Copper’s trail crew lends a hand to all
COPPER MOUNTAIN – Every major Colorado ski resort has numerous cogs in its wheel. Copper Mountain’s trail crew is a small but hard-working group that performs myriad mountain-wide functions.From setting snow fences to maintaining trail signs to shoveling decks, the trail crew is as ubiquitous as ski patrol, only smaller in numbers.The four-person team is headed by foreman Kristie Huff, a 27-year Copper employee. The Denver native has spent 20 of those years on the trail crew.”It’s a really independent job,” said Huff, who broke in at Copper as a bus driver. “Our bosses don’t really watch over us so much. We know what we need to do and we take care of it.”Huff’s co-workers are Slater Bootenhoff, Greg Kellogg and Joey Klava.
Copper’s trail crew makes up one half of Copper’s Slope Maintenance Department, with the six-person park crew comprising the other half. The park crew is responsible for maintaining Copper’s halfpipes and terrain parks.The basic responsibilities of the trail crew are as follows:Snow fencing: Snow fencing is generally installed during late fall before it begins to snow. Canadian Slat Fences, as they are referred to by some crew members, are used in areas of high elevation and wind exposure to create massive snow drifts. “One way to maintain the slopes is to catch the snow and keep it where it should be,” Bootenhoff said.According to Huff, snow fences make trails significantly wider.”A snow fence will usually throw a drift 10 times its height,” Huff said. “The drifts they cause can be 40 feet wide.”
This preseason, Huff estimates her crew set up approximately five miles of slat fencing throughout the resort. Toward the latter part of ski season, once snow is well-packed and no longer in jeopardy of blowing away, many snow fences become obsolete and are ready for removal. Snow packing: After the snow falls, the trail crew helps prepare ski trails for opening. In places of high elevation and steep pitch where snowcats can’t go, it’s up to Huff’s crew to compact the snow to prevent it from blowing away. Packing snow the old-fashioned way – side stepping up and down slopes on skis – takes considerable time and effort. As a result, Copper welcomes a host of snow-packing volunteers each fall. Seven days of diligent packing equals a free season pass.Shoveling: Whenever snowflakes accumulate, the trail crew must clear each of the mountain’s three decks and five picnic tables. In addition, they shovel out buried transformers that may be needed in cases of emergency.According to Bootenhoff, this year’s large amount of snow has had both pros and cons.”In some ways it’s easier because we don’t have to worry about rocks, terrain and getting things open,” he said. “On the other hand, we’ve had to shovel a hell of a lot more.”
Miscellaneous: Trail Clearing, padding and sign maintenance. Any time a tree falls or is knocked over onto a run, the trail crew converges on the scene with chainsaws to clear the debris. They also ensure that snow blowing towers and hydrants are properly equipped with safety padding. The crew also maintains each of the resort’s trail signs (each of the 125 trails has at least one sign).In addition to its primary responsibilities, the trail crew is always on call to assist other teams.”We help every department on the hill if they need help,” Bootenhoff said. “It’s a support department.”According to Huff, the tightly knit crew seems to enjoy its multi-faceted job description. “Every day is a little different, it’s a nice job,” she said. “There’s always something going on. All of us are trained to drive a snowcat, operate a snowmobile, and assist ski patrol with lift evacuations. Whatever goes down, we’re available.
“I’ve even stripped beds and bussed tables,” Huff added.Every job has its downsides, however. For Kellogg, sustained cold spells are a drawback.”When we get a weeklong cold snap, it gets a little old,” said Kellogg, a four-year member of Huff’s crew. “But we’re outdoors all the time and we do get our share of powder skiing.” Like Huff, Kellogg is a year-round member of the trail crew. He said the summer crew, which includes roughly 10 employees, focuses largely on trail clearing, trail sign maintenance and general excavation projects.Adam Boffey can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13631, or at email@example.com.
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