One of the biggest challenges for many North American ski hill operations is finding experienced people who can operate snow grooming machines to move the mounds of white stuff needed to shape their winter wonderland.
Unlike many businesses that can access a steady stream of trained graduates from colleges or trade schools, most ski operations must provide their own on-the-job training or hire people who were trained at another resort.
While a “Snow Grooming U” might seem like an ideal solution, it’s remained something of a dream … until earlier this year.
In May, Kässbohrer All Terrain Vehicles officially launched its PRO ACADEMY at the National Ski Areas Association conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. The aim of the program is to provide professional snow grooming training to ensure efficient and sustainable slope management. It’s based on a similar program the company, which manufactures the PistenBully line of snow grooming equipment, already offers in the European market.
Chris Perkins, who is heading up PRO ACADEMY for North America, says while there have been previous attempts to offer this type of program, nothing has ever been offered on this type of scale or had the backing of industry giants like Kässbohrer.
“It’s [training] something that is overlooked but is of great importance,” said Perkins. “Grooming vehicles require a significant capital investment. It only makes sense to have qualified operators manning the driver’s seat.”
The PRO ACADEMY will be open to all snow groomers in the U.S. and Canada regardless of their experience level, from novice operators all the way up to supervisors and senior managers. The first pre-season classroom sessions are expected to be offered to students beginning in October. In addition to the classroom instruction, there will be follow-up sessions during the season in which an instructor will accompany students in the field to provide hands-on learning.
The program has been divided into five different levels designed to meet the individual needs of the ski area or snowmobile club:
Entry level: Aimed at rookie or inexperienced operators, this session includes an eight-hour classroom component. The focus will be on what’s happening on the slope and in the operator’s cab. Instructors will be available to spend additional time working one-on-one with students who require additional instruction.
“[The PRO ACADEMY program is] meant to be something where we can come in and share our expertise…no matter what your choice of manufacturer is.”Chris Perkins
Advanced: This section will be available for operators with at least two years of experience and will focus on the more technical aspects of the vehicle and its performance as well as the attributes of the vehicle. As with the entry level section, there will also be an emphasis on operator safety.
Supervisor/manager: This eight-hour section will focus mostly on productivity and grooming patterns for supervisors and managers with both classroom and in-field instruction.
Machine-made snow: Will analyze what machine-made snow is and how best to increase productivity when working with it, both with a free grooming vehicle and those with a winch. It will also look at the different types of machine-made snow and how to safely move snow guns.
Competition snow: Will focus on how to create competition-level snow based on Federation of International Skiing (FIS) standards. “Competition snow is totally different snow in terms of dynamics and construction and dealing with day-to-day operations,” said Perkins. This course will be open to operators as well as ski coaches.
One of the best parts of the program is that operators, managers and supervisors won’t have to travel anywhere to be part of it. Both the classroom and in-field sessions will take place where they work, with the instructor coming on site to spend time with them.
Perkins says Kässbohrer has made every effort to make the program affordable in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible. According to him, the program will pay for itself, for both large and smaller scale operations, by significantly increasing efficiencies and productivity within snow grooming operations.
“There’s definitely a return on investment. You are going to lower your operating costs, you are going to hike your productivity, you’re going to heighten your efficiency and you are certainly going to have more professionalism among your employees,” he said.
Earl Saline, director of the National Ski Areas Association, says while it’s too early to say how successful the academy might be, he welcomes any opportunity for groomers to improve their skill set.
“I anticipate it’s going to be widely accepted. You’ve got a really good name behind it … and the company is committed to making it work.”Chris Perkins
“I think the opportunity for education is certainly important and…[it’s beneficial] to get new operators trained up. This is another option and options are a good thing,” he said. “The market will ultimately determine if it’s a valuable program to the industry or not.”
Despite Kässbohrer’s involvement, the PRO ACADEMY curriculum has been designed to work with virtually any brand, including both PistenBully and Prinoth products.
“It’s not meant to be Kässbohrer-specific, necessarily,” said Perkins. “It’s meant to be something where we can come in and share our expertise … no matter what your choice of manufacturer is. We’ll give you the same outcome regardless.”
Perkins says who enrols in PRO ACADEMY will be determined largely by the ski operations that participate in the program since it will be them who will be paying for the service. His hope is the program will help make it easier for those operations to fill vacancies in their snow grooming ranks and address the issue of steady turnover that has been a huge challenge for many in the industry.
“I think [the PRO ACADEMY] is a way to bring people in and get them up to speed fairly quickly,” he said. The idea for the PRO ACADEMY came from Kässbohrer CEO, Jens Rottmair. He noticed an Italian-based company, S&E, was offering a snow grooming training course and wanted to offer something similar on a larger scale. Rottmair was so impressed by the company, he hired its founder, Florian Profanter, to run PRO ACADEMY in Europe.
“It was really Mr. Rottmair having a vision of the importance of quality training and interpreting what the vehicle should be doing so that an operator … understands the technical aspects of the vehicle, understands what the technical aspect of the slope is and understands what the snow is doing,” said Perkins.
Perkins, who will initially handle most of the instruction for PRO ACADEMY, has a lengthy history in the snow grooming industry. He got his start as a groomer at Squaw Valley Ski Resort in California. He’s also worked for a number of major manufacturers, including Prinoth and Bombardier, and spent a portion of his career involved in ski lift construction.
“Snow grooming has always been one of my passions,” he said. “I’ve always had an interest in it, in terms of from an asset utilization standpoint, looking at the vehicle as an asset and the groomer operator as an asset.”
Perkins says initial interest in the PRO ACADEMY in the U.S. has been very high. “I anticipate it’s going to be widely accepted. You’ve got a really good name behind it … and the company is committed to making it work,” he said.