In South Tyrol there are 1,500 km of slopes to enjoy. To put this into perspective, this is equivalent to the distance from Bolzano/Bozen to Sicily. And yet the only place that South Tyrol’s slopes will lead you is downhill. Making sure that every square metre of these slopes is in optimal condition on a nightly basis requires patience and skill. Small wonder that these are precisely the characteristics that Martina Blaas has in spades. So as evening sets in and the chairlifts at the Carezza Ski area have all shut down for the day, the 25-year-old begins her work. The next few hours belong to her and her snow groomer. The powerful roaring of her engine breaks the silence. Her shift has begun.
There are 27 ski areas spread between the Sexten Dolomites in the east and the Ortler region to the west. As dusk falls, the men back out their snow groomers to ensure that the pistes are both smooth and perfectly shaped for the following day. These men, and one woman, have an important job to do. “I sometimes feel like a princess,” says Martina with a grin and in full knowledge that she has joined a club consisting exclusively of men. I look closely at her charming face, she is wearing make-up, and I am sure she knows exactly what she’s doing. “When I have a question, my colleagues are always happy to help.”
It was not a matter of chance last winter when Martina backed a snow groomer out of the garage for the first time. For five years, she accompanied a friend and this year her dream finally came true: She received a job offer at the Carezza Ski area. Since that time, she has groomed the ski slopes on a daily basis. The job doesn’t require a special driver's licence but it does require an enormous amount of courage and practice. Martina has enjoyed every moment and it didn’t take long for her to draw attention.
Practice, practice, practice
This is my first time in a snow groomer and I am looking around with curiosity. There are countless buttons on the right, in addition to keys and a lever. I can tell that driving such a powerful machine requires practice. Especially when it comes to operating the blade, steering wheel and tiller at the same time while also keeping an eye on how much snow should be moved and where. “It was difficult at first,” explains Martina with a smile.
I notice there is an additional button on the instrument panel. “That one is for cross-country skiing, for creating the tracks for the trails,” she explains to me. “Downhill skiing isn’t the only popular ski sport here in South Tyrol.” In total there are 1,800 km of cross-country-ski trails including high-altitude trails with views of the mountains in addition to floodlit trails for night owls. The Dolomiti Nordicski network is Europe’s largest cross-country circuit which includes seven regions from Antholzertal valley to the Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm.
As twilight sets in and my gaze follows the corrugations of the snow uphill, I find myself staring at an additional snow groomer. A big Leitwolf groomer using its winch and a steel rope. “It helps the driver to move the piled snow and provides better stability,” explains Martina. But her expression has changed and she points up towards the snow groomer. “Yesterday there were ski tourers up there, although the slope was closed.” Ski touring is a sport that should be enjoyed while taking the necessary precautions. However, if a cable is in the snow it can be very difficult to see. “If only ski tourers knew how dangerous it can sometimes be...” says Martina. She means that if the cable were to be suddenly come under tension, things could prove deadly for the ski tourer.
In the future, Martina wants to continue her work on the slopes, yet she dreams of operating a Leitwolf or an even bigger snow groomer. But for the time being, she also works the morning shift at a bakery in Nova Levante/Welschnofen. Who knows, maybe I’ll meet her at the Carezza Ski resort ticket office some day, selling ski passes.
Her pink mirrors are hardly visible anymore in the dark. Martina turns off the engine with a satisfied look as she gazes up at the freshly groomed surface of the slopes above. Her job is done for the evening. But tomorrow is another day.
Text: Katja Schroffenegger
Transcreation: Covi, Wurzer & Partner - Die Sprachdienstleister
Photos: Alex Filz
Video: Miramonte Film – Andreas Pichler
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