In a normal winter, Darin Franckowiak grooms more than 90 kilometers of cross-country ski trails in Duluth’s park system and at Spirit Mountain. This year, he spent most of his winter pruning trees.
But the Local 66 member still climbed into the city’s Bombardier groomer several times a week to keep snowboarders and skiers happy at Chester Bowl. The ski hill and terrain park can make its own snow, which became an absolute necessity most of this season. Chester Bowl remains a collaborative project between the city and the nonprofit Chester Bowl Improvement Club, which took over operations in 2008.
City crews supply the electricity and water lines, set up the snow gun, then turn responsibility over to club volunteers, who make sure nothing goes wrong. “If the breaker goes or the fan stops, but the water keeps pumping and turns into a big ice dam, they’re there to call for help,” Franckowiak says. “Then we can come in to fix it.”
City crews also maintain the hill’s chair lift and groom the snow. Overall, Franckowiak figures, he spent only about one-fourth as many hours in the groomer as usual. But when it costs more than $200 in gas to fill up the machine, that’s not the worst thing in the world.