Bobcat tackling extreme conditions in its natural environment

Posted: 21 April 2022

With a village at 2,300 meters in the French Alps' heart, Val Thorens is the highest ski and winter sports resort in Europe. At this altitude the temperatures are below zero for at least six months of the year. The thermometer can go down to -39°C. It also snows often, and a lot (on average 6 to 8 meters per year), and the wind can blow very hard (sometimes more than 100km/h speed). Under these conditions only tough animals can survive. Snow removal, road construction, and the road system's maintenance require robust, reliable, compact and maneuverable machines. To meet these unusual requirements and to complement its fleet of machines adapted to the mountains, the city's technical department chose a Bobcat S100 skid-steer loader in January.

Started from a French dealers strong partnership

For the delivery of one of the most compact loaders in Bobcat’s portfolio ITT Mach 10, Bobcat dealer worked in association SD MAT - Doosan dealer. Together they had already delivered a Bobcat S450 skid-steer loader equipped with a snowblower for Courchevel, which, along with the resorts of Méribel, Les Ménuires, and Val Thorens, is part of the 3 Vallées ski area, known worldwide for its 600 km of slopes.

"This S100 skid-steer loader is equipped with a 1.5-meter-wide Bobcat snowblower, bucket, and fork. It has been fitted out to meet the requirements of work in the high mountains, with a closed and heated cabin, which is very rare on this model," says Jéremy Moulin of ITT Mach 10 (International Trucks & Tractors).

Extreme conditions that can only be tackled by a tough animal

The cockpit (usually equipped with foot/hand controls in this range of skid-steers) has been transformed from the factory with a dual manual/joystick control for more comfort and precision. In winter, the operators wear thick shoes to resist the cold but are not practical for handling pedals. 

The loader is also equipped with a special hydraulic line, with a cold-resistant electrical harness that powers the Bobcat snow blower for snow removal. The steerable turbine allows snow to be discharged up to 15 meters in any direction. 

Since its delivery in January 2021, Yann Oget, the technical director of Val Thorens ski resort, has personally piloted it. "I am always the first one to test the machines in order to push them to their limits. This allows me to evaluate each piece of equipment's strengths and weaknesses, better adapt and equip them if necessary, and then train the technicians in my team. This S100 skid-steer loader is both robust, comfortable, compact and very maneuverable. It allows us to get to the end of our snow removal work, especially for the narrowest sidewalks and crosswalks that require great precision."

Extreme conditions expert

Yann Oget, a resident of the resort since 1995 and head of Val Thoren's technical services since 2001, has spent more than 25 seasons here. He has been through all the trials and tribulations until this 2020/21 season, marked by the coronavirus pandemic and the ski lifts' shutdown. In winter, he coordinates a team of 21 technicians assigned full-time to the snow removal and maintenance of the resort's roads and streets. The winter season here is very long, easily lasting seven months from October to late April/early May. "Our work is really dependent on the weather. I spend at least an hour every evening analyzing the weather data in detail. This is what guides the next day's work plan. At the height of winter, the snow accumulation can reach eight to nine meters in the resort."

The Val Thorens technical service has 7 people year-round and up to 21 people from November 1 to May 12, including 9 road workers (people in charge of road cleaning and manual snow removal) and 10 drivers of machines and trucks. The technical services have 1 sandblasting truck, 7 loaders of 20 to 25 tons to group the snow in mounds, which are then evacuated by the trucks. And a snowblower and 2 trucks, also called 8*4, capable of containing up to 20 cubic meters of snow, knowing that a loader bucket, with the skip trailing in front, represents between 4 and 5 cubic meters of snow.

Tough animal needed…

Built only on a slope with sometimes substantial differences in level, Val Thorens' municipality does not extend over more than four square kilometers (4 km²). The urban plan has been thought out to the centimeter. There is no wasted space here. The resort welcomes up to 26,000 people every week during the high season—a population in continuous movement. People come up (for the week, the weekend, or the day). Traffic must flow smoothly at all times and in all conditions. The Bobcat S100 loader, with tires equipped with chains, makes it possible to clear snow quickly and cut pedestrian crossings in the resort's maze. This is an essential job to keep the ski resort running.

In Val Thorens, all the resort's accommodations are located at the end of the slopes. Snow removal consists of removing the snow from around the houses, roads, and passages. The excess snow is then evacuated by truck to storage areas outside the resort.

"We have no right to make mistakes. The quality of the reception of visitors is first and foremost the access and circulation of people and vehicles. Val Thorens also has the particularity of being a semi-pedestrian resort where cars are allowed to circulate but not to park outside the parking lots." adds Yann Oget. The roads are very wide (more than 10 meters) to allow cars and dozens of buses to pass each other easily, as well as trucks and large snowplows. "The versatility of snow removal tools is increasingly in demand and essential. It is this versatility that led us to complete our fleet with this Bobcat S100 skid-steer loader model.

… to meet the new snow removal strategy

Yann Oget explains that the resort has adopted a new snow removal strategy based on Canadian methods for the past four years, with just-in-time snow removal. Loading and then evacuating the snow directly by truck optimizes both the team's and the machines' working time. "In the end, we go twice as fast for three times less money and we make three times more snow than most other resorts. The Bobcat S100 skid-steer loader allows us to do this demanding job."

The days are particularly tough, with an early wake-up call at 4 am for a 4:50 am appointment at the snow removal center for a quick coffee and briefing for all. The departure is launched at 5 am, everyone with his machine and his sector! The snow clearing is done all day long until 5 pm with a one-hour break at noon.

Of course, if it snows every day, this schedule becomes daily except on Saturday, the arrivals' day. You have to plan for a 4 am departure and an end-of-day that can go until 10 pm, or even longer if necessary. "As long as there are vacationers on the road, we must be present to ensure snow removal. " says Yann Oget. And when the snow is gone (never for very long), the missions vary between cleaning and maintaining the machines and the communal buildings.

Name and functions of the mentioned people :

  • Yann Oget, Val Thorens, Head of technical services Val Thorens (Belleville town hall)
  • Jeremy Moulin, ITT Company (International Trucks & Tractors) Mach10 - Bobcat dealer 
  • Eric Broisier, SD MAT - Doosan dealer (Savoiet and Haute Savoie)