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AlbanMy host during my time with SAP was Alban Martinod.

Alban is a nationally recognised 12 year pisteur veteran who started young, riding shotgun in the cab with his father who was a pisteur. Dad is now Head of Operations for the snow grooming section of SAP.

October saw Alban in Stelvio in Italy, constructing the Ski-X course for the French national team to sharpen their skills, prior to the Winter Olympics in South Korea. March will see him in Megève, working on the Freestyle - Mogul and Skicross Skiing World Cup course prior to the final being held there that month.

Back in La Plagne, Alban completes regular piste grooming activity, but also has special responsibility for building the kickers, rails and other items in the snow park. He and a small team also build, maintain and improve the Funslope that runs below the Arpette chairlift. This is hugely popular with all ages, skiers and boards alike and is great to watch whilst on the long Arpette lift.

The tool he uses to do all this work is a super modern specialist Prinoth Bison X CAT. The bug-eyed cab has every comfort and affords a full 360 view of the piste. It’s all fly-by-wire. The left hand regulates the speed and movement of the tracks, whist the joy stick control in the right hand controls everything else. The nearby screen displays everything you need to know, and indeed, some things you never knew you needed to know! Think Playstation. A 250,000 Euro Playstation.

The CAT is special because the front and rear shovels can move through a full 90 degrees to vertical, enabling Alban to mound snow and to shape it to the desired profile. During the season the pisteurs spend time in each other’s cabs to share best practice and improve skills.

Whilst out on the mountain the pisteur often glimpses the wild life. Deer, hares, rabbits and chamois are all common, thought most recently a wolf was spotted at Bellecote having been recently reintroduced to the mountains.

You can tell Alban loves his job by how passionately he talks about it. He loves working close to where he was born, the solitude of working alone and the satisfaction of building the snow park and being part of a team delivering perfect pistes for 9am.

I didn’t catch him polishing his CAT – but it was way too shinny for him not to have a spray gun of Autoglym somewhere.

As a skier I have always had a healthy respect for the pisteurs; having seen what they do and the seriousness with which they undertake their tasks, it’s just got stronger.

My thanks to SAP and Alban for their time, hospitality and showing me around.

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

 

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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