STORY BY CHRIS MAYS
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY STRATTON MOUNTAIN RESORT
Behind the scenes, groomers work throughout the night, creating the corduroy that brings delight to skiers and boarders in the morning.
Judy Kaczor, grooming manager at Stratton Mountain Resort, says she goes out with the grooming crew in the evenings. Shifts usually run from 4 p.m. to 2 or 4 a.m. and allow her to witness the beauty of being up on the mountain at night.
“It’s the best office,” she says.
While grooming, Kaczor gets to see the sun set. If she’s out late enough, she might see the sun rise. Occasionally, there are wildlife sightings. “A lot of foxes are on the mountain,” Kaczor notes.
One of the most satisfying parts of the job is the grooming itself.
Every night, after the skiers and riders take their last runs, her crew pushes the snow back and flattens it out, going from what Kaczor describes as “chaos” to “nice carpet.” Looking back over the work afterwards, she says, “It just looks beautiful.”
The solitude of the job also is enjoyable for Kaczor. She listens to a lot of podcasts during the shifts.
Kaczor says she would constantly go snowboarding in high school. When she didn’t know what to do with her life, teachers pointed her to the perfect program.
“And it stuck,” she says.
In 2007, Kaczor started attending school for ski area management at Gogebic Community College in Ironwood, Michigan. She has been in the industry ever since. She grew up in Michigan and moved here after college.
This marks her sixth season at Stratton Mountain Resort. She started as a slope groomer and worked her way into man- agement.
Kaczor says she always looked for places out west when considering next steps after college. Then a friend through the school program suggested she check out Stratton Mountain Resort. He was from New York and worked at Stratton.
“I was like, ‘All right, if you’ll have me, I’ll come next year,’” Kaczor recounts.
Now, her job has her more involved in daily meetings where planning takes place for determining which areas will be groomed and what needs have to be addressed on the mountain. That can entail increased coordination, moving propane tanks, and event work.
Her team is made up of about 15 to 20 employees.
Weather can be a challenge for the groomers. Challenges include rain-freeze events, as well as the big snowstorms.
“It can be difficult to work the snow and turn it up when it freezes,” Kaczor says.
Groomers need to drive slower and take a more involved approach, she notes.
“When we get a lot of snow at once, it can be difficult, as well, because then it’s spilling out,” she says. That, too, requires a change in approach.
During the off-season, she’s in charge of the trail crew. They cut under the lift lines and in the glades.
“Mowing the mountain is a lot of what I do in the summer,” Kaczor says. “We have a nice little machine that does it. It lays stripes so it looks pretty after it’s mowed.”
Kaczor describes Stratton Mountain Resort as having its own unique feel as a workplace.
“Everyone is great to work with,” she says. “We don’t come in and just talk about work. Everyone cares about each other’s well-being. We’re pretty spoiled here.”
Over the summer, the resort holds employee events. Kaczor says it’s nice to hang out with co-workers in a non-work setting.
Asked about any hopes or wishes for this season, she responds with a laugh, “Cross your fingers for less rain. Hopefully Mother Nature cooperates.”
Kaczor is excited about a brand-new Bison XW Winch Cat coming to her department, which is one of a dozen front-line grooming machines. This grooming machine has “a little more oomph” than other Snow Cats, she explains. It meets with the highest emissions standards in the world—the Euromot Stage V—and the exhaust treatment system with SCR catalytic converter and diesel particulate filter reduces emissions to a minimum. These upgrades make the Bison XW the cleanest snow groomer in its class.
“We’ve had one for the last couple of years really being the worker around the hill,” she says. “So, now, we’ll have two machines out there.”
If anyone is interested in a grooming position, Kaczor encourages them to apply. She says her department loves to take new people, even if they don’t have any experience.
One of her teammates, Miranda Metivier, started as a slope groomer at the beginning of the 2021/2022 season at Stratton Mountain Resort. Previous industry experience included work as an assistant ski instructor during the 2017/2018 season.
As a slope groomer, Metivier says she’s “responsible for all aspects of operating a groomer, including equipment checks, fueling, reporting and correcting equipment or work area hazards, and of course, grooming fresh corduroy onto the slopes.”
“I enjoy pushing huge piles of snow around and turning fresh piles of snow into perfect skiable terrain,” she says.
For Metivier, the challenges of the job involve deciding which grooming techniques to deploy with different snow conditions. She says she wants to make the hill as perfect as possible.
Metivier was born and raised in Southwestern New Hampshire, just more than an hour away from Stratton. She started skiing when she was 4 years old, and she started snowboarding at age 10.
“Skiing is what I love the most,” she says.
For Metivier, the best part about working at Stratton Mountain Resort is being able to ski on her days off or just before going into work.
“I also like the solitude of being on the mountain in the groomer and turning the trails back into what I would want to ski on,” she says.
For the upcoming season, she says she hopes “we get the most snow we’ve seen in decades and that the skiing is amazing.”