Sun Peaks’ Groomers Share Visual Perks of the Job
Leo Pouliot sits in one of Sun Peaks’ eight snowcats, driving up the mountainslope partway through another evening shift.
“This is my office,” he says with an ear-to-ear grin.
He makes a pass up Blazer, then up the Crystal Bowl and pauses for a quick moment to take in the breathtaking view.
“Whenever you’re at the Top of the World or out in the West Bowl at this time of the year, it’s amazing the view you get over there,” he said.
The operators have made a habit of bidding good morning to Sun Peaks residents with stunning sunrise photos on social media this winter.
“I used to make sure I was at the Top of the World for my lunch break, which would be around 6 a.m. when the sun comes up. You just time your routes so you’re in the right areas to watch those magnificent sunrises,” said Seth Worthen, slopes manager for Sun Peaks Resort LLP.
Sun Peaks employs 21 groomer operators who work to maintain run conditions. Each machine sees nearly 20 hours of grooming every night, split between two 10-hour shifts. Runs are groomed on a priority system with the green runs at the top, followed by the blue runs and then the blacks. Some very challenging runs will only be groomed once or twice per year.
Whenever you’re at the Top of the World or out in the West Bowl at this time of the year, it’s amazing the view you get over there
“Intimidator is a good example of that,” Worthen said. “We try to leave Intimidator as a bump run, but you have to go on at least once or twice a year just to maintain it.”
The operators have incredible terrain knowledge and are able to work despite varying conditions, including poor visibility caused by heavy snowfall or fog. Pouliot said he uses landmarks, including distinct tree lines, boulders and the backs of signs to navigate in poor conditions.
“You really have to know the mountain,” he said. “The visibility is the scariest thing. These machines will go, they’re workhorses, and so it’s not so much the machines as much as the operator having no visibility.”
Pouliot said his mountain knowledge has translated into his ski days. Not only does he notice more landmarks, but he also has an increased awareness of the people around him. He pays attention to how others are going down the hill and takes that information to help him do his job that night.
“I think as a groomer the more you do of it, the more you get obsessed with it,” he said. “How is a person going to ski this run and where are they going to exit this run onto the next run? You can just look at a run and it can dictate how you groom just by looking at the tracks, the skiers will tell you how you should groom.”
A big difference this season is also the increased amount of snow compared to last year, but Worthen said it’s important to remain vigilant because bare spots will show up no matter the conditions.
“We’re renowned for our grooming here,” Worthen said. “People come here for vacation based on the product that we put down here and I think that has a lot to do with the dry, powdery snow we get here that is perfect for tilling and making that perfect corduroy that is out there.”