A day in the life of an RXCSF groomer

Few have had much opportunity to interact with them, but they are responsible for logging hundreds of kilometers each winter to allow us the opportunity to explore our local parks on white carpets of frozen water.  They are the RXCSF groomers, and although they are as varied as the snowflakes they compact, we thought we’d share with you a typical day in the life of one of them to provide some insight into the jobs they do.   Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

On this particular day we meet Dave, a groomer on the North side of the city who usually sticks to Durand Eastman Park.  His job starts with the weather report, and based on this information he will come up with his plan.  In some conditions, grooming may actually make the trail worse, in others, timing is critical.  Many skiers don’t realize that grooming isn’t just compacting the snow, it’s pressing the air out of it and giving it time to refreeze.  Anyone who’s tried to ski directly behind a groomer compacting fresh snow knows that they sink in if the snow doesn’t have a chance to set up.

Over the past week, Dave has been dealing with warm temperatures and rain, but temperatures dropped overnight, so he got his grooming done late last night.   Now he’s up early to head to his day job.  That’s right, almost all of our groomers are volunteers, and hold down typical 9-5 jobs that compete with their ability to get out there on their sleds.  On his way to work, he gets a call from Jim, who’s been grooming at Harriet Hollister Park.  His snowmobile won’t start, even with all the normal tricks he employs to get it going, and he can’t get out to compact the fluffy snow that came down overnight down south.  Dave’s job hours are flexible, and his truck has a trailer hitch, so he turns back towards Durand, where the new RXCSF backup sled and trailer are.  He hooks up and starts his 70 minute drive towards “the H”.  He meets Jim halfway and transfers the trailer so he can head back to work.  It’ll be up to Jim to unload the new snowmobile, get the grooming done, and then load up the old sled and find a good repair shop. It’s a good thing the RXCSF board approved his proposal to purchase a new back-up sled this year.

Once Dave arrives to work, he jumps on the Google Sheet to update conditions at Durand.  Around noon, he gets a text from Chris, the groomer at Webster Park.  A weld has broken on his roller which has already been patched up several times.  A new roller will cost $2,400, but Webster Park has been putting up with problems with that roller for a while, it may be time to replace.  He shoots off an email to the RXCSF President and Treasurer to get approval for ordering a new one.

That afternoon, Dave glances at the weather forecast, and sees that the light rain coming down is expected to stop soon with dropping temps overnight.  He’d better get out with the drag tonight to try and put in some corduroy on those trails before it freezes into boiler-plate.  Boy, he’s going to hear about it on Facebook if he doesn’t get some texture into the snow.  He finishes his work and heads back to Durand.  The drag is only 6 feet wide, so he’ll have to go around all of the trails twice to make them good and wide for the skaters.  Should he try to set a track?  Not today, the snow is a little too fragile right now, and if it doesn’t set up right, it will be terrible in the morning.  He cuts down a few branches which have fallen onto the trail under the weight of the freezing rain and heads back to the trail head.

Dave turns back into his driveway at around 8.  He sits back in his recliner and flips on the Weather Channel.  That rain that moved north is pushing back south… and it’s snow now, expecting another 3-4 inches overnight.  That’ll need to be rolled again in the morning.  Dave heads to bed and sets his alarm for 4am, hoping to beat the pre-work crowd to the trails in the morning.  Tomorrow he’ll start the whole routine all over again.

This has been a day in the life of an RXCSF groomer.  Maybe not a “typical” day, in that there is no such thing when your day is a slave to the will of the weather in Western NY.  So if you see one of them out on the trails, give them a wave, or, if it’s a rare opportunity that you catch them standing still, a handshake and a thank-you goes a long way.