If you go to Zermatt, you will notice that the pistes are very beautiful and smooth in the morning despite all the skiers from the day before. Thanks to snow cats and the drivers, the pistes are fixed and smoothed by morning allowing skiers to enjoy their day.
Snow cats drivers are the heroes of the night, coming out of their lairs when skiers leave the pistes just before the darkness falls. An army of drivers levels the pistes throughout the whole night to prepare them for the next day’s snow sport fun.
The driver’s cabin is quite spacious and the hum of the engine is comforting. The vehicle seems to glide on water, sometimes taking a slight roll. Eyes firmly on the computer screen, the driver keeps their left hand on the control stick and their right on the joystick. Concentrating on the path, they drive out of Riffelberg at 2582 meters up the pistes. The drivers all meet up in the common room just before 4 p.m. to discuss the night’s shift. Each driver is assigned an area where they drive through routine places. This helps the drivers to avoid rocks and create snow depots. When the snow is blowing, it is particularly important to know each dip and curve. They sometimes have to stop the vehicles and wait until a snow flurry abates.
The drivers goes to Rotenboden at 2815 meters to level the toboggan piste which will be followed by the winter hiking path and through numerous skiing pistes. The walky-talky is used to convey messages from the communication center about the transport of injured persons and pistes that have already been checked by the piste patrolmen. The passenger seat is comfortable and the spectacle of darkness creeping up from the valley is breath taking. With their accurate settings of the snow cutter and the front snow plough, depending on the snow conditions, they set the shaft lower and then chop the snow into tiny fragments. Every night, the pistes must be prepared after thousands of skiers have hollowed them out during the day and mountains of snow have piled up on the edges. The snow cat fixes those by ploughing the snow piles into the holes and cutting blocks of snow into small fragments making the snow smooth. After chopping and ploughing, the snow cat presses the snow into narrow grooves to make the piste into beautiful ski area.
Once the skiers are gone for the day, 35 snow cat drivers get to work on the 165 kilometers of pistes that need to be prepared. In the dark, the drivers go to igloo village at 2727 meters with the peak of the Matterhorn hiding behind the ragged grey clouds. They work from 4 p.m. to midnight fixing the snows. The rope winch is used for steep patches and the snow cats pull themselves up with the help of a wire rope. Dangerous situations arise from time to time. But when there is a snow storm, they stay inside the cabin until the weather blows over. Depending on additional equipment carried, a snow cat weighs about eleven tons!