Snow operations manager - a job in rhythm with the seasons
Winterberg. It is the beginning of March and winter is giving one final short performance but is gradually bowing out to the first harbingers of spring. Just another two to three weeks to go before the Skiliftkarussell Winterberg ski resort closes the curtains on the 2012/13 winter season. But for Frank Olbrich, snow operations manager in the ski resort of Winterberg, this is by no means the end of the show. The 47-year-old from Sauerland is on the go all year round in the ski resort north of the "Main Line" or the line formed by the River Main roughly dividing the north and south of Germany. He is busy with planning, inspections and repairs to cable railways and snow-making systems.
The Skiliftkarussell Winterberg has invested heavily this season in lifts and snow-making systems. It now boasts the first eight-seater chairlift in Germany and has upgraded the snow-making system with TechnoAlpin snow guns. "During the first major construction phase in 2006 in the Brembergkopf area, I was the contact person for the ski resort, liaising with the construction firms on the plans and answering all their questions", said Olbrich. Another aspect of his role was arranging for his own staff to help with the construction of the snow-making systems and ski lifts. "It is fascinating to watch the construction projects bear fruit and to see the new equipment in action". He went on to say that the ski resort was very satisfied with the new snow guns from Bolzano, adding that the increasingly brief windows of opportunity for snow generation had been exploited to the full by the TechnoAlpin products.
Snow generation is a labor of love for Frank Olbrich. The trained roofer has had a close association with the skiing scene in Sauerland since his youth. He started working as a ski instructor in Winterberg in 1993 then followed 10 exciting years of ski patrol and mountain rescue with the Bergwacht & Pistenrettung Winterberg. In his current job as snow operations manager he is living the dream and fulfilling a childhood ambition. "When we put the machines in position in November and start planning for the first snow-making phase, we are all crossing the days off on the calendar and waiting eagerly for the temperature to fall", said Olbrich, "and then when the weather conditions are right, all the staff are hyped up and dying to start making snow". If possible, the system is run for 24 hours without stopping in the initial phase when the aim is to generate a basic ground coverage of snow before the skiing starts. The experienced snow operations managers and staff work shifts at this most labor-intensive time of the year to make sure that there is a generous blanket of snow. During the season, snow-making operations usually start late in the afternoon and run through the night until about eight o'clock the next morning. "We are flexible in the hours we work during the ski season, depending on the weather and snow requirements", added Olbrich, explaining how he rearranges his work schedule to keep in rhythm with the seasons. After putting the whole system into operation, starting with the central pumping plant, the individual snow guns are started up at intervals of max. 1.5 hours and rotated if necessary. The snow guns are mostly fully automatic and do what they need to do virtually independently, but nevertheless the Winterberg snow operations staff still go round checking that every machine is alright. "We don't mind sacrificing our evenings and nights to make sure conditions are perfect". It would be more accurate, he said, to describe the job as a snow operations manager as a passion rather than hard work, especially with the new snow guns being so reliable and working so well.
"The annual inspections of snow-making systems and mountain railways require a fair amount of preparation and it all takes time to contact the manufacturers and servicing firms", said Olbrich, looking ahead to the checks. With the lifts in operation for over 80 days, Frank Olbrich is very satisfied with the way things stand at present. "We will definitely reach our targets for the season this year as there are a few more days of skiing left yet".