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Preparing the ski runs with Oscar Bonzon, Villars

Oscar Bonzon

Oscar Bonzon

He divides his life between his summertime activities as a farmer and his position as head of grooming the Villars-Gryon region’s ski area in winter. Head of a team of 15 people, he provides us with information about grooming the ski runs in winter.
Looking after the ski area in winter requires some 15 people and ten snow cats, three of which are exclusively devoted to maintaining the cross country ski runs, while three others are equipped with winches with cables, which are long enough to reach for a kilometre with a diameter of 11mm. The winch system makes it possible to help the machine on steep slopes, but is also used to spare the machine’s motors during more difficult work.

The 15 ski run workers are divided into two teams, who for safety reasons work outside the opening times of the runs. The first team, with seven people, begins when the lifts close around 5pm, no matter what the state of the runs, to smooth them and put them back in order. The second team, consisting of three people,
takes over around 2am and finishes the work. The machines are equipped with GPS and screens which enable them to follow the movements of each snow cat. The drivers communicate by mobile phone which also helps them not die of boredom during the long solitary nights. It takes several years to completely master the machines, the grooming plans, the ski area and the difficult conditions that can sometimes occur.

The blue and red runs are prepared every day, while the black runs are sometimes worked on with a gap of several days. At the beginning of the season, at least 40cm of snow is required to enable the machines to make their first intervention. During these interventions, the height of the snow is halved so 20cm of snow must remain, in order for the bar tread tyres to work properly. As soon as the first sow falls, the entire ski area is smoothed, even outside the runs to compact the snow and to create snow quarries or dikes (large piles of snow along the side of the runs). These dykes make it possible to automatically harvest the snow that has been moved by the wind. They therefore grow naturally throughout the season.

On average, a snow cat is about 12m long, four to six metres wide and weighs between ten and 12 tons. Its life expectancy is around five years.

What do you think about during these long hours?
This work requires great concentration, due to sometimes difficult conditions, lack of visibility and the presence of wild animals and people doing ski mountaineering who it is sometimes hard for the driver to see…

Happy moments?
To see the tracks of lynx and ibex, to watch grouse early in the morning that even the noise of the machines doesn’t chase away …

The greatest memory?
The lynx fleeing the snow cat, which hid in the chalet of the only inhabitant at Bretaye who lives there all year round