading and unloading areas; pretty much everywhere except for when skiing down the hill.
- Consider changing up your ski and ride time. The hours of 10:00 am to 2:00 pm and weekends are when we have the greatest occupancy. Can you adjust your schedule to get those runs in earlier or later in the day and/or spend more midweek time on the hill?
- There will be lots of signage to pay attention to. It’s expensive, please read it.
- Base Lodge and warming hut capacities will be restricted. Plan to dress warm and boot up at the car. Think of your car as your new base lodge and while you’re getting ready for winter, you may want to practice walking in those ski boots!
- Bathroom capacity will be at a premium – isn’t it always? Expect to see auxiliary bathroom facilities provided in key locations.
- Plan to ski with a friend or family member whose health you trust. Smuggs double chairs are probably among the safest way to go in this environment but if we’re going to take full advantage of our capacity, single riders will be unpopular on busy days.
- Communication will be key to a smooth and successful winter experience. Guests and employees will need to stay abreast of the latest guidance and direction. No matter how well we plan and execute, things will change as we go along. Keeping up with the latest information from Smuggs website and text messaging service before you come to work or to ski and ride is everyone’s responsibility.
Lifts: We completed a two-year assessment of all our lifts and you’ll be pleased to know they’ve got lots of life left, providing we keep applying plenty of TLC. The assessment included a complete inspection of all running gear by an expert from Doppelmayr lifts. The inspection also included non-destructive testing (NDT) of all lift towers and anchor bolts in addition to the routine NDT work we do on chairs and grips annually. Our biggest efforts this year on lifts include replacement of the lift cable on Madonna I, replacement of the communication lines on Mogul Mouse and Village Lift, and reworking the chair heads and doing a load test on Sterling Lift. The new Madonna I cable, 13,500’ feet long, weighing 46,000 pounds took a week to install. Many thanks to our friends from Claussen’s Crane Service, GW Tatro, and Mountain Wire Rope Service plus the 20 some Smuggs employees who were hands-on with the project.
Snowmaking: Every year the snowmaking team tests all the pumps, motors, on hill piping, and tower guns. Once the testing is done, they go to work on repairs. This summer we’ve sent one pump out for a rebuild. We’re busy rebuilding and replacing hydrants and valves throughout the system. Several tower guns are under repair. Pipe replacement and repair is underway. We plan to be making snow starting November 1st or as soon thereafter as the weather allows.
Grooming: The grooming crew takes every snowcat in the fleet, pulls them into the garage, and proceeds to go through them from stem to stern, inspecting, and repairing as needed. All the tracks get pulled and reworked. Hydraulic pumps are tested and rebuilt, hydraulic hoses replaced. Electronics are tested. Fluids and filters are changed. Tillers are torn down, reworked, rebalanced, and reassembled. All of which means our machines will be ready to roll and perform for the hundreds of hours of work they’ll do this season.
Trails: Trail mowing is now underway. One of the unsung heroes of Mt. Ops is our trail mower, Albert Rogers. Albert has been mowing for us for years. He brings his tractor up and, with an old-style sidebar sickle mower, proceeds to lay down grass and brush in places many of us would be reluctant to drive an ATV. Albert tackles about 150 acres of terrain across all three mountains and we’re incredibly lucky to have him. However, even Albert can’t get on the steeper terrain and that is where the brush cutters come in. We use a crew from Horizon Forestry. These guys and their saws will be hitting the trails and glades shortly after Labor Day and this year will be doing over 100 acres, taking only 3 days to do it! This represents the most acreage we’ve ever done in a single season. On top of that work, the groomers are on the hill for the next 3 to 4 weeks with an excavator, cleaning water bars, repairing any washouts, making sure we’re in the best shape possible to start laying down snow.
Ski Patrol: Signage, rope, toboggans, tower pads, first aid supplies, lift evac equipment, all of this and more falls under ski patrol’s auspices. Inventory, inspection, ordering is all about to get underway, and let’s not forget training! Smugglers’ is blessed to have one of the top patrols in the East!
Staffing: Do you like to be outdoors in the winter in all kinds of weather? Go through hand warmers like they’re going out of style? Spend time social distancing with avid skiers and riders? Work with a team of dedicated mountain professionals whose aim in life is to provide a fun winter experience for Smuggs guests while having some fun of their own? Then consider joining us this winter. We’re looking for snowmakers, groomers, lift crew, snow sports instructors, and more! Contact Smuggs Human Resources office at 1-888-754-7684 or apply online
As we’ve been reminded often, we’re all in this together. Much of our ability to have a fun, successful winter rest in the behavior of Smugglers’ guests and staff, while we’re at the resort and when we’re not. Wearing our face coverings, not showing up if we’re sick, maintaining that social distance, and being patient with one another are going to be critical to a great winter. We will show respect for the health of our guests’ family’s by wearing face masks – please do the same for ours – you’ll get a big thanks from Smuggs employees! Oh, by the way,
Smuggs Mt. Ops Team