By Deb Everts
Once there is enough snow on the ground, Ed Imhoff and his crew of groomers take over keeping the slopes of Holiday Valley in tip-top shape, so skiers and snowboarders can enjoy their visit.
Whether the “white stuff” comes naturally from Mother Nature or is artificially made by the ski resort’s 701 snow guns, it needs to be spread around and packed down to create a nice, smooth base to ski on.
That’s where Imhoff and his crew come in with their fleet of six Pisten Bully grooming tractors that keep the slopes well-maintained. When the skiers and snowboarders have left for the day, he’s out with his crew pushing snow and sculpting the hillsides from 10 p.m. until 8 a.m. the next day.
“People come to Holiday Valley for a vacation, so they are looking for fun and we’re creating their fun,” Imhoff said. “Because natural snow is unreliable, we work together with the snowmaking crews to make that happen.”
Imhoff who is head of vehicle maintenance and grooming operations at Holiday Valley said natural snow has a lot of air in it and it melts quickly. He said manmade snow is pretty dense and makes a good base to get the resort through the whole season.
“We like to see the natural snow come after we get a good base of the manmade stuff down. When you put six to eight-inches of natural snow on top of a 12-inch-or-more base, it’s really nice,” he said.
With a degree in Auto Diesel Technology from Ohio Technical College, Imhoff first worked as a vehicle maintenance supervisor in the fleet business for 16 years. He’s been doing maintenance and grooming at Holiday Valley for the last 13 years. He lives in Ellicottville with his wife, Norene, and their two children, Shelby and Justin.
Imhoff said freezing rain is a problem. They can go out at 10 p.m. and groom the slopes all night and, on their way in at 7 a.m., they can be calling for freezing rain.
“What ends up happening then is it’s just a sheet of ice out there so, whenever possible, we stay out extra long — even if it means delaying an opening — so the tillers can grind into that crust of ice from the freezing rain and break it up,” he said.
Using the front blade of their grooming machines, or Snow Cats as they are often called, the crew pushes the snow to where they want it while the tiller in the back smoothes it out leaving corduroy-like lines in the snow.
“Depending on the weather, it might take 10 feet of snow on one side of the hill and two feet of snow on the other side to make the slope look flat. We fill in the gaps,” he said.
According to Holiday Valley’s website, the resort has four Pisten Bully 600 groomers. They also have a Pisten Bully 100 used for fine details like shaped snow learning areas and terrain parks. This smaller groomer also has a cross country track setter attachment.
Holiday Valley’s newest groomer is a “Pisten Bully 600 Winch Cat” that features a rotating arm with a winch cable. Imhoff said the cable attaches to an anchor point at the top of the slope allowing the operator to groom the big steep hills, which results in a smoother, more consistent snow surface.
He said the machines have 500 HP diesel engines in them. With the wings on the side blades open, they are 16-feet wide.
“The ride in a groomer is a little bit rough. When the machine comes over a frozen hill of snow, it lands hard because it doesn’t have the best suspension,” he said. “It’s not like your car. It’s kind of like a farm tractor.”
While Imhoff and his crew are grooming the snow, they get to enjoy the beautiful scenery at the top of the slopes of Holiday Valley. As they work during the evening hours, they see all kinds of animals including deer, foxes and coyotes.
According to Imhoff, Mardi Gras is roughly one-mile long from the bottom to the top. He said it’s not as steep as the North Face trails shooting off of it to the north including Yodler, Edelweiss, The Chute and Champagne.
New to Holiday Valley this year is “snow depth management technology.” Imhoff said it’s going to help them understand how much snow they have, so we don’t have to make as much.
“The ‘snow depth management’ technology will assist us in keeping the ‘fall line’ by following the contours of the slopes as we groom,” he said. “It will tell us how much snow we are sitting on and where the ground is on a screen in our machine. It’s similar to a fish finder that locates fish underwater.”
During the summer months, Imhoff and his maintenance crew tear the Snow Cats apart and do major maintenance on the machines to prepare them for the next ski season.