Ever wandered about the groomers who work through the night smoothing out the bumps for you to ski beautiful fresh corduroy each morning? I caught up with Karen who is doing her second season grooming at Thredbo this winter and went out for a spin and chat in her cat.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh and skiing in a little ski area called Seven Springs, Karen wanted to be a park skier, but after blowing out her knees five times and having five knee surgeries between the age of 18 and 22, that was no longer an option. “I was looking for something interesting where I can ski all day and work at night, I thought if I can’t ski what will I do, I’ll just build the jumps.”
After spending a couple of summers skiing and working at a summer park camp on a glacier in Oregon and a couple of years instructing at Copper, she moved to Colorado when she was 18 to study the ski area operations program at Colorado Mountain College. With subjects such as ski patrol, grooming, snow making and instructing, when she finished she chose to do her internship at Beaver Creek, Colorado as a groomer.
“With grooming I can work until midnight, go home, sleep, and still wake up at 8.30 and go skiing. I really like my job, especially winching, because you do it alone, so it’s your project from start to finish.” The winch is a cable that attaches to an anchor, it helps you push more snow than you would in a normal machine and it helps you climb up the steep sections. Normally if you’re free grooming, it’s in a group of three because it’s faster, it’s more efficient, staggered side by side.
Karen has been a groomer for 10 years, and has done 15 seasons counting back to back winters. When she’s not grooming in the Southern Hemisphere, Karen lives in France in a resort called Les Arcs where she has been living and grooming since 2009. She is fluent in French, “I never thought in a million years that I’d be bilingual and living in Europe”. Karen has traveled a lot, and also worked in New Zealand and one year when there wasn’t much snow in France she lived in Iceland for a month. Working at a little ski resort, a one man show where the groomer is also the ski patroller and the lifty. He needed some help, so off she went.
“My parent’s live in America so I visit them every other year, we take it in turn, so I’m due to go back there in November. I took a summer last year. I stayed in France and it was the worst summer they’ve had as far as of nice weather and sunshine. It rained and it was cold the whole time.”
Karen is also a mum, “I’ve got a little boy who is 5, that’s why I live in France. He’s with his Dad and they’re travelling around South America at the moment. When he was younger he used to travel with me, he went to New Zealand twice and America, but now being in school he couldn’t come in on the visa. He’s speaking Spanish now, as well as French and English and he loves to ski. We go to the local ski club every weekend, that’s our Saturday routine. He likes the machines, and tells me what to do. ‘You need a little bit more snow in the blade, he tells me.'”
The shift hours don’t bother Karen, “I’ve only ever had this as a job so I’m not used to much else. When I first worked here it was really hard because we did one week pm shift (4pm – 12.30am), one week am shift (12.00am – 8.30 am), it changed every week and that was really difficult. In France it depends on the weather. We always work in the afternoon unless they forecast snow and then we work in the morning. If they forecast a nice day after that we’ll do a double shift and work twice in the one day. So that gets a bit tiring. But this, the same shift every day, 4 pm to 12.30 am, I really enjoy it.”
“The last time I was here at Thredbo in 2013 there were three girl groomers which was really nice. I’ve never had any issues with the guys here. In France I do occasionally because, they’re macho and they’re not used to girls having this job, but I like what I do and I want to continue doing it so I don’t care what they have to say about it.”
So that’s an insight into the life of a groomer, working nights, skiing days and currently Karen is doing it all with a broken wrist. This girl rocks.