Skiing was halted on the local trails on April 20, 2011. The trails had several melted sections eliminating the ability to ski a complete lap without trudging across a muddy section or removing skis. In reality, the last day of skiing was just to say we skied until the end of April.
At the beginning of the ski season I started the great Citizen Groomer experiment. The question to be explored was to find out if grooming trails would be worth it. Defining “worth it” is tough since it is an evolving expectation. Did I ski more? Did having trails twenty feet from the door make me a better skier? Was the effort to reward ratio a net benefit? The list can go on and on so I’ll pick a few and try to answer them.
Did I ski more?
In terms of days on skis the answer is a resounding, YES! I had no excuse to not pop on my skis and put in 30 minutes a day. An intimate knowledge of the trails made skiing at night safe and simple.
Total kilometers covered on skis (I don’t keep track) felt about the same. What was evidently different was the way the distance was accumulated.
Taking the time to drive to a ski center meant the day was a planned ski day and would cover a few hours and many kilometers. At home, it was easy to become distracted and shorten the ski. I missed long distance ski days.
Long distance was possible but a bit dull. Spending time traveling around the trails while grooming and again while skiing became a bit dull. The hamster-on-a-wheel effect.
Am I a better skier?
Philosophically and actually the answer is again, YES!
Grooming was a bit like raising children. Rewarding and a pain in the ass; all in the same breath. It’s also a bit like being a waiter. You appreciate good service when you get it and become a bit irate when the service is bad.
Not all skiing was done at the house. The family spent a few days at local ski centers. When the skiing was difficult or less then ideal, I appreciated what the center was able to do with marginal snow. There were also times when I felt ripped off when the trails appeared to be sub-par due to apathy of the grooming staff.
Technically, I became a much better skier. The house trails are narrow and full of transitions where it is easy to lose momentum. During the hamster-wheel ski days it was easy to experiment with the variety of transitions and corners. I learned a lot of valuable lessons about balance and changing gears.
During races on wide homologated trails there was a lot of room for setup errors. Sure, a bad setup on a wide trail hurts speed. Unless the skier completely blows it there is very little risk of having to stop and get going again. I was able to relax on the wide trails and did not get too freaked out on some of the narrower and twisty descents.
Home grooming also allowed me to tailor the trails. The ability to leave the trails a bit firm and icy was great and also improved my ability to deal with less than optimal conditions.
Was the effort to reward ratio favorable?
The work to fun ratio varied depending upon the weather. Freeze/thaw cycles and snowfall required a fair bit of work to make decent skiing. Stretches of consistent weather kept the workload pretty low. The trails were used by the neighborhood and really didn’t see much skier traffic. Not many of the locals skated which also reduced the degradation of the snow.
On average, a typical grooming day required 90 minutes from getting dressed to parking the sled in order to put the 5 km in skiable condition. This is just a touch longer than it takes to drive the round trip to the local ski area. Grooming was a bit more tiring than driving. The snow also skied best when it had a few hours to set after grooming so the scheduling of a groom/ski session mattered.
My one experience grooming at night was fine from a work standpoint but didn’t fit too well into the house life. Head out after everyone is in bed and the noise of the sled becomes an issue. Same thing applies to a pre-dawn grooming pass.
To a certain extent, grooming did become an end in itself. I took great pride in preparing firm, flat, wide, and level trails for the skiers. Sometimes after grooming I really didn’t feel like going out. Maybe it was a bit of trail familiarity boredom raising its head.
What made the work/fun ratio a net positive was seeing how many people were getting out and off the couch. By the few neighbors I spoke to, 30 lbs of human were skied off and all mentioned the trails helped make the winter more fun. A few purchased ski related equipment and ventured off to ski centers.
The kids often came home from school and went for a ski. We accumulated a small pile of skis for visitors to use. Some of the gear is pretty crappy but worked for the first or low time skiers who were just having fun and smiling.
Will the trails be groomed next season?
Hell yes they will. There are even plans to extend the network and link together a few more properties. All-in-all, the 2012 versions will boast about 10k which is the max I feel can be adequately maintained during the summer and winter and not become my full time, no pay job.
Most of the new trails will be cut to avoid having to move equipment down the road or taking off ski to cross a road. The house is located at the end of the plowed section of an older road. The plan is to have the new trails end run the plowing.
During the summer, Citizen Groomer will continue to have new posts describing the warm weather aspects of having a local trail system. We need to build a few trails (mostly releasing a few old woods roads), fix up the old ones and figure out how to cross a small brook.
Thanks for reading this past ski season and have a wonderful and productive summer.