Copper Mountain employee crowned snowmaker of the year by Colorado Ski Country USA

Hodge is entering his 4th season at Copper this upcoming winter

Copper Mountain Resort/Courtesy photo
Gabe Hodge of Copper Mountain Resort poses for a photo after being recognized By Colorado Ski Country USA for being the snowmaker of the year.
Copper Mountain Resort/Courtesy photo

There are a lot of challenging jobs at ski resorts. From grooming trails while operating heavy machinery, designing terrain park jumps or keeping the public safe from avalanches and hazards, many jobs must be completed in order to ensure a fun-filled day of skiing and riding.

It can be easy to overlook just how much snow is beneath one’s feet while cruising down the mountain in the middle of the winter. Although frequent winter storms help to boost the ski resort’s snow base depths, almost every ski area in the country begins the winter by blowing snow across the mountain in order to put a thick base on the ground and ensure better late-season skiing or riding. 

Copper Mountain Resort’s Gabe Hodge was recently recognized for his work as a Level 3 snowmaker at the 2023 Colorado Ski Country USA Double Diamond Awards on June 8. After just three seasons at Copper, Hodge — who also operates snowcats — received the snowmaker of the year award from Colorado Ski Country USA. 

Hodge was honored to receive the award, but also said it was interesting to be honored for an individual award in a field of work that requires a lot of teamwork.

“Without teamwork, trust, safety and hard work, an incredibly difficult job becomes even harder,” Hodge said. “Not only is it physically demanding, but it becomes mentally demanding because of the hours.”

At Copper, the snowmaking team starts making snow in October, with four crews rotating on 12-hour shifts. The crews work long shifts until the ski resort is done making snow for the season — typically at the end of December. 

During snowmaking time, the day crew works from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the night crew works from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., according to Hodge. The two shifts ensure snow is being made 24 hours a day and blanketing the ski resort in a fresh layer of human-made snow.

Hodge says blowing snow is often a balancing act, involving not only making the most snow possible in the current conditions, but also the best quality snow. As a result, most shifts are quite hectic, with little downtime.

“There are a lot of moving pieces,” Hodge said. “Our crews are constantly on the move making gun runs, checking snow quality and gun positions and also getting gear off of finished trails and moved to our next destination. There’s rarely a long break in the workday, but it’s a lot of fun and the time often flies by.”

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Anytime a skier or rider sees a snowmaking gun running on the mountain, there are usually workers nearby. One snowmaker might be positioning the gun or changing the gun style and amount of hose that is required for the job, while another snowmaker will likely stand under the plume of fresh flurries to check the quality of the snow. 

As an official training ground for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team, much of the early season snowmaking work does entail getting the resort’s 22-foot halfpipe, U.S. Ski team speed/tech venue and Woodward terrain parks covered with enough snow for the professional athletes to start training by late fall or early winter, but Hodge says that doesn’t mean the pros are the only ones getting attention early in the season.

“Contrary to what people may think, our attention is just as focused on your everyday skier and snowboarder as it is for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team,” Hodge said  “Our desire for high quality snow is the same no matter where we’re making snow and we always aim to have the most diverse terrain available to the public on opening day.”

Once all of the snow has been blown on a specific segment of a trail, snowmakers will waste no time detaching the equipment and moving it to the next trail that needs to be hit with the snow gun. 

“During the snowmaking season, there’s never a day where we aren’t making snow, setting up trails with gear or doing maintenance,” Hodge said. 

Even when the snowmaking team is done blowing snow for the season, the work continues over the summer with pump maintenance, pipe repair work and replacement, repair, rebuilds, gun maintenance, and shop organization. Ultimately everything that is done in the summer or “offseason” prepares Hodge and the team for the start of next winter.  

Copper Mountain Resort/Courtesy photo
Copper Mountain Resort’s Gabe Hodge poses for a photo while working at Copper Mountain Resort.
Copper Mountain Resort/Courtesy photo

Outside of his leadership on Copper’s snowmaking team, Hodge was also recognized for his passion to help Colorado Mountain College students develop their skills and foster their own love for snowmaking.

“I wouldn’t have developed my skills or passion for snowmaking without Michael Ostrout, Marc McConnel, Steve Walter and Maddy Pierce,” Hodge said. “Each one of them took me under their wing and taught me how to be a good, safe and effective snowmaker. I’m forever grateful for them and hope to pay it forward by teaching the next generation of snowmakers.”

Beyond teaching and inspiring the next generation, Hodge says he hopes to continue to grow in his career at Copper by surrounding himself with people who are wiser than him. 

“Continuing to learn how to become a better snowmaker, groomer, coworker and teacher who is  dedicated to supporting our team and my foreman in both short- and long-term goals,” Hodge said.

Hodge would also like to thank his manager — Mike Looney — and supervisor — Ned Sims — as each play a big role in his day to day job with Sims nominating him for the award.  

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