You may not have heard of the term ‘snow grooming’ but it is actually big business on ski slopes around the world. Recently, Awesome Earthmovers had the opportunity to see the process in operation at the Chill Factore . This is the UK’s longest indoor snow slope and is located just four miles from Manchester city centre in the North West of England.
What brought us there was a Prinoth Husky, not the Siberian Husky dog breed, but an Italian manufactured top of the range snow groomer. Snow grooming is the process of manipulating snow for recreational uses and involves moving, flattening or compacting the snow to improve skiing conditions.
The Prinoth Husky, powered by an environmentally friendly Stage 5 MTU 231 hp (170 kW) engine, is an impressive sight on what is the UK’s longest ‘real snow’ slope. Measured at 180 metres long and 40 metres wide, it is regarded as one of the leading visitor attractions in the country with an annual footfall of around 1.2 million.
Apart from the main slope, it also has two ski lifts, a learner slope and a family fun area in addition to a wealth of bars, cafes and restaurants. Some of the UK’s leading outdoor clothing shops offering big brand names also feature along an authentic Alpine Street. And it really does snow almost every night at Chill Factore. The snow, exactly like the real stuff, falls for around four hours at a time from a series of snow cannons above the slopes, an average of 4 tonnes each night. We are not surprised that the British Ski team and other professional athletes have practised out on these slopes, and all said it was amazing.
“We’ve been in business for the past 15 years,” says Head of Facilities, Luke Penrose, “and in all that time we used a German manufactured snow groomer. So, switching to the Prinoth Husky was a significant move for us. Before doing so, we considered a lot of factors in terms of capability, manoeuvrability, cost and its green credentials, the latter being essential as it is working in an enclosed area where a healthy environment needs to be maintained. Therefore, the fact that exhaust emissions levels are kept to an absolute low is a real bonus.”
Being an indoor facility, there are lots of tight corners and other restrictions, so, a high level of manoeuvrability is essential
Clearly, the Prinoth Husky has ticked all the right boxes. “It is a big improvement on what we had before. Although it is a little smaller than the previous machine, its excellent handling and manoeuvrability more than compensates. Being an indoor facility, there are lots of tight corners and other restrictions, so a high level of manoeuvrability is essential,” adds Luke.
“Good visibility is also vital and the Prinoth Husky doesn’t disappoint. The previous machine had a steering wheel which hindered the driver’s view, so we went for stick control on the Husky which also has a large front windscreen and an equally good view from the rear windscreen. I could give you a long list of repairs we had to do to the fabric of the building as operators of the previous machine were prone to get a little too close to the walls because of poor visibility.
“There are six indoor ski slopes in the UK, and we are the biggest. Some are built on the side of a hill, but others like ours are built on flat land, so our slopes have to be suspended which means we have to be extremely vigilant on our snow depths. Not only does the Husky have to manage snow quality but also the volume. Therefore, it can be a significant challenge for the driver and machine every night to reset depths in particular, as well as avoid obstacles such as our ski lifts in the process. However, the Prinoth Husky has proven to be up to the challenge.”
A robust power transmission delivers plenty of power, while up front a versatile blade clears quickly and efficiently with its nimble 12-way movement capability, making control and snow management easy.
The Husky also features plush suspension seating, perfect for those four hour long shifts at the centre. In addition, there is a convenient roof ventilation window and remarkably intuitive controls, together with a bright 8.4” main console display that’s easy to read, easy to understand, and presents all necessary information at a glance. What more could you ask for?
Not surprisingly, the operators absolutely love the Husky with its state-of-the-art, noise insulated and spacious cab. It offers an excellent working environment that is tailor-made to reduce operator stress and strain, while heated windows and mirrors prevent fogging. This results in a safer, more controlled work experience. The clever design of the machine also means you can get the most out of every square inch with rear-deck space ideally suited for storage bins, extra-fuel, or any other work gear you need to bring along.
Not without significance, perhaps, is that we hear other ski slopes around the country and the world have recently or are in the process of switching to Prinoth snow groomers.
Reliability plays a major factor, with service and maintenance the responsibility of the Bradley Group, Prinoth’s UK dealer
The Chill Factore facility’s snow slopes are open until 10pm most days, so the snow grooming team can only work after closing, usually within a four-hour window, to re-set for the next day. Downtime is a big no-no, so reliability of the Prinoth Husky plays a major factor. Service and maintenance are the responsibility of the Bradley Group, Prinoth’s UK dealer, based at Wigan in Lancashire.
“They offer a fantastic call out service, so any issues, which are few and far between, are sorted within two hours, which is incredibly important. The impact of not being able to groom in the evening is significant and can have a real bearing on the business, so it’s good to know Bradley’s are only a phone call away,” says Luke.