Behind the scenes of grooming

It's 2:00 a.m. when the alarm goes off. An unusual hour for me but a wake-up call that is quite easy, it must be said that the experience that awaits us with Ingrid is not common... We're going to groom the ski slopes!

A quick breakfast, a final check of the photo and video equipment and here we are in the car to go to the ski slopes service garage. Val Thorens.

We then join the night shift over coffee. Armed with information provided by their manager, the drivers discuss the work planned for that night. We then go down to the hangar for a machine check before leaving.

It's 3 a.m. when we take our place in the machine alongside Olivier.

At the exit of the hangar, each snow groomer then takes a different direction. For us, it is the direction of the Thorens sector.

The powerful headlights of the snow groomer illuminate the track in front of us while Olivier explains his job to us.

We learned in particular that certain slopes, more exposed to the sun and more damaged by the passage of skiers, must be groomed as a priority. This is why they are maintained in the evening, as soon as the domain closes around 17:30 p.m. This will give the snow more time to cool and harden.

Olivier also explains to us that each time the machine passes, there are several stages:

  • You must first break up the bumps and pull the snow up the slope with the blade located at the front of the machine.
  • The tracks, under the weight of the machine, as well as the cutter located at the rear, will grind the snow into small pieces.
  • Finally, the paver (the yellow plastic blades) will smooth the snow and give the grooved texture on the slopes.

Like a yoyo at the end of its string, the machine goes up and down the track numerous times. Once the track is finished, we move on to the next one.
It is sometimes impressive to dive straight into the slope and you have to be careful to stay deep in your seat so as not to land on the windshield!

Moreover, the steepest slopes are generally groomed with machines equipped with winches. The winch allows the machine to be held on the descent for more regular and better quality grooming. But above all, it allows the snow to be lifted during the “bubbling” phase, which would be impossible with a conventional machine. “Bubbling” consists of recovering the large quantity of snow brought down each day by skiers at the bottom of the slope. You must then bring it back to the top of the track before the stones appear.

Watching Olivier do it, it seems simple! But this job requires experience because the parameters are numerous. The temperature, the period, weather conditions or the quantity and quality of snow are all parameters whose effects must be known.

It is already 6:15 a.m. and daybreak is dawning on the ski area of Val Thorens. We haven't noticed the time passing and the spectacle before us is grandiose. The sky is adorned with shades of blue, pink and yellow…

L. Brochot
Snow groomer Moraine sector

At 8 a.m., the radio starts broadcasting the voice of the grooming manager speaking to the team manager. He ensures that the service went well and will take the necessary measures to open the area with the trackers. Here I am brought back to reality while, with fatigue helping, I was daydreaming in front of the mountains.

It is then time to finalize the grooming on our last slope and head back to the slopes garage to clean and store the machine. It is therefore necessary to remove the blocks of snow and ice accumulated during the night, refuel, etc.

We then leave Olivier and the rest of the team, we in turn have work to do to succeed in transcribing this unique moment for you.

The sweeping of the groomers will resume at the end of the day with the evening team which will be working on closing the slopes until 1 a.m.


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