Do you take marking on ski pistes for granted? Have you noticed barriers, marked dangerous areas, information boards and other signs on ski pistes which make skiing more pleasant and safer? These and many other things in the resort of Jasná - Nízke Tatry are the responsibility of the piste grooming and safety staff. We have spent one day at work with one of its members.
Martin Kollár (39) is not an ordinary “safety man”. He was not born under the mountains, did not grow up in their embrace but is closely related to them. We have been with Martin all day long, from the first inspection cableway ride to the end of operation in the resort. And besides watching him working, we have also had a word with him and learned a lot of interesting things.
Beginnings and itchy feet.
He comes from Bratislava, studied furniture design and design history. He spent most of his life travelling, working and discovering various countries. After school, he went to live in the mountains. He helped repair chalets, was carrying material up and doing many things related to the mountains. After some time, he went to work abroad. To England, Ireland, France and other European countries, but also to Australia. He started from scratch but worked his way up higher and higher. After years spent abroad, he finally settled down in a small picturesque village at the foot of Mt. Chopok called Malužiná.
Malužiná? From the big world to a small village under Mt. Chopok?
"Martin: Yes. After a lot of work experience abroad, I have decided to make my dream come true and have bought a small house in Malužiná."
This is where his connection to the resort of Jasná - Nízke Tatry begins. Since his childhood, Martin has liked the mountains, working in nature and in fresh air. As he had made a snow groomer driving course before, he applied for the job of a snow groomer driver in the resort. However, there was a chance to do something else and very responsible – piste grooming and safety. He used the opportunity. The beginning was not easy. At first he was working on the northern side for some time, then he moved to the southern one. "A native from Bratislava who lives in Malužiná was transferred from the region of Liptov to the region of Horehronie." He went through fire. But it is said that “people are good if you are good to them”. So he decided for the south. But there, he had to defend his position. To show his determination and qualities to older and more experienced colleagues, to persuade them that they have one and the same goal. They were waiting for one season to see if he sticks with the job. And he did.
Why Jasná - Nízke Tatry, why not any other resort?
Since a very young age when he put skis and a snowboard on for the first time, he has been going to Mt. Chopok. He preferred the southern side as it was closer when travelling from Bratislava. The mountains are beautiful there, he fell for the locality. That is why he bought a house in Malužiná. “To have the same distance from the northern as well as southern side of the mountain.” How practical.
What does piste grooming and safety actually mean?
It is Martin´s job to check the pistes on the southern side before the resort begins to operate officially. To monitor the conditions, see if track marking poles are free of snow and ice, if marking signs are placed correctly and visibly, if there are any uneven sections on ski pistes that could cause problems, if there are any stones on the slopes and if the pistes are safe. All this happens before the cableways start to operate for the public. At 7:30am, he embarks a cableway for inspection and begins with piste grooming. Piste 34C is the first to be checked, it is the most frequently used one among less experienced skiers as well as ski tourers. However, it can be difficult because it runs straight along a ridge which is sometimes very windy. That is why one needs to pay attention there. Martin does his best to help resort visitors if they need, calls the Mountain rescue service if anybody gets injured, offers advice.
One might think that it is “a great job to ski around and check something here and there”. That is not so much true. Martin completes about 50 slope kilometres per day, less on some days but also more. He spends about 165 days in the mountains when working, i.e. from the beginning to the end of the season. This means, he completes thousands of slope kilometres in total. And how many marking poles does he place per day? About 250 on average. He cleans some of them but has to fix most of them again. His job is not only about skiing. He walks some sections on skis or takes them off and checks the pistes on foot.
Summer on a deckchair? No way!
On the contrary! All ski pistes need to be prepared in summer. This is the time when Martin sows grass seed, places snow fences, grooms the slopes which have been partly damaged by heavy machines. Winter proves that his efforts are worth it. And that makes him happy.
What problems and interesting situations do you experience in the resort at work?
Martin: "I am very sorry that people do not respect the marking, ignore the resort staff, think that the marking is a mere decoration. They even damage it sometimes. Many of them ski without respecting others. There are thousands of people, thousands of different stories and natures. As for interesting situations, I can recall many of them. For example recently, two skiers have set out for the top of Mt. Chopok at the wind speed of over 100 km/h. I was warning them the weather was not appropriate for a tour, that they should change their minds and rather go back. They said they were ok and used to such weather. One hour later, I met them on top inside the Rotunda building. They were asking for cableway transport down the hill. It was to adult men, no kids. If the cableway could not be arranged, they asked us to lend them some goggles because they had left their ones in the car. There are many similar cases when people underestimate their skills and the power of nature. The problem is often about bad equipment, not properly fixed ski boots, unfastened helmets, skiing without goggles, children sliding down the area of Predné Dereše with snow gliders.
How can you recognise Martin? Very simply. He has always something in his hands. Either a work tool or marking poles. But an exclamation mark on his shoulder is the main telltale sign. Feel free to stop next to him and have a talk. He will be happy and you might learn something interesting.