A look behind the scenes at Almenwelt Lofer
Take the night shift with the piste maintenance team, who ensure optimum slope conditions night after night.
Surprised, I realise that I actually know my driver; I see Lofer’s mayor, Norbert Meindl, smiling at me from the driver’s seat of the piste machine. In response to my surprise he says, “As the operations manager of Almenwelt Lofer, I also do some piste duty myself from time to time. And I’m happy to do it, because up here on the mountain I get a fantastic chance to unwind from my often busy days at the town hall.”
Steering with a joystick
With small movements on the control lever, which looks like a joystick on a computer console, Norbert Meindl moves the machine that weighs tonnes with extreme precision across the snow, making a 180-degree turn on the spot, lowering the front blade and off we go on the first piste. Track for track we erase the evidence of a fun day of skiing: a carving turn here, a small bump there. There’s nothing left behind us but an immaculate fine corduroy! Our powerful lights illuminate the area in front of us as the mayor says, “Although you work alone up here, you’re always accompanied by your colleagues on the radio. Even so, you have to like this silence. During heavy snowfall or a storm, it’s like everything around you has disappeared and you focus solely on the next track.” After some time, Norbert Meindl stops the machine and says, “We’ll just wait here for a bit because my snowmaking colleagues are adjusting the snow machine at the moment to accommodate the most recent wind measurements.
That’s how they make sure the machines don’t snow themselves under and ice over. Up here on these steep slopes we have to attach ourselves to the cable with the winch machine. He gladly explains to me why the massive piste machine is attached to the cable: “Do you see the amount of snow that is accumulating here at the foot of the slope? This is driven down here by skiers during the day. It’s our job to redistribute this across the steep slope, and we have to do this in a way that is gentle on the layers below. For safety’s sake, we now activate the warning signs that deter people from entering the piste because the tensioned steel cable is very dangerous and no one is allowed on the slopes when it’s in place.”
We start the machine and up we go over the steep slope pulled by the cable. This severe incline is definitely not for the faint of heart! But the piste caterpillar really is a high-tech piece of machinery. It is powered by a 450 horsepower diesel engine and its dead weight of around eight tonnes compacts the subsurface when we drive over it. The roller at the rear of the piste machine smooths the snow and provides that famous fine corduroy.