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Fresh Take on Snow Grooming

It's no secret that buying and operating snow grooming equipment can be very expensive, but Mountain States Snowcats is offering an alternative
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Photos courtesy of Mountain States Snowcats

Owning and operating a snow grooming fleet can be a costly proposition for any ski resort or recreation area. But for smaller operations, as well as for many snowmobile clubs and cross-country ski groups, the impact on the bottom line can be particularly acute, and there’s also the problem of how to find qualified grooming operators who consistently deliver a great product on the trails or the slopes.

For businesses and organizations looking to ease challenges like these, a Rocky Mountains-based company says it has the answer.

Mountain States Snowcats is a full-service snow grooming firm that offers turnkey solutions to ski resorts, recreation areas and winter sports organizations. The company has a large fleet of snowcats that are contracted out and it also provides customers with skilled operators to run them, removing the headache of having to purchase, maintain and operate costly snow grooming equipment.

“A lot of smaller ski areas have a hard time with snow grooming,” said Jeremy Straley, who founded Mountain States Snowcats in 2000. “If you only have the need for one snowcat and it breaks down, that can put people in a big bind,” Straley said. “When they work with us, they never have to worry about summer maintenance or major machine rebuilds or anything like that. They know their snow grooming budget, and it’s fixed.”

Snow grooming contracting is what Mountain States Snowcats specializes in, but it also provides snowcat sales and rental options. Straley maintains that ski operations, snowmobile clubs and cross-country ski groups are starting to see the advantages of leasing their snow grooming equipment rather than owning it.

“When people lease a snowcat from us, they have security of knowing that if something happens to it, they can call our mechanic directly and it’s taken care of,” Straley said. 

“Our leases cover all maintenance and service right down to the wipers and the oil changes. If the machine does break down or even blows an engine, then they’ll have another one there for them to run the next day.”

Straley notes that Mountain States Snowcats customers who choose to lease also don’t have to worry about where to store their snow grooming equipment at the end of the season. 

“We’ll pull the snowcat out of there so it’s not in their way, and then come next fall the machine goes back serviced and ready to go to work,” he said. Straley says his fleet of snowcats is one of the largest in the U.S., and that they are used to prepare downhill ski courses, build terrain parks and groom every type of ski trail, even the smallest trails for fat biking. The company runs mostly Prinoth snowcats, although there are a few Favero Lorenzo and Tucker machines in the mix. 

Straley points out that Mountain States Snowcats strives to hire the best operators they can get their hands on. 

“We really headhunt our grooming operators to find people with a lot of experience, so many of our guys will have 20 years in the machine,” he said. “We’ve got about 15 operators who are really key people, and we also have lots of part-time operators who work for the major ski resorts four days a week and who’ll then work for [us] one or two days a week.”

The company also offers customers who have their own snow grooming personnel training programs for operators as well as snowcat mechanics.

Mountain States Snowcats’ head office is in Torrington, Wyo., and there are numerous work yards located in Wyoming, Colorado and Michigan. Straley says his clients are situated all over the Rocky Mountain region and into the Midwest as well. The company has even gone as far afield as Oregon and Vermont to provide snowcats for customers.

Straley says Mountain States Snowcats has more offerings on top of snow grooming services and snowcat sales and rentals.

The company provides snow removal and seasonal road opening services, and it also offers transportation to cell towers and remote locations during wintertime. In addition, Mountain States Snowcats will help out with vehicle recovery for customers who have machines that are snowed in.

Satisfied customers

For the past five years, the town of Winter Park, Colo., a popular ski destination about 60 miles west of Denver, has commissioned snow grooming services from Mountain States Snowcats.

Winter Park has a number of Nordic ski trails running through the community. The town’s capital projects, parks and trails manager, Gerry Vernon, says the trails are heavily used by residents and visitors throughout the winter, so proper maintenance is important.

According to Vernon, a team from Mountain States Snowcats arrives each fall, cleaning and grubbing the trails to ensure snow grooming equipment can get through, and then begins operations as soon as there’s enough snow to keep it groomed. The trails are groomed on a twice-a-week schedule and also as needed after significant snowfalls. 

“I’ll call Jeremy if there’s been a big dump of snow, and they will get right on it,” said Vernon. “They’ve been spot on with great customer service and we’ve never had any problems with them responding to issues that arise during the winter season.”

In addition, Winter Park relies on Mountain States Snowcats to groom a popular sledding hill that’s located in a downtown park. The company is also contracted to clear snow from a road that connects the community to the nearby Continental Divide. 

‘It’s kind of a tourist draw, so the county and the town share the bill to get a snowcat up there and clear the road in late May, early June so people can get up there earlier,” said Vernon. “Otherwise, people can’t get up there until July.”

Vernon says the decision by the town not to have its own snow grooming equipment and crew made sense for a number of reasons.

“It’s very expensive and it actually requires some expertise,” he said. “I believe the town used to own an old worn-out snow cat groomer, but it was very difficult to maintain. For our limited area, it’s much better at this point to contract it out and let someone else worry about running the equipment and providing the skilled drivers to do it.

“It’s definitely more cost-effective, and you also probably get a better product with experienced groomer operators.”

Mountain States Snowcats also provides grooming services for the Headwaters Trails Alliance, which oversees a cross-country trail system in Grand Country, Colo., not far from Winter Park. 

Meara McQuain, executive director of the Headwaters Trails Alliance, says in addition to grooming a 20-mile trail loop for the organization, Mountain States Snowcats assists in trail preparation each fall by removing brush and tree stumps, and will also help flag routes for new trails. 

McQuain says her organization relies on volunteers to groom other trails within their trail network and is thankful for their help. But she adds the quality of work performed by Mountain States Snowcats groomers always stands out.

“Our winters are long and cold with a lot of snow and it can be challenging to expect volunteers to weather all of the conditions at all times,” McQuain said. “Mountain States Snowcats is available in all snow conditions and can adjust its schedule according to the snowfall.”