Dan Osborne is a skier — who happens to live in Florida. As such you might not think much of his idea to revolutionize ski slope grooming with his triple-wide “Snow Processing Units” that’ll turn death cookie crud into corduroy three times as fast as is presently feasible. You might not think much of groomers to begin with.
But corduroy, like it or not, is certainly here to stay. And it’s not without some great irony that ski resort maintenance contributes to the climate change that is making consistent snowfall far less consistent. Grooming slopes burns fossil fuel and even if you happen to be a certain senator from Oklahoma and don’t believe in all that climate change hokum, regardless of political persuasion you can certainly agree that gas costs money, and the more grooming you have to do, the more expensive your lift ticket will run.
Osborne’s idea attacks the fuel-thirsty groomer with tried-and-true law mowing technology. “On the way to my office in Sarasota, Florida, I saw a tractor cutting the grass three lanes wide down the center of the Interstate,” says Osborne. “That was my ‘aha’ moment. Hundreds of hours of research and much refinement later the EcoGroomer evolved to a place where it is both technically feasible and economically viable to pursue.”
The idea is pretty simple, really. Osborne realized that the weight of the cab of any cat is part of what sucks up so much gas. A typical snowcat is about 400 horsepower. But if you eliminate the cab and just add the snow-processing units to the sides you halve the power needed to run each additional unit: 200hp rather than 400hp. The math adds up to triple the coverage area for only twice the fuel. Osborne’s data says the EcoGroomer has the potential to save over 20 million gallons of diesel fuel at U.S. ski resorts by 2020.
Sounds good, but we wanted to ask Osborne for more specifics.
By the way, shortly after this interview, EcoGroomer announced that Monster Energy had come aboard as a sponsor. That seems to mean only crates of caffeinated sugar water, not startup money, however.
Wider is good, if you’re talking about big, wide slopes, blues and greens. But how could you get this thing on a single diamond, or just a narrower, mellow run?
The EcoGroomer is designed to groom 60 to 70 percent of all pistes (essentially all blue and green runs). Traditional groomers will still handle the black runs.
What about slopes that are off camber?
You need to think of these side units as compact individual snowcats that can follow the terrain and adjust for off-camber slopes. These are essentially three snowcats directed by one operator.
Aren’t a lot of folks going to be put out of work?
We are talking about 20 to 50 jobs per year attrition in North America from 2012-15 and most of these jobs are construction equipment operators who will go back to work building roads and housing developments as things pick up. Vail Resorts has a 20 percent turnover of grooming operators each year. They will just need to fill a few less next year and the following year and so on. This is a five-to-ten year transition to fully implement this technology. The experienced snowcat operators have nothing to worry about…the weaker ones will have to look elsewhere for employment in the coming years.
And when will it go into production? Who’s building it?
Pisten Bully has quoted a six to eight-month time frame to build a basic prototype for proof of concept. We are in talks with a three equipment manufacturers in the Midwest to cut that down to three to four months. I would like to bring this to market sooner than the cat manufacturers would like. They are not used to revolutionary progress. I am somewhat of a rebel in their world. This is the crux of bringing new technology to market. Stay with the old manufacturers or bring it to market another way. We will see. This is going to happen, it is just a matter of with which manufacturer and how fast.
This environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com.