The season is over, the lifts are open. Summer is coming. What happens to the ski slopes now? SnowTrex asked someone who knows all about piste maintenance. Friedl Eberl is an authorised signatory and operations manager at Bergbahnen Hohe Salve/SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser – Brixental. He is responsible for the operation, maintenance and care of the mountain lifts and pistes in Hopfgarten-Itter-Kelchsau.
Mr Eberl, what happens when the season is over?
On the first day after the official end of the ski season, we start dismantling the slopes straight away. Each mountain railway removes the safety equipment, piste markings, barrier tape and impact mats in its area of responsibility. Everything, but really everything, that doesn’t look good in the ski area has to be removed in spring. We do this work while there is still snow so that we can remove the material more easily with the piste machines. The material is then stored at the valley stations. The next step is the cleaning work after the snow has melted. Starting at the bottom, we tidy up the slopes. Every piece of dirt, every piece of paper that people leave behind has to be picked up.
Do guests leave a lot of rubbish behind?
I have to say that the amount of rubbish has decreased in recent years. The occasional pair of glasses, stick, key or wallet, that’s it. The problem is still the small things like handkerchiefs and cigarette waste. There’s quite a lot there.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve found on the piste so far?
I once went out on a caterpillar track. It was early in the morning when it was snowing lightly. We saw something red lying in the middle of a beautiful piste. We got out and looked at it up close. It was a small pair of panties, and 20 metres further up was a bra. It makes you wonder how lingerie gets to this place? We had to smile a lot. We save valuable finds such as passports, car keys or purses and keep a list of them.
How much time is left for piste maintenance between seasons?
Skiing is open until April. The entire ski area has to be clean by mid-May. Everything has to be ready within a month. We can never rule out the possibility of a piste machine damaging something, i.e. causing damage to the slope. This damage must, of course, also be repaired by us.
What happens before the start of the winter season?
The cattle drive is at the end of September. As soon as the cattle have left, we can set everything up again. The summer season ends in mid-October and the winter season starts at the beginning of December. So again, we only have just over a month for this. Of course, the snow cannons also have to be set up again.
Where do the snow groomers spend the summer?
The snow groomers are parked in garages on the slopes. Each machine needs its own parking space, so our twelve machines need twelve garages. That takes up a lot of space, but they can’t be parked outside, not only for visual reasons but also for technical reasons.
Where do the gondolas and chairlifts spend the summer?
On the modern lifts, the individual gondolas are taken off the rope every day and serviced if necessary. On the older lifts, the chairs remain on the rope. There aren’t many of the older chairlifts left in the SkiWelt anyway. In the case of older lifts, we consider on a case-by-case basis whether to leave the chairs on over the summer. In these cases, it’s really only the appearance on the mountain that counts. If it disturbs the landscape, the chairs come off. Many of our gondolas also run in summer. Basic maintenance must be carried out immediately after the season. The lifts that also run in summer undergo basic maintenance at the end of the season in spring and again before the start of the season in autumn. There are a lot of regulations to follow, even though we only have one month to do this. The lifts that only run in winter are then gradually serviced over the summer.
What do the lift workers and snow groomer drivers do in summer?
In winter, we have around 100 employees in Hopfgarten. Of these, 80 people are only with us in the three main months. Most of them are farmers and construction workers who can’t work on the building site in winter. They are all well-qualified workers. Lorry drivers move the snow groomers because they can drive the machines. As I said, we have twelve caterpillars for our area alone.
Do the drivers need a lot of expertise to prepare the pistes?
The snow groomer drivers have a tough job, it’s all night work. The journeys take eight to nine hours. Over the last five years, cable winch technology has become established in piste preparation, as it delivers the best results. The snow is pushed up the piste, i.e. always from the bottom to the top. To do this, the piste machine is attached to a rope that is anchored at the top of the mountain. The rope is then tensioned up to 1,000 metres downwards and the caterpillar is pulled upwards on the rope. This saves the machine a lot of energy. We can also prepare very steep slopes perfectly in this way. It is the most energy-efficient variant of piste preparation to date.
Are there any risks involved in grooming with rope technology?
The rope is tensioned approx. 1.70 metres above the ground. If your colleagues drive into it, it’s life-threatening. We don’t tension the rope immediately after the piste ends at 4.30 pm, but if someone wants to ski down later in the twilight, the rules must be observed. We put up rotating lights and warning signs. Nevertheless, some people overlook or ignore our warnings and accidents do happen. We really have to be careful. Of course, no piste machines are in operation when the lift is open.
FAQs on piste maintenance
What happens to the slopes after the end of the season?
The dismantling of the pistes begins immediately after the end of the season: piste markings, impact mats, barrier tapes, etc. – everything is cleared away. As soon as the snow has melted, the ski area is also tidied up: all rubbish is collected so that the meadows can be mown and maintained in summer.
What can be found in the ski area after the snow melts?
In addition to the usual rubbish such as paper scraps and cigarette butts, the mountain railway companies also frequently find glasses, sticks, keys and wallets.
What happens to the slopes before the start of the season?
After the cattle drive, the area is prepared for skiing. All machines and materials such as snow cannons, impact mats, piste markings etc. are set up again.
Where do snow groomers spend the summer?
Snow groomers are kept in their own garages in summer.