When I tell Craig Patterson, the Grooming Manager at Palisades, that I want to write an article about him, he responds with, “You can’t tell my story without telling Andy’s story, too.” He’s talking about one of his closest friends, Andy Lindsey, who has a long history as a talented groomer and is now a Regional Manager for PistenBully, the main supplier of state-of-the-art snowcats to Palisades Tahoe.
I go over to the grooming office to talk to them on a Friday afternoon, and I find Andy and Craig huddled around Craig’s computer. They’re not alone; they’re joined by Brendo, the Director of Snow Surfaces at Palisades Tahoe, and two of the specialty groomers that were brought in to help prepare for the Stifel Palisades Tahoe Cup this February, a stop on the Audi FIS Ski World Cup Tour.
“You might have to wait a minute,” Craig tells me. “We’re doing nerd stuff.”
I watch quietly as Andy shows the group a new way to see snow depth (more like a graph rather than the usual GPS depth view that looks like a heatmap) in their SnowSat system that newer PistenBully snowcats come equipped with. Brendo excitedly exclaims, “That’s so cool!”
In the next room over, the grooming team on the swing shift starts to make their preparations for the evening. Crew members pop their heads into the office, and Andy helps Craig make recommendations about what they should focus on for the next few hours. Andy isn’t a Palisades Tahoe employee anymore, but he uses his expertise to lend a hand to a place he loves.
Craig and Andy are just two of the players preparing the Red Dog zone for the Stifel Palisades Tahoe Cup, but their passion and experience make them some of the most interesting characters you’ll find at our mountain – or at one of the many mountains they’ve worked together at across the globe. Their stories of how they got to play such an important role on the world stage for Palisades Tahoe are completely intertwined.
Author’s Note: This story is best told in Craig and Andy’s own words, so the use of transcript-style reporting is used throughout.
NORTH LAKE TAHOE
Craig moved to Lake Tahoe when he was just 22 years old. He came across the country from western New York to be a Lift Operator with the intention of working just one season and then returning back to the East Coast. Craig didn’t move here alone; he came with a couple of friends. One of those friends got a job working at a ski shop in Incline Village. It turned out that west shore resident Andy Lindsey worked there too. Because of that, “Andy was literally the first person I met when I moved here,” Craig says.
He and Andy laugh about some of the parties they had back then and they tell me that I’m going to have to publish the redacted version of their story. “The CIA won’t let us go into detail,” Craig says. He casually mentions that Andy had to pick him up hitchhiking sometimes because Craig didn’t have a car.
ANDY: You did have a car. You had the Scout.
CRAIG: Until I didn’t! I went home for Thanksgiving one year, and my roommates only had 2 wheel-drive cars. So they used my Scout to try to get up the hill to a party at Andy’s house. Now, this thing had no top. Everybody would wear their ski helmets and goggles when we drove it around. But this night, they let the craziest dude I ever met in my life drive it back down the hill. And he decided to jump the Scout over a pile of dirt from a construction project. So I come home from Thanksgiving, and there’s no Scout in the driveway.
ANDY: And you were bummed. Craig had a paint job on this thing. Like chrome racing stripes.
CRAIG: Remember when I bought it? I called Andy, and I said come on over, I bought a convertible, let’s go cruising for chicks. He comes over and I had a Scout with no top on it.
Anyway – we get ourselves back on track. After Craig and Andy met, Andy became a groomer at Homewood Mountain Resort and then at Palisades Tahoe. He told Craig, “Man, you should get into grooming.”
At this point, Craig had stuck around longer than expected and had been a Lift Operator at Palisades Tahoe for two years, working under Don Lowder. A few of the guys Craig had moved out with had already started grooming at Palisades Tahoe, too. Craig had ridden in a snowcat with Andy at Homewood a couple of times and thought it was cool.
Then Andy became the Grooming Manager at Homewood. His good friend’s dad had recently bought the ski hill, and very quickly set about improving infrastructure, putting in new lifts, and buying a new fleet of snowcats. In his role as Manager, Andy would “steal” guys from Palisades Tahoe. So people like Craig would work five days at Palisades Tahoe and then spend their other “days off” working at Homewood.
CRAIG: That’s how stupid we were for snowcats. We would spend seven days a week pushing snow around.
ANDY: It worked out well. One night, Craig drove out of a cable. Was it your first night?
CRAIG: My first night working at Homewood, yeah.
ANDY: I told him all the alarms were disconnected.
CRAIG: It was his dad’s birthday. He hadn’t had a day off in two months… I was driving forward down the run, and the cable on the winch cat was short. I had checked it…. I thought I had tons of room. So I kept driving. And then suddenly, my boom came swinging around to the front. It turns out that cable was super short [and the snowcat became detached from the cable.] So much for Andy’s night off!
ANDY: And I get the call with him saying, yeah, I walked out the cable. Thankfully I lived right down the street. I came over on my snowmobile to rescue him.
After that incident, both Craig and Andy continued to groom at Homewood, but that was soon to change. One day, Craig was working at Palisades Tahoe when Andy gave him a call. Early days of cell phones here, so Craig answered on his flip phone.
“I’m done with Homewood,” Andy told him. “I quit.”
“So you’re looking for a job?” Craig had asked. Andy said yes. Keeping Andy on the phone, Craig radioed the Palisades Tahoe Grooming Manager at the time and said, “Andy Lindsey is looking for a job.”
The Manager exclaimed, “Hang up with him right now! Tell him I’m going to call him!”
So Andy came and worked as a groomer at Palisades Tahoe with Craig for a six-year period.
Andy and Craig started spending their summers grooming at Perisher, the largest resort in the Southern Hemisphere. Initially, Craig went without Andy. He spent two seasons operating a winch cat down there, and his boss kept asking him, “Got any mates that want to come do this with you?”
Craig had just one person he would stake his reputation on, and that was Andy. It took a while to convince Andy to do it; Andy had never been further than Colorado. But for Craig’s third year in Australia, Andy came with him. They overlapped in summers for three years, and then Andy did two additional summers without Craig. So both did five years total, but those three summers in the middle were spent together.
At the time, they lived in an old house together on the West Shore. They’d be in that house for nine months of the year, and then in Australia for the other three months.
ANDY: It was three LONG months.
CRAIG: Very long. Over the five seasons I was there, I averaged 74 hours per week in a snowcat. I’d work 6 or 7 days a week, between 12 and 15 hours a day.
ANDY: We would work graveyard, and then we would get off in the morning, and in the older cats, these LMCs, you know, it’s hot in there. So we’d have our shirts off while we’re out there farm-dozing snow… They would have a random check of if you’re drunk when you come to work. At like 10 am, our boss would come find us and tell us to leave the bar, to go home so that we’d be sober enough to come back to work when our shift started.
CRAIG: The rule was 8 hours between bottle and throttle.
ANDY: We got into some…
LIZ: Were you about to say you got into some trouble?
ANDY: Well, one day, you know, we just decided to ride [our snowmobiles] on the hill. While it was open and people were skiing. We went all around, and we got in some serious trouble for that.
LIZ: So, it was a loose operation over there.
ANDY: It was loose. It was real loose. But at the same time, like Craig said, it was the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere and they’d have a [lot] of people come. Everyone from Sydney coming to ride or ski. So we did a lot of work.
CRAIG: Andy and I literally changed the way they groomed the ski resort. They just bought these winch cats and they thought that winch cats were just for grooming steep slopes and we started teaching them how you maintain ski runs, like how we do things here [at Palisades Tahoe], you know, using a winch cat on lower angle stuff to build runs and push snow around…
cont: So we kind of changed the way they groomed over there… Every year they’d host the GMs from a bunch of ski resorts and… our second year, they took the GMs to an area that Andy and I groomed every night. Our GM from Perisher [was] like, “Yeah, I’ve got these two Americans all the way from Lake Tahoe, and look what these guys are doing,” and just, like, took everybody around to brag about our grooming. Which made us feel so good.
ANDY: Yeah, we raised the bar for sure. I mean, even [the current GM] will say you know, “Those times you guys were there, that was the best.”
LIZ: That’s awesome. Not surprising.
WORLD CUP + OLYMPICS
For us as operators, being asked to go to the Olympics is no different than a ski racer qualifying for the games. So there’s no way I’m turning it down.Craig Patterson
CRAIG: So we came back here after we were both done in Australia, and we didn’t live together anymore. Andy started doing a bunch of work in Colorado for the Birds of Prey. Andy– you tell this story.
ANDY: Oh, yeah, so I go a job with World Cup. I went out there [to Colorado for Birds of Prey] with a bunch of friends, including Marco Sullivan, and we were watching Daron Rahlves, cause that was when he won. And all the grooming machines were lined up out on the course and you know, admittedly, I had had something to drink.
cont: And one of the first guys there, he’s like revving his engine and I just opened up the door. He saw who I’d been hanging out with, and he said, “Come in here, man.”
cont: I told him, “I run these cats back in Tahoe.” I ended up talking to him for a while and riding with him that night and going to this afterparty. We stayed connected and that’s how I got invited to groom on the World Cup.
CRAIG: So after that, Andy got on the World Cup tour and he’d start going to Colorado every November… Through all that, we got to be friends with this guy named Cowboy. Cowboy was [in charge of] all of the Birds of Prey races. He’s kind of a legend in the industry. Very knowledgeable. He’s the authority on like, snow science, and how to get that [race course] surface that you want. So when the opportunity came for a contract for Korea, he asked Andy to go with him. He kinda put together this rag-tag team of guys from all over the world… Andy from here, Ricky from Oregon, a couple guys from Colorado, a couple Kiwis, a South African from Ski Afrique.
ANDY: That was it the first couple years. It was just us.
CRAIG: When it came time for the Olympic year, they needed a few more guys. Andy called me up and I was working up on the hill here [at Palisades.] And you know, I knew that I kind of needed a break. Andy just said, “Craig, want to go to Korea?” and I was like, “Hell yeah.”
cont: He was like “Okay, cool, I’m going to send you the information but you need to get your stuff [submitted] right now.”
cont: I happened to be sitting in the truck with my boss, Bruce [Colburn], and I said, “I need to go get in front of a computer,” and told him what was going on and he said, “Sounds like we need to get down the hill right now.” So Bruce dropped me off at the base of the mountain so I could get a job working on the other side of the planet.
cont: I got everything together and ended up going on the program. It was kind of Andy’s way of saying, hey, you took me to Australia, I want to repay the favor. And I think Andy sold it to the guys as kind of, you know, I might not have that much race course experience – besides US Nationals and some other stuff, I didn’t have a whole lot of experience – but he told them, you know, Craig can do anything in a snowcat. Put him in the oldest piece of garbage you’ve got and he’ll do anything…. So I ended up building the slalom training course. And it was super fun. You couldn’t ask for a better group of guys.
ANDY: I didn’t really know anyone going in the first year… And it was in the middle of nowhere, too. This mountain – It would be like turning Battle Mountain out in Nevada into a ski resort.
CRAIG: Built three chairlifts and a gondola, and snowmaking top to bottom… Just to pull it all out. It was never used again.
LIZ: They pulled it all out?!
ANDY: Yeah. Cause it was a sacred place. The story behind that – We lived in this little village and that was cool. Like no English or anything. We went to a restaurant that we ended up liking so we got to be real good friends with the owner. No English this whole time. Google translate… But we became a literal family.
LIZ: How long were you there for?
ANDY: Four months.
LIZ: And this was 2018, right?
CRAIG: Right. 2018 was my first year. I didn’t have to do the first few hard years when there was truly nothing there. Andy did that. And a lot of the locals were pissed.
ANDY: Yeah, so every day we’d drive out of the mountain and exit this gate at the end of the road and there was this, like, this group of guys there drinking beer, playing music. They’ve got a bonfire.
LIZ: And you were like, “Are you partying? Can I join you?”
ANDY: Yeah! Yeah, I asked someone, “Are they partying?” and he goes, “No, they’re protesting. This is a sacred mountain. They ripped out a bunch of sacred trees.” And I’m like oh, shoot. So yeah, they tore down this whole mountain and not too many people were happy about it.
CRAIG: [On the racecourse,] there was this tree that was considered sacred. Also, for every tree they tore out, they did replant one. But anyway. This section our buddy Ricky worked on was called Magic Tree. It’s where women would go when they were having trouble getting pregnant, and they would pray there. So it was like a fertility tree. Well, within two weeks of Ricky going home, his girlfriend was pregnant.
LIZ: Get out. The tree was magic!
ANDY: The little details like that are just so good… It was a small crew there to pull it all off. We did all the speed events, men’s and women’s. And then the slalom course. But yeah, it was cool.
CRAIG: So then, China. A bunch of us put our names on the list for China. Andy started working for PistenBully right after that so, it would’ve been a complication with Andy’s job, but I ended up going…
cont: Neither China nor Korea had ever held a World Cup event, and for it to be sanctioned by FIS, you have to pull off a certain amount of World Cup races. In China, we started in November of 2018… but then at the end of 2019 this little thing called Covid-19 broke out… We had the whole venue built at that point.
cont: When we got there the first year, there were still excavators on the mountain. The snowcats hadn’t been delivered. We were literally driving around in side-by-sides in dirt on the race course. It was like, 20 below zero. They started making snow the day that I got there. So we had built the entire venue top to bottom. We were just about to slush-till.
cont: And then we start to hear through the grapevine about things maybe getting cancelled. We had some Swedish guys and some Swiss guys working with us. They tell us, you know, team Switzerland isn’t coming. I hear that the American team isn’t coming. Finally, they held a big meeting and said, yeah, we’re not doing it cause of covid. I was on a plane in, like, 16 hours…
cont: So, that’s kind of how Andy and I ended up doing World Cup and Olympics stuff.
ANDY: There really are a lot of characters involved. We could go on and on telling you about the people we’ve run into. It’s a big world, but a small industry.
LIZ: Craig, how did that work for you – That you were working at Palisades Tahoe but you had to take these long breaks to do this other job?
CRAIG: I just told them I was going. For us as operators, being asked to go to the Olympics is no different than a ski racer qualifying for the games. So there’s no way I’m turning it down… I had a conversation with Jimmy [King, Mountain Manager at Palisades] in the summertime and I said, “I’ll be back sometime in February.” At that point, I was still the Graveyard [Shift] Supervisor. I’m the one they call at 4 in the morning to see how things are going. But Jimmy said, “Yeah, you gotta go. We’ll have a job waiting for you when you’re home.”
STIFEL PALISADES TAHOE CUP
We want to exceed expectations. We don’t want it to just be a normal race.Andy Lindsey
From February 24th to February 26th, the Stifel Palisades Tahoe Cup will take place on some of Palisades Tahoe’s most iconic lower mountain terrain, Dog Face and Dog Leg. International Mens FIS Alpine Skiing teams will compete in Slalom and Giant Slalom events each day. Hosting a coveted event like this on a world stage is an honor, and also a huge task for our teams to prepare for.
ANDY: At the end of the day, it’s pretty cool to see, like – It’s full circle. Craig now becoming a Grooming Manager. Us having a World Cup here –
CRAIG: Andy being a manager at PistenBully –
ANDY: And I’m here all the time, obviously. You know, they’ve got 40 PistenBullys [here at Palisades Tahoe]. The guys here are transitioning their fleet into the best in the world.
CRAIG: I mean, our goal – outside of the World Cup – is of course that we don’t want to be second best. We want to have the best grooming in the world. And a big part of that is, we can’t have the best grooming in the world unless we have the best fleet in the world… Andy comes here to explain the new technology to me. Cause I’m still learning. At the end of the day, the things Andy and I learned to groom on were fancy tractors.
ANDY: And now that World Cup is here, you know, to have that, it’s huge. So that’s why I’m here a lot. This stuff is my passion.
CRAIG: Andy’s humble about it, but he lends us his expertise.
ANDY: And I know the guys well, you know? Craig and Brendo and I, we’ve been talking about this race since last July… And like I said, it’s my passion, so I lend my two cents and we all take what the race directors ask for and make it a reality… We want to exceed expectations. We don’t want it to just be a normal race.
CRAIG: Also, it’s not like we don’t have the talent on our grooming team to do this in-house. Our crew is totally talented enough to do this. But we also have the rest of a ski resort to groom!
LIZ: A very large ski resort!
CRAIG: We don’t just want the course to look good. The whole world is watching, right? We want the whole mountain to look as good as it always does. And we know our crew will have it looking amazing.
RACE COURSE SURFACE PREP
If you’ve visited the Palisades side of our resort recently, you’ve probably seen some of the preparations going into the slope on Red Dog and Exhibition. Here’s a look at the work that has gone into preparing this course over the past few weeks.
Our end goal for the surface of a ski race course is to have an extremely firm surface that goes at least 18 inches down. For several weeks before the race, we “process” the snow to create that surface. Here is how we do it:
Step One: Wind Rowing
We begin by “wind rowing” the hills – Just like you might see a farmer do to the dirt in their fields. This is done using a snowcat, pushing snow into vertical rows going up and down the hill. This allows cold air to reach deeper into the existing snowpack.
Step Two: Watering
After the rows have been built, we water them. Adding all of this moisture to the snowpack helps it solidify even more. We want this processed snow to be icy to help create that firm surface.
Step Three: Till
Once wind rowing and watering are complete, and cold air has had time to penetrate the snow, we put a snowcat back on the run and get an even till on the surface.