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106 Snow Guns, 9 Slope Grooming Machines, 2 Men

Part 1: How Hochgurgl is getting ready for the new skiing season.

What happens in the ski area during the summer months? A quite interesting question! I set off for Hochgurgl to find out more, talking to Deputy Operations Manager Peter Reich and Florian Praxmarer who gave an insight to maintenance works of slope grooming machines and snow-making systems. Looking forward to the upcoming Ski Opening, they are ready to produce snow!

(Please note: This report refers to a certain part of the Ski Area. All facts and figures relate only to Hochgurgl)

Peter und Florian auf Pistenfahrzeug - Skigebiet Obergurgl-Hochgurgl
Peter (left) and Florian standing on the brand-new, 530 HP snow grooming machine
© Benedikt Steiner / Ötztal Tourismus

Workstation in idyllic location

As agreed I meet Peter and Florian at the snow vehicle garage in Hochgurgl. After a short walk we reach the idyllically located workstation right next to the ski slope – offering uninterrupted panoramic views. Entering through the door, I am welcomed by several slope grooming machines still enjoying their summer sleep. Peter is working in the rear part of the huge hall.

The 41-year old expert from Längenfeld has been working for the Mountain Lift Company in Hochgurgl for 17 years already. He started as a snow groomer and attended further trainings by climbing up the career ladder step by step. Today he has the position of Deputy Operations Manager in Hochgurgl, responsible for the snow vehicle pool and the snow-making system as well as for all avalanche blasting operations in winter.

Also his co-worker Florian Praxmarer from Zwieselstein – he is a skilled car mechanic expert – started as a snow groomer in Hochgurgl about 13 years ago. For seven years he has been working together with Peter in the snow vehicle garage, guaranteeing that there is always “movement” (slope grooming machines) and “snow drizzle” (snow guns) in the ski area.

530 HP measured in the test bench

How is a typical workday for Peter and Florian in the summer months? Most of the time they need for general maintenance works of 9 snow grooming machines: 7 slope grooming vehicles with up to 530 HP (4 equipped with cable winches, 3 standard machines), one machine (on chains as well) for hut deliveries plus a small snow groomer for preparing the toboggan run.

All repair works are made here on the spot: the machines have already become a part of Florian’s and Peter’s lives. They attend special trainings for revision works so that they are familiar with the smallest detail. At the end of the winter season the machines are “unchained” first, followed by oil change, valve checks, complete filter and hydraulic oil change.

Florian bedient Display in Pistenfahrzeug - Skigebiet Obergurgl-Hochgurgl
New this winter: a GPS controlled device that measures the snow depth (not shown in this picture) © Benedikt Steiner / Ötztal Tourismus

Of course, all vehicles must be in line with the General Work Equipment Guidelines in order to guarantee operating safety. This is valid also for the skidoos which are maintained by the two experts from Ötztal. Additionally, Florian takes care of even more vehicles during the autumn months – we are talking about all motorbikes at the Top Mountain Crosspoint Motorcycle Museum. The upcoming special exhibition focuses on “Historic Snow Vehicles”, involving plenty of conservation and restoration works for Florian.

COMPLEX SNOW-MAKING CONTROL SYSTEM

Peter bei Schneekanone - Skigebiet Obergurgl-Hochgurgl
Each snow gun has a shaft for electricity supply, water connection and main cables. You’ll find about 300 shafts only in the Hochgurgl Ski Area! © Benedikt Steiner / Ötztal Tourismus

“No Snow – No Show” is the slogan! Peter’s and Florian’s job is to prepare the entire snow-making control system in time for the coming winter season. And they already did their homework by activating, trying and testing the snow-making control system. The system’s complexity is almost incredible.

Peter explains: “The whole system contains 4 pumping stations, one water catchment spot, one water reservoir and 106 snow guns controlled by 4 computers. One depends on the other!” Also Florian is of the same opinion: “The start-up phase of such a multifaceted system is always critical. Not without reason we say: never stop a running system.”

Therefore it is also their summer job to carry out function tests of all 106 snow guns (100 propeller-driven devices and 6 snow lances), including the heating system, the compressors, all filters and water nozzles (“water test”).
Pump it up!

Pumping Station

One of the four pumping stations in Hochgurgl. 300 liters of water per second is pumped up from the valley. It is essential to wash, lubricate and change the filters. The powerful engines (Siemens) are checked by an expert company. Cleanliness and order are of utmost importance here.

Peter und Florian in der Pumpstation - Skigebiet Obergurgl-Hochgurgl
“Ready to snow”: Florian (left) and Peter
© Benedikt Steiner / Ötztal Tourismus

Snow-making is a “matter for the boss”

In the winter months Peter is supported by a team of 12 people – among them snow-grooming machine drivers and other assistants plus the management. He is proud of this very special team spirit which mirrors the company’s main philosophy. Alban Scheiber, one of the two managing directors, leads by example. Peter states: “Alban is always here on the spot when it comes to snow-making. Even during the night if the wind changes and we must re-position the snow guns quickly.”

This is just one of the countless reasons why they love their work. A truly varied job full of new perspectives as the circumstances can change very quickly. Peter and Florian especially appreciate the continuing process of education and the chance of being promoted.

In the end their hard work during the summer months is rewarded with perfectly groomed ski slopes and huge smiles on the skiers’ faces at the yearly season start in November…

A ski area is quite similar to a clockwork: The maintenance of slope grooming machines and snow guns are two little details but essential for the entire system. Of course, there are many other persons and helping hands behind the snow scenes. Have a look at Part 2 of our report, where we explain how Obergurgl is getting ready for the next skiing season. Continue reading HERE.

(Cover image: © Benedikt Steiner / Ötztal Tourismus)

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Benni

Author Benni

When it comes to activity and motion, Benni pricks up his ears! He is a passionate snowboarder, mountain biker, climber & hiker and he knows no better playground for outdoor sports than the Ötztal. He is not the type to sit still - therefore Benni can be often found on the valley's most exciting bike trails and pristine powder snow slopes.

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