Imagine an eerily quiet, cold, crystalline world high in the mountains of Vermont, where everything—everything—is encased in two inches of glassy, impenetrable ice.

Northeastern ice events can be bedazzling to look at, but when it comes to mountain operations they can also be disruptive and downright destructive. It’s a fact of life in the mountains at Killington/Pico, where an icing event can leave lifts and other infrastructure frozen in time. That’s where the core (and cold) competency of the mountain operations team comes in.

Mountain Maintenance Manager Tim Brosnan is one of the frozen few responsible for deicing lifts after a significant weather event. Between Killington and Pico there are at least 30 lifts of various shapes and sizes; some are unaffected by icing events while others require people like Brosnan to climb the towers one by one and literally hammer ice off of sheaves and clear off haul ropes and related mechanical parts. Climbing up an icy metal tower, often in arctic weather conditions and working between 30 and 90 feet off the ground is certainly not for everyone. But Brosnan loves the mental and physical challenges. The views aren’t bad up there, either.
Northeastern ice events can be bedazzling to look at, but when it comes to mountain operations they can also be disruptive and downright destructive. It’s a fact of life in the mountains at Killington/Pico, where an icing event can leave lifts and other infrastructure frozen in time. That’s where the core (and cold) competency of the mountain operations team comes in.
“I think the biggest thing is being able to look past the fact that you’re at a higher elevation,” he says. “For a lot of people, the most nerve-wracking thing is actually climbing up the tower or climbing down the tower. Once you’re up there working, you just get in the zone and focus on the task. And people either get used to it or get scared and move on to something else. It’s definitely not for everybody.”

After 42 years on the job as Killington’s Technical Maintenance Manager, Gene Syria is in the midst of passing the torch, or the hammer as it may be, to Brosnan. “King Gene,” as he’s known around the resort, has high-marked and hammered his way through a lot of ice events over the years.

“We are a climbing group,” Syria says. “We all have practiced our climbing. We are comfortable being on a tower. We have the equipment, whether it’s foot gear, or harnesses, the tools that we need. Different situations call for different pieces of equipment. But being comfortable once you’re up there and being able to hold on and swing a hammer, it’s a feat for some. And for those of us who do it, it’s just another day.”

Add two inches of ice to the job and, just like Gene Syria, Brosnan is in his element.
“I think the biggest thing is being able to look past the fact that you’re at a higher elevation,” he says. “For a lot of people, the most nerve-wracking thing is actually climbing up the tower or climbing down the tower. Once you’re up there working, you just get in the zone and focus on the task. And people either get used to it or get scared and move on to something else. It’s definitely not for everybody.”

After 44 years on the job as Killington’s Technical Maintenance Manager, Gene Syria is in the midst of passing the torch, or the hammer as it may be, to Brosnan. “King Gene,” as he’s known around the resort, has high-marked and hammered his way through a lot of ice events over the years.

“We are a climbing group,” Syria says. “We all have practiced our climbing. We are comfortable being on a tower. We have the equipment, whether it’s foot gear, or harnesses, the tools that we need. Different situations call for different pieces of equipment. But being comfortable once you’re up there and being able to hold on and swing a hammer, it’s a feat for some. And for those of us who do it, it’s just another day.”

Add two inches of ice to the job and, just like Gene Syria, Brosnan is in his element.

“I don’t mind losing sleep when I’m thinking about what I’m going to be doing all day because I’m looking forward to it,” Brosnan continues. “Even though it’s a tough job, you’ve got to deal with it and when you put in a long day it feels good at the end of it. Gene and I always joke—especially on the icing days when we come dragging ourselves in all soaking wet at five o’clock at night or something—’Oh, is it lunchtime yet?’ Because you’re just going, man. We don’t want to stop. We want to get them all running, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes, how late you got to go, how early you came in. We keep pushing through, and I love that part of it.”

“We are a brotherhood,” Syria says. “I mean, where everybody relies on each other. We watch each other; we watch each other climb. We know what the other one’s going to do. It’s the trust of us to the guy at the buttons, pushing the buttons, because everybody, every communication, it has to be absolutely clear. We have to be right on point. It’s a tough job, and you don’t want to have your hands in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s why it’s so important that whoever is at that button is right on top of his game, too. It’s a brotherhood ... because we are. That’s all.”

Brosnan began his career in the ski industry as a lift operator at Mountain Creek in New Jersey. Since landing at Killington, he’s climbed the proverbial tower to his current supervisor position.

“We have a crew of 15 to 18 lift mechanics and seven or eight lift electricians,” Brosnan says. “The majority of our work is in the summertime, where they’re doing all the maintenance on the lifts and all the repairs and everything, and [we] hope that in the winter everything runs well and you can just sit back and watch it run.”

But during ski season things can be unpredictable, and Brosnan will find him- self either in the field or the office depending on what the day demands. As for staying prepared for upcoming storms and other weather events, Brosnan and crew keep a close eye on the forecast and do their best to prepare for whatever Mother Nature throws at them.
Northeastern ice events can be bedazzling to look at, but when it comes to mountain operations they can also be disruptive and downright destructive. It’s a fact of life in the mountains at Killington/Pico, where an icing event can leave lifts and other infrastructure frozen in time. That’s where the core (and cold) competency of the mountain operations team comes in.
“We all live by the weather, right?” Brosnan says. “So everybody knows when an icing event is coming; usually you can tell a couple of days out. And then as it gets closer you know how bad it might get. Usually if I can give the guys a day or two heads up, sometimes it’s just the evening before, we’ll have mechanic send electricians in an hour or an hour-and-a-half before they normally would start. We’ll start three, three-and-a-half hours before the lifts open in order to get a jump on it and try to get as much ice cleaned off as we can.”

It’s a coordinated effort between the mountains operations teams, including grooming and ski patrol, along with lift maintenance and ops. They collectively decide which lifts need the most attention and then teams of three or four lift-maintenance personnel disperse across the mountain.

“There’s a lot of pride in the group, considering the number of lifts that we have,” Brosnan says. “There’s a really small group of us who are lift mechanics, not only at Killington, but at every resort. It’s a small, eclectic group that makes all the lifts run, so it’s cool to be a part of that.”

“Lift mechanics are a special breed, and they have a perspective all their own.”

“That extra 30 or 40 feet of elevation does make a difference,” Brosnan continues. “When you’re up on the mountain early in the morning, up on top of a tower, you get a view that nobody gets. You see some awesome sunrises. It’s really only lift mechanics that are up there—before ski patrol, before marketing can get up and take pictures, or anything like that.”

Like his predecessor, Brosnan has embraced the harsh elements of his job and then some.

“Some people laugh at it, but I love the deicing days,” he says. “I love being out there and climbing towers and banging ice and getting the lifts going. It’s a really challenging part of the job, but that’s what makes the job fun. That’s what makes me want to come to work.”

— Mike Horn
photos by Justin Cash, Chandler Burgess
“With a de-icing event, it’s gratifying to see it at the end,” Syria says. “We don’t need a pat on the shoulder. We see it turn.”
“With a de-icing event, it’s gratifying to see it at the end,” Syria says. “We don’t need a pat on the shoulder. We see it turn.”
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