When she first heard snow groomer’s talking about being anxious to get back in the snow cats after the long summer break, Christine Kissick didn’t believe them. “I heard them say grooming was addictive, that you’re going to want to keep operating the snow cats,” said Christine. “I thought it was a bunch of bull.” But once she got on the machines and started grooming for herself, she suddenly understood.
Groomers are the people who spend their days and nights farming the snow, rebuilding ski runs and shaping the terrain. Guests appreciate outstanding sliding conditions because well-groomed snow means better skiing and snowboarding.
Christine started out at the ski resort as part of the summer grounds crew, cutting brush and working on erosion control. She was already working for the department when an opportunity became available to become a groomer. “I was always one that never broke any equipment so they had confidence in me,” said Christine. “I was careful and paid attention to detail.”
The new groomer begins the job slowly. They start off riding along with experienced groomers so they can learn the instruments, control the machine and get used to the conditions of the slopes. Eventually they drive the snow cat by themselves but still follow an experienced driver around for another week or so.
“I followed an eight year groomer and learned a lot of tricks,” said Christine. “At our hill they don’t push you too hard. You have time during your shift to make mistakes and figure things out for yourself.” She attributes much of her success to great teachers. She also knew the mountain well from her summer work with the grounds crew. “One of the biggest learning steps is knowing how the runs flow together,” said Christine. “You need to know the terrain.”
For people trying to pursue a career as a groomer, Christine advises talking with a current groomer or mechanic to see if the job is right for you. Probably the best thing to do is book a ride along with a current groomer. (Mount Washington and other hills give free ride alongs to customers who are interested.)
Her department holds two job fairs every fall, a couple weeks apart. “You get an interview with the slopes manager and the lead hand,” said Christine. They aren’t looking for hot shots, she cautions. “The best thing to do is sell yourself as someone who is responsible. The worst thing you can say is that you want to build ski jumps.” If you’re a bit of a renegade, they probably won’t hire you.
One obstacle Christine had to overcome was confidence. “Working in tight spaces can be hard,” she said. The better you get as a groomer, the more responsibility they give you and Christine soon found herself building jumps and pushing huge piles of snow. “You have to plan your night and watch your time. There’s a learning curve and I was a slow learner. But once you get a few skills, your learning goes up exponentially.”
Now Christine is the one who can’t wait to get back on the hills after the summer break. “You never get bored in this job,” she said. Every night is a learning experience because groomers are always working in different snow conditions. “This job as a lot of fun. I can’t say that enough. It’s like being a big kid in an expensive toy.”