Now, by no means will I say operating a snowcat is easy, but let’s just say it is not as hard as a lot of people may think. Getting into a cat and just “driving”, is not hard at all. Being able to “operate” a cat and be efficient, pay attention to detail, and leave a good product takes time and skill to accomplish. There is a lot more than just putting your blade and tiller down and driving around all the trails. Groomers have intricate patterns to follow, different methods to groom steep trails vs flat runs, different techniques for different snow, and so on. All of this takes time and practice to master.
Someone that is brand new to the grooming team at Park City Mountain Resort is put through a decent amount of training; a majority of which is hands on. Most rookie operators have some sort of machine experience before coming in. This usually works out to their advantage because they are already comfortable in equipment. Another big factor that helps make a good groomer is if they ski or snowboard. If someone is out skiing or boarding everyday, they know what a trail or grooming should look like. When they jump in a cat this transfers over and they know what they should be leaving as far as a good product goes.
The tiller of a snowcat. The grey section with the teeth in it is the cutting bar. That rotates at a very high rate of speed and chops up the snow. The Yellow sections are the mats that smooth the snow out after it has been chopped up and leave a nice corduroy finish.
What Goes Into Grooming a Trail
Besides the comforts of heated seats and mp3 players there is a lot that goes into operating a snowcat to make precise, groomed runs. The two main parts of a snowcat are the blade and tiller. The blade is in the front of the cat. and is controlled by a joystick inside the cat. The blade is used to push snow, flatten bumps, move snow, fill in holes, and anything else that it takes to make a trail level and smooth. As the cat moves along and the blade flattens out the snow, the tracks then run it over and chew it up a bit more. On the back end of the snowcat there is the tiller. The tiller chops the snow up even more and then flattens it out into a nice “corduroy” finish. The tiller has a rotating cutter bar that spins at a very high rate of speed. This chews up the snow into a fine and soft powder. Once the snow passes through the cutting bar it is made smooth by the tiller mats into a “corduroy” finish.
As you can see in the photos, there are computers and many more gadgets inside a snowcat. I've given you the basics of how to operate a snowcat, but as any groomer will tell you, there are hundreds of way to adjust settings to get the corduroy just right!
The joystick for blade operation as well as tiller functions. Touch screen computer allows you to go through many useful functions. Very helpful for mechanics. An array of gauges and toggle switches which show/do everything from temperature to horn to RPM’s.
Originally from the Pocono’s of Pennsylvania, Travis found his way to Park City three years ago and is now our grooming manager. When not in snowcat you can find him skiing or snowmobiling in the Utah backcountry or enjoying the skiing here at Park City Mountain Resort.
Nicole Roundy is a world class snowboarder on the US Paralympic Team. She is a cancer survivor, inspiration seeker, crossfit training, Park City riding superpower blogger. Follow her adventures right here. You can also spy her on twitter (@nicoleroundy) and Instragram (@nroundy)