For most people, skiing isn't something that crosses their minds until the temperatures drop or those first few snowflakes fly. At Oak Mountain, skiing is a year-round thought. From prepping the mountain to snow making, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes to get Oak Mountain ready for their winter season.
Two key players in this process are Matt O'Brien, the General Manager, and Crystal O'Brien the Director of Guest Services. They were kind enough to give me some insight into what goes on before the snow falls.
Is it time, yet!?
When do you begin prepping the trails?
Matt: Trail prep begins in the summer, which entails mowing the grass on all of the trails. We also have to cut back the trees and any branches hanging over the edge of the trails.
Snow making is a huge part of a successful winter at Oak Mountain.
How early do you start making snow?
Matt: In September, the first thing we do is run the water pump to check all of the water lines all over the mountain and to make sure there are no holes in the steel pipe.
Crystal: We always hope to start snow making in early November, but the weather doesn't always cooperate.
Matt: Ideal conditions for making snow are calm winds and consistent temperatures in the low-teens. The way Mother Nature has been lately, if we have a 12-hour period or more of cold weather below 27 degrees, we will make snow.
Crystal: Matt tries to make snow for as long as he can. Our water source for snow making is two ponds, so when those get low, snow making will be put on hold till they fill back up. This usually only takes 24 hours or so.
Matt- We make snow until we get all of the coverage we can, which means we usually go through January.
grooming can make all the difference on the trails, especially with man-made snow.
How often do you groom the trails at Oak?
Matt: We make sure to groom the trails a few days before we open to make sure that the snow we made is pushed out nice and flat. Once we are open for the season, we groom every night.
Staffing is a vital part of the operation
From the Acorn Pub, to ski instructors, to the rental shop, and everyone in between, staffing is key. When do you begin your process for hiring for the season?
Crystal: Hiring for the season usually starts with getting in contact with our employees from the previous years. We usually like to start this process in October. Once we have an idea of who will be coming back, we start to look for new employees.
Matt: We are always accepting applications, but the main hiring takes place in November just before we open.
New for Winter 2016-17 season!
What changes can we expect to see at Oak Mountain this year?
Matt: This year, we improved the access road to the mountain so we can now extend our season if there is snow on the slopes. There are new T-bars on the beginner hill. And we have also purchased a new state of the art Fan Gun for snow making, which allows us to cover the base area and beginner hill much faster.
Crystal: There have been many interior improvements made through this past spring and fall — both the main lodge and the rental lodge have new paint, the Acorn Pub and Eatery has new carpeting, we have redesigned the look of the concessions counter, as well as lots of new decorating!
The Shoulder Seasons
During your "off season," Oak Mountain is host to weddings, almost weekly. Does your Trail upkeep coincide with wedding season?
Matt: Everything we do for trail maintenance, and all other upkeep, is a benefit to our weddings because it keeps things looking trimmed up. Things also work in reverse, any grooming we do for weddings helps when it comes to preparing for ski season.
Oak Mountain is a great place to hit the slopes whether you are an expert or a beginner! Stop by to check out all the improvments they have made. Currently, the Acorn Pub and Eatery is open Thursday through Sunday. They are aiming for a tentative opening of the Ski Mountain on December 9th.
This week in related ADK behind-the-scenes news: