How much do we know about what it takes to keep a ski mountain running? What happens after the last chair unloads at 4 p.m.? Purgatory Ski Resort, the closest ski area to Durango, has an array of workers who experience sides of the mountain that the public doesn’t. They are the behind-the-scenes crew, who make sure that the slopes are ready for any rider.
THE TEAM BEHIND THE MACHINES
If you arrive at the mountain early enough, you’ll see freshly groomed runs without any ski tracks. This is the work of Snowcat drivers, who've been up all night making sure the slopes are safe and presentable for their guests, Keaton Cameron, a seasoned-Snowcat driver who has worked at Purgatory Ski Resort for ten years, said. The graveyard shifts start at midnight and the Snowcats run until 9 a.m., Cameron said. The snow and storm cycle is always changing the conditions.
“Most people don’t even know that we’re up here,” Cameron said. “Everyone that drives the Snowcats really wants to be here to make the mountain safe, sustainable and look good for people. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”
THE WARRIORS IN RED
Usually, 10 to 15 ski patrollers start their day at 7:30 a.m., skiing as much terrain as possible to set up signs and ropes while also checking for hazards, Lacy Anderson, a ski patroller, said. The rest of the day is spent running calls, taking shifts in the ski patrol huts and working on the mountain to make it safer, such as picking up trash, moving rope lines and digging up snow-buried picnic tables. No call is ever the same, Anderson said. The patient, injury and place is always different and it involves a lot of art and technical training to combine all these moving factors and work with the resources available, she said.
THE SMOOTH OPERATORS
There are two positions within lift operations: the lift operator who works at the bottom and has the ability to stop the lift, and the lift operator who is ‘topped out,’ Adela Martins, a lift operator and a Fort Lewis alumna, said. The person who works at the top of the lifts where the main terminal and engine are, are the ones who control when the lift starts. If the lift stops working, the lift-operators have to call a lift mechanic, Zach Martinez, a lift mechanic at Purgatory, said.
“We run emergency response. If a lift goes down, we get a call and go respond to the lift and we also inspect all the moving parts, and test that it’s running properly,” Martinez said.
THE PARK RATS IN CHARGE OF THE RAILS
Ski mountains typically have terrain parks, which hold features like rails, boxes, and jumps that riders can practice their tricks on. The park crew is constantly making new features that suit anyone’s abilities, Chase Ellsperman, a member of the Park Construction Crew, said. The job is very hands-on, Nickol Moran, another Park Constructor who has worked at Purgatory for seven years said. There is a lot of building and upkeep involved.
“We are constantly thinking about the layout,” Logan Fullington, one of the Park Constructors, said. “It’s like a blank canvas and each individual part is its own brush stroke. We spend a lot of time talking to the people, asking what works and what doesn’t.”
Ultimately, the behind-the-scenes work at ski resorts allows for their guests to have a great, safe day on the mountain.
“I love what I do, I love where I do it, and I love the people I work with,” Anderson said.