On Board with the Snow Plow Drivers
Somedays I am wondering what I am doing here. Not here “in this world”, here … reporting now from here. I’m always super enthusiastic about everything ! Which, on paper is quite a good thing. Except that I happen to put myself in situations without thinking it through. Like… a complete freak out in front of a giant machine ready to go up the high mountains after having 50 cm of snow from the past three days !!!!!
When the Tourist Office of Val Thorens offered me the adventure, I naturally replied : “Yes, Thank you ! ” It was an opportunity for me to take you behind the scenes of a hidden job. And yet that requires real expertise to maintain the slopes of the highest station in Europe. Gilles Jay, the big boss tells me that we’re not here to watch the snowflakes fall from the sky !
This month 6000 km of tracks are going to groom. We have already done 72000 km has been done since the beginning of the season !
Good god, we’ve got no time to waste then! A quick 10-minute meeting and the clock starts! At 5:30 pm: all the tracks are closed. A sort of “game plan” is distributed. All of a sudden one of them exclaims… “Oh no, I don’t want to do Christine (Name of one track) tonight !” I didn’t understand what he meant but then someone leans towards me and tells me. ” Don’t worry that’s just the name of the slope !”
Yves, a snow plow driver, turns to me with a smile :
– You are from Paris ?
– Yes ! I am journalist, I came here to learn more about your job !
– Oh really ? I know Paris very well, I used to live here. I was a waiter at the Tour d’Argent at time…
– But how did you go from the Tour D’Argent to shovelling snow at Val-Thorens, Yves ???
– Ah you know, sometimes… the Life !
I know he’s right. I feel a little nostalgia taking over me, but I’m immediately interrupted by his colleague calling. “Hey, Bocuse, let’s go!” I burst out laughing! Come on, it’s time to shovel some snow. When I see the men driving the trucks, my fear drops down a little bit…
Tonight, I’m teaming up with Claude. Former tracker, he took on this job 2 years ago. He finds this work much more solitary. Knowing how talkative I become when I’m learning something new, he won’t feel alone for once! He reassures me, the truck moves very slowly, and the night is in our favour: the visibility is very good with our headlights. Ok, ok … let’s go !
From the first minutes, and I am pleasantly surprised :
- He was right, it’s not so violent, we’re driving methodically (by doing long lines) at 10km / hour !!! It’s even nice to break down those bumps that give me a hard time during the day
- Me, dressed like an Eskimo, I realise that it’s almost 20 degrees inside, I remove a layer and I sit down comfortably.
- Between the radio and the high-tech control screens, we’re not doing bad at all !
Up the hill, it’s almost like a walk in the park. On the other hand, when we’re going down on a red track, I hang on to my seat … like I’m on a roller coaster.
– So Claude, do you have any interesting stories to tell me ?
– Yes, once, my engine was sledged and I went off the track !
– Hein ??? Nan, let’s not tell stories then Claude !!!
It’s nice to see the small cabins of the ski lifts empty. No shadow of a person, not a sound other than our engine purring.
And then finally! We spot two skiers climbing the slope to get a little night hike and enjoy the track alone. “It’s a little dangerous, we try to keep an eye out for them” says Claude to me.
And now, after a few hours together, it was time for me to emotionally calm down. I must admit that it was far from traumatic and I loved the experience! Claude drops me off right in front of my hotel like a princess.
The experience as a snow plow driver is not yet open to the public. But many resorts are thinking about introducing it in the coming seasons as a lot of people would certainly love the idea. In Val-Thorens, you can subscribe to Club Val Tho and get a chance to win the same experience that I shared with you!