You have been skiing the mountains for many years, often since you were very young. Ski resort operations seem almost natural and are not something you give much thought to. Certainly when everything runs smoothly. But what really goes on behind the scenes? What are the issues and the responsibilities of the departments that oversee ski operations? Our ultimate goal as a ski destination is to provide you with a memorable experience on the mountain. Take a look behind the scenes of all the operations required to create a unique winter experience at Le Massif de Charlevoix.
Did You Know?
- Snowmaking operations run for about 45 days, around the clock, for a total of about 1080 hours, with 2 teams of 5 people dedicated solely to this task.
- We spend nearly 240 hours clearing the mountain, in a span of 6 weeks between summer and fall.
- The mountain requires nearly 10 hours of grooming per day with 4 people simultaneously dedicated to this task.
- Grooming is an art that, much like snowmaking, requires certain conditions.
- Before you even get up, our operations and communication teams are on duty to evaluate the snow conditions and ensure you have the best mountain experience.
- Beyond the operations you may see at a ski resort, we also have experts in land use planning who monitor water runoff and much more.
The lift crew, patrollers, ski instructors, mountain guides, sledding guides, guest services team, events, catering, customer services, electricians, building attendants, communications team, administration, all work very early in the morning to ensure that the mountain’s operations are functioning. Everything is set up so that the guests can have the most incredible experience surrounded by raw and wild nature.
Facing the freezing temperatures of winter nights, working before dawn to prepare the magnificent corduroy carpet, creating the perfect white gold, moving heaven and earth even in the most extreme conditions to ensure that the mountain is at its best: this is what our operations team does night after night so that our guests arrive to find a beautiful and rejuvenating playground. This is why we like to call them the mountain warriors.
Making White Gold
Snowmaking has been more difficult in recent years. Climate change is making our winters fickle, unpredictable and, above all, less snowy. So, what are the impacts on the production of white gold?
Several factors come into play in the making of snow. Considering Le Massif de Charlevoix’s geographical location (i.e., proximity to the river), the sun, the wind and the degree of humidity are all part of the equation.
The process of water turning into snow with air under pressure is called nucleation. The droplets created immediately turn into flakes. The longer the flakes remain in the air, the more it will dry out and produce quality snow.
A cold streak of several days is necessary. Why? Because the first snowmaking stage alone can take up to 6 hours to start production. The same is true for the closing stage. Good energy and water management are therefore key.
Making snow in marginal conditions, like in warm temperatures, does not give the desired results. A volume of snow at -2 degrees will be twice as small as one made at -10 degrees. This is what happens when the snow mounds turn yellow.
The sun plays a big role in the nucleation process. When you see a rainbow in the droplets, it is never a good sign. The sun heats up the droplets, slowing down the snowmaking process.
The prevailing winds on the mountain, due to the river, increase the difficulty for our crews as they must ensure that the snow falls in the right place.
The work of the snowmaking clerk
This work is done in extreme conditions and on rough terrain. Snowmaking clerks, also known as the ’’flakes”, work long hours, day and night. They are often required to manage water damage in the cold. During a breakdown or an electrical failure, they get no breaks as it is now a race against time to empty the system before it freezes.
The Art of the Corduroy
Who doesn’t love the sound and feel of skis biting into the perfect corduroy? Snowmaking is an art that requires precision and expertise. Our snowmaking clerks work in difficult and often dangerous conditions, certainly since we have the highest vertical drop east of the Rockies.
In darkness, storms or freezing temperatures, caution is required at all times. However, nothing is ever guaranteed as our microclimate and the rocky soil of the mountain create their fair share of challenges. Vehicles and machinery must therefore be adapted to our conditions.
The Importance of Clearing Brush
Trail clearing begins in the summer. All the trails at Le Massif are mowed by a real-life war machine. This machine, designed by Le Massif’s team and developed with engineers, is twice as efficient and saves us a lot of precious time. Le Massif’s off-piste sector, on the other hand, requires arduous manual work. The clearing work allows us to have the best possible playground, to keep the snow longer and to offer exceptional ski conditions.
Working the Snow
It’s not just the amount of snowfall that counts. You also need a hard bottom. Grooming too early in the season damages the slopes in the long run as well as the machinery. It is also important not to bring hidden vegetation to the surface or to put pressure on the ground too quickly.
When the bottom is hardened, our groomers drive on the trails, without grooming them, to tap the snow and remove any defects. They must wait for the next snowfall to do the first light grooming.
Did you know that some slopes can only be groomed every other day in order to keep them in the best possible condition for as long as possible? This is the case, among others, for the La Prairie and La Martine ski trails. Considering the sometimes significant weather fluctuations affecting ski conditions, the teams must constantly learn to adapt.
This is particularly true after a rain shower as it is impossible to groom on sticky snow. We therefore have to wait for colder temperatures, but not too cold so that the snow doesn’t freeze. Our operators then have a small window of opportunity to go on the slopes. Since they are experts in this art, they know how to assess the conditions to avoid damaging the trail and the machinery.
Safety Above all Else
Never take anything for granted. Always have a plan A, B, C and D, because even if the conditions look good, anything can still happen. The inspection of the lifts and trails must be done more than once a day to ensure the safety of the guests and to give them a memorable experience.
Did you know that it takes 8 months of maintenance to maintain the lifts?
We have to do a constant and preventive watch, requiring many safety tests. There are 6 mechanics who work all year-round in order to be ready in time for the beginning of the season. This totals to about 5000 hours of maintenance for the lifts.
Why are the slopes and lifts slow to open or stop for a certain time? Our mechanics are on site as early as 6 a.m. to inspect each lift before the resort opens. No lift will operate until it has been inspected and cleared by one of our mechanics.
There are many mechanical protections on a lift, including electronic ones. The more protection there is, the more frequently the machine stops. When an electronic device stops, one of our mechanics must go to the site to inspect the problem before it can be put back into service. This is a race against time and must be done properly. It is always best to take extra precautions and avoid major problems.
Le Massif’s geographical and climatic particularities mean that the conditions vary from one sector to another. Snowstorms, ice, strong winds and extreme temperature changes are all elements that can interfere with lift operations. Certainly as safety is always the top priority.
The Patrollers: The Firemen of the Mountain
They are the eyes and ears of everyone on the ground. Patrollers are responsible for the overall coordination with each department. From signage to evacuations, they must remain trained and ready to deal with anything. They are the last safety net before the mountain opens and closes.
Hand in hand with the operations team, the patrollers perform a tremendous amount of prevention work, ensuring favorable skiing conditions as they are responsible for analyzing and looking out for obstacles that could compromise the safety of our guests.
Working as a patroller requires a lot of coordination and concentration. Everything at the mountain is overseen by our knowledge keeper, the Grand Duke. He knows everything that is going on, at all times, and relays the information between the departments.
The mountain’s unique infrastructure is another big challenge. Several trails at Le Massif are interdependent, like a funnel. Trajectories must remain optimal and safe. Patrollers therefore constantly have to think about evacuation and safety, in accordance with Quebec ski regulations.
For example, the top of a sector may offer magnificent conditions, but if the trails that follow do not, certainly if the degree of difficulty increases on the way down, the sector must remain closed. Though the scale of the operations at Le Massif is large, it is all about the details and being as meticulous as possible.
Dedicated Staff and Guides
At the height of the season, when the mountain is at its full capacity, 7 days a week, did you know that there are 135 employees and 11 guides that work there? There is an army of people working hard to make it all happen. Finding employees is becoming a real challenge as there is a significant and widespread labour shortage in Quebec, but also because of the mountain’s remote location. Our partnership with Le Massif’s trade union is a statement to our continued desire to keep our employees happy so that they want to keep growing with us.
In order to compensate for the critical shortage of workers, Bell guides volunteered to lend a hand to our teams to ensure the smooth functioning of our activities. They were given adequate training and were paid to work in certain areas where the need was greater. Their help was extremely precious in helping us during this season that was affected by the pandemic.
The family atmosphere and mutual support of the employees are felt when challenges arise. The love of the mountain definitely makes everything possible.
The True Artists of the Mountain
Le Massif de Charlevoix is a unique ski destination that requires continuous preparations all year round but is most importantly the result of all the hard work from our employees. Everyone’s goal is always to offer a memorable experience on the mountain.
The teams work hard to ensure that every problem that can be solved internally is solved without the guest being aware of it. However, anything can happen and the unexpected is part of the day-to-day life. Even challenges that seem impossible are overcome to ensure normal operations. Every employee is an expert in his or her field. We are all committed to continuous improvement, innovation and sustainable development to make Le Massif continue to shine as it is both our home and our pride.