Kelly's Blog: March 13 - Ice 101

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don't.  My husband reminded me this morning not to get greedy after all the snow we received in February.  I just groaned, not wasting a word on his comment.  When meteorologists tease you with a foot of snow and you get 4", you get a little grumpy!  And like most Nor'easters, this one is blowing itself out with some terrific winds.  And if that is not enough, last night we were treated to a few hours of freezing rain.

When I went to start my car I could not open the door - iced in solid.  I tried all 4 doors - not a budge!  I went inside and asked the same husband I had just groaned at to "please, help me open my car door."  Because he is a nice guy and somehow understands my foul weather moods, he obliged.  With a spatula as a wedge he opened the back door and I crawled into the front seat and  turned all controls on high.  I started scraping the windshield but it was solid, impenetrable.  I become more agitated, knowing  the same coating had gripped our chairlifts and that our lift maintenance staff would spend the entire day de-icing.

When I arrive at the mountain, it is confirmed.  Wind hold on the summit and North Face lifts and de-icing has already started.  I pulled out a blog from January of 2012.  This blog explained the process of de-icing a lift and I thought you may like to read it so you better understand what steps we take:

Dennis Bills manages our lift maintenance department and he has walked me through the deicing process several times.

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 the top (because the ice tends to be thicker at higher elevations)  and work their way down.  They usually have four guys “leap frogging”  towers and making their way down.  Climbing icy towers, banging at 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.  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 bang ice off of each chair and clean seats.  On a detachable lift like the Canyon Express you may see them manually pushing chairs.  They do this to help space the chairs that slip and get bunched up.

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 was a little younger back then and asked his supervisor  why they kept de-icing the same lifts?  They just keep icing up again.   His supervisor pointed to a 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.”

Today's deicing is nothing like Dennis’ storm of the 80’s but it will keep he and his crew busy from until it gets too dark to climb the towers safely.

The great thing about New England weather is that if you wait a little while it will change so I am already looking ahead to tomorrow with a forecast of partly cloudy skies with a chance of flurries and in the 20's.  And yes, the winds are forecasted to die down a bit.  We will have an aggressive grooming plan for the weekend and if you look ahead to Saturday, they are forecasting temps in the 30's!!!  Can't wait.

Taken 3.13.14 @ dawn by Dave Moulton. He told me the wind is crazy up top and has blown branches all over the trails.

Nitro Express on 3.13.14

Top of Nitro Express 3.13.14

3.14.14 Update:  The Guys did a fantastic job yesterday de-icing until sunset.  They are finishing up the Challenger Triple this morning.  Pushing bubbles this morning was very noisy as we banged ice off the bubbles, shown in this video.

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