Thank You Doug McNair
For most of the past 40 years Doug McNair has been grooming the trails and fixing the machines that make Tahoe XC’s (and before that Tahoe Nordic’s) trails such a joy to ski. Now, he finally is getting a chance to take a break, announcing his retirement this past spring. He will, however, remain active on the Board of the Tahoe Cross Country Ski Education Association (TCCSEA).
Hundreds of times over the last few decades all of us cross-country addicts have happily skied over Doug’s hard work from the night before. Thanks Doug for the amazing corduroy!
The Early Days in Tahoe
After college Doug moved to the mountains of Colorado to work as the Assistant Director of cross country skiing at Copper Mountain. In the summer, he would lead river rafting trips. By 1980, he moved to Alpine Meadows, where his then girlfriend’s parents had a cabin that they could stay in. That girlfriend, Nancy, later became his wife.
Doug started working at Squaw Valley Nordic teaching skiing and grooming, while Nancy worked for the recently opened Tahoe Nordic Ski Area owned by Skip Reedy. By 1981, Doug went to groom for Skip, and Nancy left to get her teaching credential. Nancy McNair was off to spend several decades teaching several generations of North Tahoe’s kids (including my two daughters).
Doug & Tahoe XC
For the next 14 years Doug groomed for Tahoe Nordic. They started out pulling a track pan behind a simple snowmobile, then acquired a Thiokol Sprite, which was a small grooming machine pulling a roller and a track pan behind. This was before skate skiing.
Eventually, they got a second Sprite and added a blade and a packing bar. By the late 80s skate skiing became popular, equipment got better, and skiers started to have higher expectations to the skiing experience they should receive at a cross-country ski area.
Tahoe Nordic finally moved into a small Piston-Bully grooming machine. While this was a considerable improvement, it was still just eight feet wide, creating a much narrower path for skating than the 14 feet wide machines used today.
Over the Years
Doug remembers one pineapple express in January getting the Piston-Bully horribly stuck in several feet of wet slop near the far end of Yellow trail. “That is when we came up with the plan to not groom when it is raining,” said McNair.
Lakeview Cross Country assumed control of the ski area from Skip Reedy from 1994 until 1999 and Doug didn’t work for Lakeview. When Tahoe XC was formed under the auspices of the non-profit TCCSEA, Doug was back grooming under the new managers, Kevin and Valli Murnane.
Tahoe XC bought two Bombardier machines that really do a much better job of grooming than the smaller machines Doug had been driving for Skip. These are basically the same type of machines in use at the ski area today.
If you have never been in a grooming machine you might think grooming the same trails over and over each night would get repetitive, but the different snow conditions don’t allow that to happen. “The snow is never the same as the year before,” said McNair. “It’s always a challenge to work with the machines to get the best product.”
If the snow is solid ice, it’s tough to chop it up enough to lay a good corduroy. Or if there is three feet of new snow they have to push snow off the trail in order to groom it (and then weeks later, as the supply of snow dwindles, drag some of that snow back onto the trail). Different temperature, snow conditions, how long it has been since it snowed, all join together to make every day a puzzle. Groomers have to adjust the depth of the tiller and how they use the blade not only every day, but every minute while grooming the trails.
During low snow years, the big grooming machines have to sit idle, and the snowmobiles and ATV’s head out on the trails pulling Ginzu’s and other grooming devices behind. They do a great job for what they are, but will never compare with what the big grooming machines can produce, and are certainly a much colder experience for the groomer. If you are interested in learning more about grooming, check out our blog, How Do Our Groomers Do It.
Doug's Work = Happy Skiers
Aside from running and maintaining all the pieces of equipment, Doug could often be found out on the trails after a big wind storm, removing trees and limbs off the trail. In big winters, the groomers also have to go out and trim branches to keep the machines from clipping as they pass underneath.
While Doug McNair might be best known for his grooming, to me he was just a great guy to work with the past twenty years. He was always calm with a low key sense of humor, and was someone you could turn to when you couldn’t figure out how to do something, which to this mechanically challenged guy was quite often.
While Doug is pretty excited about getting the opportunity to take a break from the challenges of grooming, he fondly remembers all those hours alone in a machine turning chewed up snow into something beautiful that would make skiers happy in the morning.