Making the mountain: Greek Peak after hours

By Kelly McCarthy
By Sam Gaddes

February 17, 2014 Updated Feb 18, 2014 at 10:47 AM EST

Virgil, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Area ski resorts take on the task of creating perfect skiing conditions on the mountain.

Greek Peak Mountain Resort sees around 5,000 to 6,000 skiers and snowboarders a day during its winter season.

On Monday, Greek Peak had more than 30 trails open and six chairlifts running to take people up the mountain.

Skiers leave the snow packed down and icy after a full day of action, giving the resorts team of professional groomers a challenge every night.

When the slopes shut down and the last skiers make their way inside, that's when the groomers say, "Good morning!"

"They're all eager at the bit to get out there as soon as the last skier gets done," said Rick Bunnell, General Manager of Mountains Operations.

Every night groomers at Greek Peak cover more than 180 miles.

"I'd say we're the behind the scenes guys," said groomer Mark Koekebacker, "That you never see, and yet the mountain's always done."

The team of groomers own the trails all night.

"They will make or break how the skiing is the next day," Bunnell said, "So they are under a lot of pressure."

Their day starts around 9:30 pm and continues overnight until the last trail is covered in fresh tracks.

"It will usually take 12-13 hours to groom the whole hill," said groomer Fred Shepard, "And that's covering just about every trail we have."

Groomers are covering ground with two different grooming machines. One is a new addition to the mountain, a cable CAT to get up the steep hills, and then a smaller "Pisten Bully Edge" to build jumps and groom the terrain park.

"They smooth out the bumps, they take the snow, they chop it up, they lay down a nice corduroy ripples, level everything out," Bunnell said, "And it's what we go out and do every night."

The goal each night is to get every trail looking like "fresh corduroy," a word groomers use to describe the snow's texture.

"It's like a bunch of little humps like this all the way across the hill," Bunnell said, "When you ski across it on your skis it sounds like corduroys rubbing against each other."

The texture makes for better skiing for the hundreds of people who will visit the next day. With that pressure to perfect the trails, some would think it's a demanding job.

"It's not like work, we're spoiled, we get to do what we love to do and they pay us a little for it. And it's just great," Bunnell said.

Some nights the trails feel more like a giant playground. Groomers have to maneuver a joystick to flatten out bumps and push snow away from the edges.

"It's just a big 'ol over-sized video game," Koekebacker said.

They're racing with the sunrise to make the trails ready for skiers, because it's their opinions groomers depend on most.

"This is why they come and ski, we lay out a product and it's what people are paying to ski on," Koekebacker said, "We take a lot of pride in what we do."