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Bedeviling Gravity

The Men Who Keep the “Grande Dame” Looking Her Finest

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A lot of people just assume that good grooming is corduroy—it’s way beyond that,” Kevin Klepser says. “Corduroy is just cosmetic.”

He understands something I don’t.

We are in the cab of a snowcat, heading directly down the icy face of upper Greyhawk, a black diamond run—skier parlance for advanced—on Bald Mountain. Klepser is driving a winch snowcat, a $225,000 piece of machinery designed to move up and down impossibly steep slopes. The sun is setting and the alpenglow is stunning. Sitting in the passenger seat with my seat buckle fastened, I am trying mostly not to think about the prospect of this very heavy machine hurtling out of control down Greyhawk and into Warm Springs Creek.

“In the world of ski areas across the country, Sun Valley’s grooming is quite prestigious. We are trying to do a good job for the local people; we are trying to be the best,” says snowcat operator Kevin Klepser.

Klepser, a well-spoken man, seems unfazed by the pitch before him. He spends his winters driving a snowcat at America’s oldest ski resort, Sun Valley, the “Grande Dame” of winter playgrounds renowned for its impeccable grooming. His job, on the most basic of levels, is to undo all that gravity has done. On a typical Sun Valley ski day somewhere between 3,000 and 7,000 skiers and boarders carve the slopes, the snow sluffing downhill with every turn. Klepser and his team put it all back where it was, then make it look nice.

“There is a lot more going on behind the scenes than people realize. It is a lot more than driving up and down the hill,” he says.

A former ski patrolman, Klepser loves to ski and mentions that he has skied more than 60 days this season. He is clean-cut and humble. When asked about his experience, he casually mentions his role as the lead grooming operator during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Park City, Utah. His experience is evident through his attention to detail.

Just a few hours earlier, I was sitting at a conference table in the River Run maintenance building with Klepser and his team. We gathered for the afternoon meeting held daily before the groomers go to work. I sipped coffee as Kerry O’Brien, grooming manager for Sun Valley Company, outlined the evening’s grooming program.

On any given night, there are more than 500 acres on Bald Mountain to groom, and nine snowcat machines do the work.

In an eight-hour shift, one driver can groom between 45 and 60 acres, but everything depends upon the snow conditions. Ideally, the snow is hard, temperatures are cold, and there is a skiff of new snow. If there are bad conditions—wet snow or warm temperatures—the grooming department backs off the acreage to ensure a better product.

Each day, O’Brien decides, depending on conditions, which runs will be groomed that night. Of course, snow conditions change periodically through the night.

“I don’t sleep during winter,” he laughs.

Numerous factors play into O’Brien’s decisions. One of his goals is to distribute skiers across the resort to reduce traffic in particular areas. “You disperse the skiers so you don’t have a line at any particular lift,” says O’Brien. He also works particularly closely with the snowmaking department. >>>

 

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