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May 2011

Pay Now or Pay Later

Summer maintenance can save time and money and shrink the to-do list for opening next fall.

Written by Lou Dzierak | 0 comment

Now that the ski season has ended, it’s time to tend to some of your key assets: your capital equipment. Ski lifts, snow cats, snow guns, compressors, and other gear need proper care and maintenance. Performing it can save money and make the next season’s opening a little less stressful.

“All these elements have to work. If they all work 100 percent, you will have a successful ski resort,” notes Tom Fillmore, an SMI field service technician.

Manufacturers’ maintenance schedules and checklists are a good place to start. For example, Leitner Poma lists schedules for daily, weekly, monthly, semi-annual and annual procedures. Separate schedules are provided for mechanical and electrical components. Tom Clink, sales manager, advises, “Even in the summer months when the resorts are not running the systems, these procedures are still important to do.”

Clink suggests that paying attention to everyday details can avoid major repair issues later on. “As you are cleaning and wiping equipment off, you will be looking at that closely and be able to notice a leak or crack or something that indicates a problem. It’s absolutely critical to keep an eye on things. By inspecting the system you can address the problem early and plan your summer maintenance schedule,” he says.

Rick Swanker, director of mountain operations at Grand Targhee, says, “The lifts are our main focus. We concentrate on making sure all the lifts will run when we open, and run all winter without any problems. (For more details on key items, see “Give Your Lifts a Hand,” page 18.)

Clink recommends disconnecting power switches on lift towers to prevent potential damage from summer lightning strikes. He says, “That will save a lot of time, trouble and headaches. Newer systems have better grounding, but lightning can be a strange thing.”

Even non-mechanical elements like padded lift seats need attention. Keep seat pads out of the sun to prevent fading and deterioration from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Grooming equipment is built for heavy lifting, but it still benefits from some TLC in the off season. Grand Targhee cleans and covers its snow cats at the end of the season. Maintenance routines are scheduled for late summer and early fall.

John Glockhamer, marketing manager, Kässbohrer, says resort staff mechanics may not be able to make extensive repairs, but they can certainly change the oil and filters and do basic service maintenance. Both PistenBully and Prinoth offer service schools in the summer where operators can learn how to make repairs and troubleshoot.

One routine repair, Glockhamer notes, is replacing the cutting teeth on the tiller. Rotating at 1000 rpm and cutting the snow constantly, the teeth might nick a rock or otherwise become damaged. Glockhamer says that repairs can be made to the individual tooth or by replacing a complete shaft.

Prinoth offers a complete service guide specific to summer maintenance, says after-sales service manager Philippe Masse. The guide includes checklists to ensure that all maintenance items are covered, from hydrostatic systems and gearboxes to lift frames and suspensions.

It’s best to act sooner rather than later, too. Prinoth recommends doing seasonal maintenance, such as greasing and oil changes, as soon as possible after the season ends, to eliminate any contamination in the fluids or bearings (for example, water in wheel or tiller bearings). Specific rotating parts, such as drive sprockets and final drive, can also be interchanged to extend their life. To prevent damage to batteries, remove them from groomers and keep them in a fully charged condition, topping up the charge periodically as needed.

And finally, “Vehicles should be tested after the seasonal maintenance to make sure they are ready for the following season,” Masse says.

Sugarloaf begins its groomer maintenance even before the seasons ends. Rich “Crusher” Wilkinson, VP of mountain operations, explains: “As we get into late March and April, we start to take groomers off line. We take the tracks off, roll them up and cover them so they aren’t exposed to UV light all summer long, and schedule maintenance even before we close the resort. We go through them pretty thoroughly, and we’re getting longer useful life out of the equipment than we were 10 to 15 years ago.”

Bill Moss of Hall USA provides the following advice on track maintenance:

• Remove the tracks to allow the belts to relax and reduce the stress caused by being under tension.

• Cover tracks to prevent sun damage.

• Mark the tracks with a grease pencil to identify which groomer they came from, and from which side.

• On aluminum tracks, mark the direction of rotation, as aluminum tracks should always run in one direction to reduce the chance of breakage.

• If tracks show damage, check to see if it was caused by other problems on the groomer, such as bent or damaged components or misalignment of cracked or broken frame structure.

• Prior to storage, determine what parts you will need for repairs, rebuilding, or replacement.

• Inspect tire-guides for sharp edges that could cause tire damage.

• Inspect backing-plates for damage and replace as needed.

After inspection, roll track up and set rolls on their edges. Tracks are best stored elevated on pallets or blocks, not directly on ground.

In the fall, after rolling track out for installation or if you've elected to wait until fall to do repairs, torque all tire-guide and track bolts to manufacturers’ specifications.

Snowmaking compressors, pumps, fans, pipes, and spray nozzles can all benefit from summer maintenance.

“One of the biggest mistakes our resort customers make with fan-style snowmaking guns with a compressor is that they don’t change the oil at the end of the season. They leave contaminated oil in the compressor for the entire summer and drain it out in the fall,” says Fillmore. It’s far better to put in fresh oil at the end of the season. “There’s lots of moving parts and valves in there. Water (in contaminated oil) will cause rust.”

Sugarloaf avoids problems with compressors by conducting a weekly pre-lube cycle to circulate oil through the parts. “We make sure water doesn’t collect in the snowmaking system and drain back to the compressors and cause corrosion,” adds Wilkinson. “Taking care of these items now makes it much easier to start up in the fall.”

Neglecting air filters, pumps and spray nozzles can also result in frustrating problems. Fillmore reports, “Sediment in the water can wear out nozzles. Damaged nozzles makes low quality snow at marginal temperatures. When they flutter, it means they are worn out.” Nozzle maintenance and replacement is much easier to accomplish in the summer than in November.

Protect air cleaners and pumps, too. “We don’t have a dirt issue with air filters, but in the summer, if they are stored outside, they become a great place for a bees to nest. When resorts fire up the compressor in the fall, they suck bees or the remains of the nest into it.” For similar reasons, “Pumps should be pumped once a month,” too, Fillmore says. “A squirrel will build a nest in the box. Someone pushes the button, and the whole building lights up. It happens every year.”

Manufacturers’ checklists exist for a reason. “If you have one checklist for every gun, and everyone does their maintenance, they will have a happy beginning to the season,” says Fillmore. Maintenance has a very strong ROI.

Andy Gerlach, a ski consultant for Salomon, notes that a few minutes of attention to ski equipment at the end of the season can save time and money and prevent a rash of guest frustration when the next season rolls around.

Gerlach suggests shops make sure boots are dry, and as clean as possible from sweat, salt and grime. Remove and wash the footbeds to increase their life, give them more loft, and reduce odor.

Treat bindings with silicone lubricant to help prevent grime or moisture from degrading metal parts and to keep bindings functioning smoothly next fall.

Proper storage steps will make skis last longer and much more user-friendly come winter. “We suggest skis get stone ground at the end of the season to refresh their bases,” he says. And then waxed, of course. “Ski bases are made of polyethylene material that has micropores in it. The pores allow the wax to penetrate the bases and make them glide easily.

“If you don’t stonegrind the skis, at least wipe them down to remove dirt and then add a seal coat of thick soft glide wax. Then leave that on the skis’ glide surfaces,” he adds. “If you just put the skis away in whatever condition they are in, the bases will dry out over the summer and oxidize.

“Anything you can do for proper storage will help the skis last longer,” says Gerlach. “If you spend 10 to 15 minutes on each pair of skis in the spring, that will save an hour next fall.” If you don’t take care of the skis in the spring, they won’t glide as well when the snow flies the following season, “and you will have to pay a ski tech much more to get them up to speed again,” Gerlach notes.

Ultimately, tending to equipment maintenance in the summer months pays dividends. “Delaying maintenance to the start of the season puts a lot of pressure on suppliers” as well as on resort personnel, says Fillmore. “Our telephone is ringing off the hook with parts orders.”

Don’t be that guy. First, you may not be able to get the parts you need, when you need them. And second, the stress from the first is just one more headache you don’t need.