Traveling band of ‘snow farmers’ prepares Colorado ski slopes

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Photo: Courtesy of Mark Eldring
<p>The “snow farmers” having a blast on a mountainside.</p>

Snow guns are on full blast at ski resorts across Colorado. That includes Loveland Ski Area, where Mark Eldring leads a small team in charge of the snowmaking operation. He calls the group "snow farmers," and they trot around the globe doing this kind of work.

Despite the significant recent snowfall -- and deep freeze -- in Colorado's mountains, Eldring and his crew still have plenty of work to do. They're laboring on a handful of trails, creating a soft base up to two feet deep. Artificial snow can be better than what nature provides, he says, because snowmaking technology has advanced significantly in the past decade.

"The future of snowmaking now is all automated, so everything is controlled by computers," he says.

"They'll change the quality of snow that's produced... when the temperatures go up and down."

Loveland Ski Area opened for the season on Nov. 1 with the help of artificial snow from Eldring and his colleagues. They have been working non-stop -- day and night -- at Loveland for more than a month.

Eldring is from New Zealand and is working in the United States on a special visa. Colorado is hardly his first stop this year. He spent part of the summer making snow in Australia. Last winter, Eldring was in Russia on an assignment to make snow for the Olympic Games in Sochi.

“It’s fun employment,” he says. “I mean, it’s a joke that I get paid to do this.”

But the schedule is hectic. In he's worked 12-hour shifts the past six days and has had just three days off out of the last 40 or so. He says he practically lives out of his suitcase and rarely has time to do laundry.

At the age of 32, he’s saving up to buy a house, but admits he hasn’t had much time for a relationship.

“The girl will come later,” he says.

For now, he enjoys the "peace and serenity" of cold, dead-quiet nights in the mountains. He's seen a lot of wildlife, including eagles.

"You know, we've got elk up here and deer and, around the world, I've seen a lot of different wildlife and it's a pretty cool experience," he says. In Australia, he adds, "I've seen kangaroos in the snow."