Grooming: Frequently Asked Questions

Grooming perfect corduroy is a complex art and science that is influenced by multiple factors including: temperature variations, wind, snow type, sun and shade exposure, frequency and amount of snow fall, type of grooming machine and the attached implements, time of day grooming occurs, speed of machine, experience of the groomers and more. When Meissner Nordic’s groomers work on the trails they consider all of these factors. We are lucky to have two very experienced groomers who have been with us for four years, and who work late night and early morning hours. The groomers are the only paid staff that we have, all other work is accomplished with volunteer effort.

Many trail users want to know more about grooming and how it affects the trail conditions. Please read on for responses to our most frequently asked questions:

What kind of machines does Meissner Nordic have and what do they do?

We have two machines for grooming: a PistenBully 100 snowcat and a BearCat snowmobile with a Ginzu grooming implement attached to the back.

The old BR400 which we had used for years, had become too maintenance needy, and the decision was made in 2013 to purchase a new groomer. The PB 100, our primary grooming machine, is about 2 1/2 years old. It was purchased by Meissner Nordic with donations from supporters and sponsors in a campaign which raised about $115,000, and with a $75,000 loan from Bank of the Cascades. The cat’s weight and power allow us to manage heavy snow-fall and churn up hard packed snow. Assuming no mechanical issues, grooming all the trails at Meissner takes 6 to 8 hours. Depending on snow conditions, the cat burns 6-8 gallons of diesel fuel per hour.

The BearCat with its Ginzu attachment complements the snowcat and allows us to groom the narrow or twisty trails and touch up the primary trails when there has been little change in the trail conditions. In low snow conditions, we use it so we don’t find ourselves grooming dirt into the snow. Since the BearCat is small, it is not helpful when we receive big snowfalls. A volunteer corps of groomers usually drives the snowmobile unless our primary groomers determine that it is the best or only (due to mechanical issues) means of setting the trails that day. It burns about a gallon of fuel every 4 hours.

What is tilling and how does that help?

Tilling is essentially “churning” up the snow. The tiller is attached to the back of the cat and contains a spinning auger bar and heavy plastic combs. The speed at which the auger bar spins impacts how well we are able to tear apart the snow or ice and lay it down again as corduroy. When there is fresh snow, the tiller does not have to work very hard. When conditions are icy, the auger bar needs to spin quickly to churn the trail surface into fine particles, which the combs press into new corduroy. With hard snow the auger bar has a hard time maintaining speed, so we must keep a shallow depth of cut to keep the bar spinning.

How fast should the cat or snowmobile go?

The cat always moves at a relatively slow pace, regardless of the conditions. When conditions are ideal, the cat can go full speed approximately 7 mph. During freeze-thaw cycles we run the cat much slower to allow the tiller more time to process the snow. The snowmobile also drives relatively slowly. In icy conditions, we will drive more slowly. We also run over a trail multiple times with the snowmobile to put out a quality product.

What is the blade?

The blade is the implement attached to the front of the cat and is mostly used to grade and flatten the trail. The blade cuts into high points and brings the snow into holes or to the low side of the trail. It does crunch up the snow some and helps the tiller process snow, but the primary function of the blade is moving snow to create a flat, level trail.

How do snow conditions impact the quality of a groomed trail?

In an ideal world, we would receive moderate amounts of snowfall every couple days that could be mixed into the existing base to keep the trails fresh, smooth and firm. However, Meissner’s geographical location on the lee side of the Cascades brings inconsistent snowfall. When the area experiences cold temperatures and low humidity and receives no new snow, good trail conditions can be maintained if there is already a firm base. Too much snow all at once makes the trails too soft and as a result, trail users’ poles punch through, which creates challenging skating conditions. No new snow conditions, accompanied by significant temperature fluctuations and higher humidity create a freeze-thaw cycle. When this happens, the trails become icy and require significant mechanical assistance to churn up the ice and set nice corduroy and classic tracks.

What is the best time of day to groom?

The best time to groom Meissner’s trails is early in the morning. Our groomers begin work late at night and work until the early morning. When the temperature fluctuates significantly above and below freezing, it can be beneficial to groom in the late afternoon when the snow is somewhat melted to let the trail “set up” overnight. When this is done, early morning skiers will experience icy corduroy, but as it warms the trails become nice. If someone skis on those trails just after they have been groomed in the late afternoon, this destroys the corduroy and leaves frozen ski tracks in the snow for the next morning, which results in grumpy early morning skiers and dangerous conditions. We have considered grooming in the late afternoon but have decided not to because of the number of trail users at that time and the possibility of dangerous conditions the following day.