1.28.12 The Devil Wears Glass Slippers

Saturday, January 28, 2012

 Everything looks beautiful with a little sparkle.  Driving down my road today I had to stop and snap a picture.  Each branch was encased in ice like a perfectly fitting glass slipper.  The sun caught the crystals and multiplied the brilliance like a million prisms.  It is on days like this that I find it hard to put my camera away.  However, looks can be deceiving and I remind myself of all the work these little icicles put our lift mechanics through just 24 hours ago.

Yesterday, when I went to start my car it was entombed in ice, the kind that the scraper cannot penetrate.  I puncture a little hole and work out from that spot, knowing the same coating has gripped our chairlifts and that our lift maintenance staff will spend the entire day de-icing.

Dennis Bills manages our lift maintenance department and he always makes time to answer all my questions, walk me through lift mechanical scenarios and tell tall ice tales.  Here's the basic process:

 Lift mechanics start by climbing lift towers and banging ice off the sheaves.  At the top of each lift tower is a cross arm and the sheave wheels are attached.  The mechanics start  at highest tower because the ice tends to be thicker at higher elevations.  They usually have four guys “leap frogging”  towers and making their way down.  Climbing icy towers, banging the ice (which usually showers you), often in high winds takes skill and guts and I am always thankful when the day is complete and these guys get to head home.

 When all of the towers are complete they “bump” (run the lift) the lift to verify that everything turns.  If not, they go back to the sheaves and do it again.  I asked Dennis what his "tool of choice" is for banging ice.  Dennis informed me he has a special 36mm wrench with a small handle and big fat head and everyone knows not to touch it. 

 At the same time that the lift mechanics are doing their work, the lift operators are cleaning the loading decks and when the lift starts to spin they have to bang ice off of each chair. 

 I asked Dennis to tell me about the most ice he has ever seen.  He couldn't remember for sure but recalled it being back  in the 80’s.  Dennis told me that they de-iced for 7 days straight, sometimes twice a day and some of those lifts never ran in the 7 days.  Dennis asked his supervisor why they kept de-icing the same lifts, seeing how they just kept icing up again.   His supervisor pointed to a thickly iced tree and said, “You see that tree over there?"  "If we didn't get a little each day it would accumulate.”  I asked Dennis how thick the ice was.  He said, “We didn't measure in inches, we measured in feet.”

NO...that is not Mount Snow in the picture below.  But it is a photo that Dennis shares every once in a while.  Maybe as a reminder that the weather is always worse somewhere.

 Yesterday, the lift maintenance crew had a rookie out with them, Brendan.  Brendan told me the ice was thickest over in Sunbrook.  He measured 1.1 inches.  Dennis said the thickness depends which direction the freezing rain comes in from, generally it is out of the south.  Yesterday was nothing like Dennis’ storm of the 80’s but it kept the crew busy from dawn until dusk.

Here's a shot taken on Friday, 1/27.

That is a very quick de-icing how to.  Learning the process has helped me to appreciate the work that goes into each lift. 

I am always amazed at what a difference a day makes - I had fun snapping pictures of today for you!

AM Express with Dave, Vin, Glenn, Mark, Mitz and Brian






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