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A fuzzy, stolen image of a Pisten Bully 100.

Seeley Lake skiing is off to one of the best starts in recent memory. Regular snowfall beginning in early December and continuing throughout the month got things rolling in earnest about the second week in the month. It's been coming in modest amounts, allowing us to keep up with the packing and grooming rather than the usual dance of being starved for snow and then being buried all at once and trying to manage the excess.

A primary factor in our current grooming management is access to a Pisten Bully 100. For several years we've engaged in an off and on debate about purchasing one of these gizmos. Pluses include the quality of grooming, ability to pack and groom at the same time, a world class classic track and less time spent grooming. On the negative side is the initial cost (a quick search yielded a used PB for $108,000. I don't want to speculate on the new cost.), maintenance, and training someone to operate the thing properly. It's not like a snowmobile where you can take a newbie, give them a 5 minute crash course and say, "follow me and whatever you do, don't get stuck".

We've operated for years with a fleet of four new or relatively new, snowmobiles, an arsenal of grooming equipment and a flock of willing volunteers. Lynn Carey (grooming guru and my straight man) has been doing this for 30 years, so he has a pretty good idea of how to optimize results with this system. We groom every day that conditions permit, resulting in rave reviews and a donation box stuffed with $20 bills that go a long way towards paying the overhead.

So, why is there a Pisten Bully parked by the grooming shed? Wellsir, it's like this. Last winter Doug Edgerton, longtime grooming contractor at West Yellowstone, alerted us that he'd had enough of living in the snowmobile capital of Montana, and was making the move to Seeley Lake, bringing with him not only his Pisten Bully, but his four decades of accumulated grooming wisdom. He volunteered both the Bully and the wisdom to the Nordic club and we humbly and gratefully accepted.

Most of us in the club have been at this grooming thing with positive results for a long time and the introduction of another strong point of view has resulted in some, shall we say, invigorating debate. For example, how far into the skating lane should the classic track be placed? If you've skied here in the past couple of weeks you've probably noticed the classic track moving to the right, then back toward the skating lane, then back to the right again. With the Pisten Bully the classic track can be altered on the fly so there is a fair amount of adjustment that can be made. The sweet spot is where there's a solid right-hand pole plant but we're not jamming the skaters against the left-hand bank. Yesterday it seemed like we'd found the perfect compromise between the two.

Doug can also make subtle adjustments to the width of the classic track that are so incremental you probably don't even notice. He'll do this on a long downhill like off the top of Whitetail Hill. In the past if I was skiing classic, I'd jump out of the track at the steep part of the run so I didn't get pitched out while reaching peak speed at the bottom turn. (Breaking bones gives one a new point of view.) What Doug does is slightly widen the track, giving more stability and consequently a better ability to handle the speed in the track going into the corner.

We're still using the sleds and volunteers to do the bulk of the grooming while getting the PB out about once a week to make everything perfect. If there's a big dump of snow the PB will be our first line of attack. When we'd get buried in the past we'd have to roll multiple times to pack the snow firmly enough that we could flatten, groom and set classic with the ginzus. It seems like inevitably after we had everything packed, we'd immediately get another mammoth shot of snow and have to start the process all over again. On days like that the PB will allow our aged and decrepit volunteers the chance to put their feet up by the fire and enjoy multiple cups of coffee along with reruns of Real Housewives and The Great British Baking Show.

If you like the new grooming, let us know, either here or on the grooming page. And if you REALLY like it, remember, nothing says "thank you" like money.



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