At Seven Springs, nation's top snow crew works tirelessly to groom slopes
Skiers and snowboarders at Seven Springs Mountain Resort rarely run into Joe Genovese's crew, just their award-winning work.
Like the shoemaker's elves in the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, the 35-member team logs long hours after dark and before dawn manning everything from chain saws and snowblowers to the massive Snow Cats — essentially snow bulldozers — to ensure the seven terrain parks and 33 slopes and trails are ready when thousands of skiers and boarders hit the Somerset County mountain resort every winter.
"I moved here six years ago because of their reputation," said Genovese, 37. "This is the longest I've stayed anywhere."
Three groomers push snow to build a 13-foot half pipe in preparation of the Oakley Mini Pipe Challenge on Feb. 15, at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. Photo by Dan Speicher
Before landing at Seven Springs, he spent 11 years honing his craft at other resorts, including ones in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., and Park City, Utah.
Today, he will put his crew and their highly ranked terrain parks up against the best.
In a region that often relies on man-made snow to compensate for nature's stinginess, work by his crew is critical. Their snow-shaping skills and creative terrain parks — which feature jumps, half pipes, rails, steps and other man-made features — have helped Seven Springs snag major national competitions.
The resort last week hosted the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association's Revolution Tour, which features many of the nation's top junior skiers and riders.
On Saturday, the Burton Qualifiers will make the last of six stops in Canada and the United States for a finals at Seven Springs. The competition features some of the country's top young riders and a $10,000 purse.
A skier hits a jump, soaring above the judges tent, during the U.S. Revolution Tour on March 8 at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. Plagued by rain and a mild winter, the park crew worked tirelessly to prepare the terrain park for the national competition. Photo by Dan Speicher
Work by Genovese's team propelled Seven Springs into the Top 10 resorts in the annual ratings by TransWorld Snowboarding magazine. Snow Park Technologies and TransWorld in January recognized the team with its annual Workhorse Award, which honors the top snow crew in the country.
"They've actually put forth a big initiative to be progressive in so many different ways, not just terrain parks," said Snow Park Technologies spokesman Mike Bettera. "They're really trying to up the ante and stay current."
Bettera said management at Seven Springs isn't hesitant to invest in their work and it shows.
Ryan Prichard, of Wilmington, N.Y. — home of Whiteface Mountain — has visited Seven Springs several times with his 18 year-old son Jake, who is a competitive freestyle skier. He marveled at the work Genovese's crew did getting the mountain ready for the Revolution Tour, which attracted 68 up-and-coming skiers and riders from Australia, Canada, Germany and the United States.
"Seven Springs is always a great stop. The terrain park and the terrain park features are easily among the best in the country," Prichard said as his son sailed over a jump on The Spot terrain park and landed a perfect double front flip.
Keeping up the terrain parks that attract skiers and riders from around the world is a year-round job for Genovese.
"When the slopes close, we clean up the hill, take a week off and immediately start getting ready for next winter. There's 117 pieces of metal out there that we have to repaint. It's all built and maintained here," Genovese said of the substructures in the parks.
The course at The Spot that hosted the Revolution Tour featured two jumps and a 13-foot half pipe — all built and measured to precise guidelines. It was the culmination of "10 days of constant pushing with four Snow Cats," Genovese said.
During periods like that, he is on the job around the clock.
"Sometimes, I go home for a two-hour nap," he said. "I'll leave on my boots and my gear, leave the lights on and set the alarm. That way when the alarm goes off, it's light out and I'm ready to go again."
Keith Korchok, 27, of Saltsburg heads out of the office early March 8 as the park crew prepares for the U.S. Revolution Tour competition. Photo by Dan Speicher
Chris Ramsey and James "Hammy" Coffman are equally passionate about their work as supervisors on the winter crew.
"I'm 26, and this is my 24th season pass," said Coffman, who grew up in nearby Indian Head.
Ramsey, 26, a Philadelphia native, fell in love with the resort when he began skiing there while studying criminology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. For the last five years, he has split his time between Seven Springs and Idaho, where he spends summers as a forest firefighter.
"I love to be outside, and everyone is friends here. It makes it hard to leave," he said.
Chris Ramsey, 26, of Bucks County runs his snowboard over a rail feature, looking for spots that could catch the edge of competitors during the U.S. Revolution Tour.
While the job gets them out on the snow, it also forces young team members to become proficient welders, carpenters and heavy equipment operators.
Their prowess as weather forecasters, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired.
"You can study that all you want, but more than three or four days out, it's meaningless," Genovese said. "I rely on my weather rock. If the rock outside the window is wet, it's raining. If it's dry, it's sunny."
Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or email@example.com.