of the Night
THE WORKING DAY OF A SNOWCAT DRIVER
When the final skier has glided away from the slopes, that’s when the engines at the Merano 2000 ski resort really run hot. And whilst the guests are thawing out in comfort in their hotels, Fritz Erschbamer jumps into his Leitwolf, switches on the radio and walkie-talkie and manoeuvres the 530 horsepower of his top of the range vehicle over the slopes of Merano 2000.
High up on the mountain, in what is by now almost a ritual, he stands still for a moment, enjoys the breathtaking sunset and absorbs this moment of absolute silence. Right now, the mountain belongs to him alone. “The best thing about working on the mountain is this moment. It helps you forget about having to get up in the night and go outside in minus 15 degree temperatures,” says Fritz Erschbamer. The 22-year-old Mölten native is just one of five snowcat drivers in the Merano 2000 ski resort. And just one of these heroes of the night, without whom there would be no freshly groomed slopes and no perfect conditions for the skiers and snowboarders.
BORN IN 1999
A typical day’s work normally begins at eight in the morning. Then the qualified mechatronics engineer and his colleagues head off on their quads to the mountain station to check the slopes, nets, signs and fences. Afterwards, the snow master and head of the slopes, Christian, shares out the work among his lads: laying artificial snow pipes, maintaining and repairing vehicles, transporting guests and luggage, shovelling snow and getting the snow makers ready for the coming night. None of the slope team members has a chance to be bored. No day is like another and there is always something exciting to do.
“The variety is fantastic,” enthuses Fritz, who has worked in the area for two years. “And, of course, I love the fact that I can spend a lot of time outdoors in nature and the fresh air.”
After the end of the working day at around 9 pm, the men, who are much more than just colleagues, like to go for a quick drink. Then they sit comfortably together and have some fun.
But when it snows, a shift might last the whole night, or they start work at four in the morning in order to guarantee fun on the slopes for the next day. If technical snow is being produced, the snow machines need to be monitored all the time. Every two hours, the teams of two have to do an inspection run. They correct the position or parameters in order to generate the most natural snow possible.
The guests are unaware of the goings-on behind the scenes, since as soon as the lifts start running, the slope team clears the slopes and after a long day’s work they enjoy their well-deserved evening off. Often on his free days, Fritz cannot keep his feet still. Instead, he prefers to strap on his skis and go to test the results of his night shift at first hand and see what he might, perhaps, be able to do better next time. A quick chat with the guests is part of this too.
Fritz loves his job. Even though he has to be flexible and go out in the wind and bad weather, including when most people are snuggled up at home in bed. Yes, the work on the mountain might be hard, but it is also varied and truly special. Not forgetting the sunrises and sunsets that are so lovely up here that, as Fritz says, sometimes a photograph does not do them justice.