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Meet the Team: The La Plagne Pisteurs

CATOne of the great joys of first lift is skiing down the super soft, freshly groomed pisted surface of the first run. Sheer bliss. But how does it get like that?

I spent the afternoon with SAP (Société D'Aménagement De La Plagne) and a local pisteur to find out.

Pisteur HQ is just below Aime 2000. It’s here that the 20 La Plagne piste bashers (they call them CATs) are parked during the day and the large service facility is located. There are an additional four CATs located in Montalbert, four in Champagny and two at the glacier.

The CATs come from manufacturers in either Italy or Holland and cost roughly 250,000 euros each, with the extra 7m wide CAT topping out at an eye watering 300,000 Euros. After 10 years’ of use they are worth the value of a small second-hand car. Just remember that when you grumble about the cost of your lift pass!

There are different types of CAT and each one is designed to do a specific job. One is a standard 5m wide piste groomer, another has a top mounted winch which is used to pull the CAT uphill when it is pushing snow further up a steep slope, a third (nicknamed The Beast) is a 250 hp monster, with tracked wheels, used for grooming the cross-country course and cutting the grooves for the skis.

Finally, there is the super modern Prinoth Bison X used to build the kickers, jumps and all the other features in the snow park, along with the Ski-X course and the Funslopes. This CATs’ front and rear shovels can move through a full 90 degrees, enabling it to build vertical snow walls and shape them as required.

Two shifts of 30 pisteurs work every night. One shift works 5pm - 2am, whilst the second shift works 2am – 9am. When snow is forecast to fall during the night, the early shift is bumped to work the late shift too, so they give themselves the maximum chance of preparing the pistes for when the lifts open at 9am.

All the pisteurs must be able to drive each different type of CAT, whilst the most experienced pisteur in the workforce has over 40 years’ experience in the job. There is currently one female CAT driver.

Each night every green, blue and red piste is groomed - 200km+ of piste in total - and each pisteur has a regular route which takes up 80% of their shift to complete. Thereafter, the rest of their time is directed by the Head of Operations, who directs them where the work is needed i.e repairing features or moving snow for example. And some slopes will need it; the Funslope that runs from the top of the Arpette lift down into Plagne Bellcote sometimes gets 6000 individuals skiing it each day. That’s a lot of wear and tear in a single day.

The SAP maintenance crew work during the day preparing the CATs for the night’s work.

The pisteurs prefer snow that’s cold and light – it’s much easier to groom and move about. The heavier snow found in warmer weather or after rain is much harder to work with.

So, as you snuggle down into your bed tonight, spare a thought for the lads (and lass) who are out there working to prepare your playground for tomorrow!

Next time, we meet a 12 year pisteur veteran who builds Ski-X courses for the French National Team and is working for you each night here in La Plagne.

Monsieur Mogul


Monsieur Mogul – Our man in La Plagne

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author

alone and not those of Ice and Fire Ski and Snowboard Holidays


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