Interview With Trail Groomer Extraordinaire Karl Johnson

FasterSkierAugust 3, 2005

Karl Johnson is responsible for the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center’s perfect snow grooming and year round trail work, at Maine’s largest nordic center, in Carrabassett Valley, ME. Rarely seen, because he spends most of his waking hours behind the stick of every winter sport enthusiast’s favorite snow grooming equipment, and, when we skiers are awake, his dry Maine humor often floors even the most dehydrated athlete. Karl always has a unique perspective on what we do and why we do it. “Ask Karl” always yields obfuscating answers to illuminating questions. Which is why we keep Asking Karl — he provides no deterent to our addiction.

So, when Karl got the job to groom down at the Ski Farm in New Zealand, the summer training center for the nordic stars of 2006, I wrote to ask the over-worked groomer to the 2006 Olympic medalists to be, “How’s it going?”

Do they groom clockwise, that side of the equator?
What’s the snow like? How deep?
Darn! How did you get the luckiest job ever, grooming snow down at the Snow Farm in New Zealand, summer training mecca of Olympic medalists to be, through the most
hellacious , hazy, hot, humid weather the East? NENSA and I want to Ask Karl, “What it’s like grooming in such a beautiful place, for overly focused
potential Olympic medalists and their coaching and ski equipment hangers-on?”
Dorcas, NENSA’s overly, obviously envious media rep.

The Coriolos Force: A term used to describe the inability of people to master the intricacies of changing directions while downhill skiing. Useful also to explain the complexities of moving in reverse and the strange effects on the controls of equipment. Left is right, right is to larboard, and don't even think about going in reverse. Fortunately the ” how does that fit down the trail” size of the equipment, covers most problems. Fence? You mean that pile of kindling? No worries mate, just don't go off that cliff.

Hardest to learn has been controlling the dogs. I carry 2 along the
back of the groomer: One for the sheep, the other for the hares. Using a
complex system of horn beeps, back-up alarms and good old-fashioned
yelling out the window the sheep are set right, and we control the hares
to concentrate the brown klister kernels into the tracks. A quite useful
local adaptation of applying the kick wax to the tracks as opposed to
the ski. At a distance they also respond to manipulations of the blade.
Great care must be used at this point or the sheep might get herded into
the car test area, then mutton stew for a week for all. Gives “hairies'
a whole new meaning.

A wide array of international skiers pass through. The Canadian
team, US, Japanese, UK, NY, Ben Koons, some juniors from Norway. If I
search hard I can find a native.

Scarce snow this year, good skiing though. A familiar situation of
modest snowfall. Dry, with consistent temps makes for some pleasant
skiing. Incredible views, cliff-side trails, and not a tree for miles.
Vegemite? I'm still working on that. The local beer has been an easy




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