A groomer operator drives the snow groomer, which is also known as a snow cat. Many believe that grooming trails and ski slopes is an easy task, but they are wrong! Contrary to popular belief, grooming involves far more than driving a giant machine up and down. Doing it right requires deep knowledge of the special equipment as well as the snow conditions.
If you want to be a groomer operator, or would just like to know about this world, this post is for you.
We at PowerSportsGuide have compiled the key info about this profession under one roof!
What is a Snow Groomer Operator?
There are a huge number of snowmobile tracks and ski resorts in the U.S. and Canada, which require regular maintenance. The main purpose of grooming the snow is to keep the slopes and trails in a safe and enjoyable condition.
As ski tickets and snowmobile club memberships are not cheap, customers have a legitimate expectation of high-quality snow!
To keep these slopes and trails in good shape the clubs and resorts typically use snow groomers, which are basically huge snow cats specially designed to maintain trails and ski slopes. These vehicles are operated by skilled drivers, which are often referred to as ski groomers or groomer operators.
To operate these machines safely and efficiently drivers need a lot of skill and experience. What’s more, grooming is typically done at night or dusk, which makes the job even harder.
When it comes to maintaining ski slopes, groomer professionals typically work in two shifts. The first shift starts immediately after the slopes close, usually at 4:00 PM, and end at midnight.
The second shift starts at midnight and ends at 8:00 AM, before the slopes open for visitors.
Before the shift, operators have to check the daily checklist and the grooming plan. Additionally, they have to warm up and carefully inspect the machine to make sure it works properly.
Throughout the shift, operators have to monitor all the gauges as well as the snow conditions.
The other downside of this work is that groomers must run on weekends and holidays as well. Thus, the operators need to be prepared to work on these days too.
And we can’t forget to mention the overtime! Since the work hours are strongly dependent on the weather and snow conditions, they often cannot be accurately estimated.
What’s more, even if these giant snow cats seem to be bulletproof, they can be easily damaged.
Because of this, operators also must have good knowledge of the surroundings. Stationary objects like rocks, trees, or other elements can be dangerous for the machine. And damaging a groomer can easily end in costly repairs!
They also have to handle the “trial bamboos,” since running over them is never a wise thing to do.
It’s also good to know that the maintenance of certain equipment can also be part of the job, just like keeping records of the operations.
In most cases the trails/resorts are managed by a team, which means groomer drivers need to be able to work well with others. Even if driving a groomer seems like a lonely occupation at first glance, drivers have to cooperate with others in many cases.
As an example, they work closely together with snow makers, since they have to be advised where the critical areas are that require fresh snow.
When artificial snow is made, it usually accumulates in small mounds that have to be spread out later by the groomers.
However, it’s safe to say that groomer operators spend most of their working hours alone in the cabin.
How do You Become a Ski Groomer?
If you want to become a ski groomer, there are many requirements you must meet. As these may vary from one employer to the next, it’s impossible to provide an exact list of them. However, without the need for accuracy, the most common requirements are usually as follows:
- Ability for multi-tasking and handling several controls at once
- You have to be at least 18 (or 21) years of age or older
- Must be able to work in shifts, especially on nights (and on weekends and holidays as well)
- You also have to be able to work in a sitting position for several hours
- Must have a valid driver’s license (with no restrictions)
- You have to be in good physical condition (able to lift 50-100 pounds, climb on and off the cabin frequently, or shovel snow for extended periods of time)
- Ability to work outdoors in cold and harsh weather conditions
- For many employers an end of season commitment may be required
- You must be a good team player
- Good ski and snowboard skills are preferred (or often required)
- You have to have mechanical skills as well as a good understanding of snow cats and their accessories
Beware that these are just a few typical examples, so you may have to meet several other requirements!
Are you wondering if you can be a ski groomer driver without experience? The good news is yes, since you can find job offers that don’t require any experience. (Although it’s always preferred.)
You can find snow groomer courses where you can pick up the basics. Another trick is to spend time with other experienced groomer operators to gain experience and knowledge.
At many resorts, there are various tasks for groomers. Besides regular slope and trail maintenance, groomers can build and maintain snowboard parks or even huge half pipes. This makes this job varied and more interesting!
Are you wondering how much you can earn at this job? Keep reading!
How Much Do Snow Groomer Operators Make?
According to Salaryexpert, snow groomer operators make an average of $44,680 in the U.S. This results in an hourly rate of $21. Besides the regular salary, they can expect a bonus of an average of $755 as well. Although, experience plays an important role in this matter. Beginner groomer operators can make an average of $33,318 (with 1-3 years of experience), while those with 8+ years of experience can expect to make $54,136.
Snow Groomer Trainings
Snow groomer trainings are becoming more and more important these days. This is because the prices and maintenance costs of snow groomers have skyrocketed.
Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to leave these expensive machines to incompetent hands!
So, if you would like to be a professional snow groomer operator, it’s recommended that you take one of these courses. You can choose from many onsite as well as “on the spot” trainings, which are often manufacturer independent.
The market leader Kässbohrer (PistonBully) also released online courses known as the “PRO ACADEMY.” The German manufacturer recommends its entry-level training courses for anyone who wants to be a snow groomer driver.
Besides the independent trainings, every major groomer manufacturer offers brand-specific official operator trainings in many different locations around the world.
Operating a snow groomer is an exciting and interesting occupation. However, it seems ski resort operations in the U.S. are struggling to find experienced groomer drivers!
This is because contrary to popular belief, properly operating a snow groomer is not easy. It requires various skills as well as a lot of practice, so driving one is definitely not for everyone.
Snow groomers are very expensive, so even a small mistake can lead to very costly repairs!
If you want to be a snow groomer driver, you can make a good start with an online/onsite course, but employers also offer on-the-job trainings.