By Karen D. Lorentz
“Man wasn’t meant to play with water in winter. It’s a difficult task,” said Dave Lacombe with an ironic smile and a sense of humor.
It’s a point that Dave Lacombe liked to stress to snowmakers working for him 30 years ago. It still holds true today, he said, evincing a healthy respect – and appreciation – for the job of snowmaker.
Born in Watertown, New York, his family moved to Pittsford when Lacombe was three as his dad had become manager for the Rutland Airport.
It was while attending Pittsford’s Lothrop school that he learned to ski at age 6 at the High Pond Ski Area in Hubbardton.
“My sister and I taught ourselves. The area had two rope tows and a T-bar,” he recalled, adding the school provided bus transportation and a ticket for $5 a day.
Having studied forestry at the Rutland Vocational school during his last two years at Otter Valley High, he got a job making snow nights at Killington during his senior year and earned credits in ski area management.
Enjoying both skiing and snowmaking, he went to work for Killington after graduating from Otter Valley in 1978.
Q&A with Dave Lacombe
Mountain Times: How did you get to your current job?
Dave Lacombe: After making snow for a season nights, I was switched to days and soon became a foreman. I was promoted to snowmaking supervisor in 1985. Years later, with the addition of overseeing grooming, I became the Snowsurface manager, my current position.
MT: What are your duties, responsibilities?
DL: I’m responsible for all snowmaking operations and maintenance, grooming, trail maintenance, and typically oversee all earth work related to capital projects at Killington and Pico. Summer trail work includes grading, erosion control, slope mowing and brushing plus general trail maintenance. I also help support the mountain bike crew.
MT: What do you like about your job?
DL: Every day is different — different tasks, projects and problems. I learn something new every day. It’s a very diversified and dynamic job. Our snowmaking system is huge and there are a lot of details that go into running a system this size. The people who work in my departments love what they do, and they are the best team you could ask for.
MT: Any influences or mentors?
DL: My dad. I remember when I was working nights and going to school days, I would tell him that the job was extremely physical and that I was in good shape but it was still kicking my butt. He said you do not have to continue to do this if it’s too much. I told him that I had to prove to myself, and others, that I could.
All the executives I have worked for have been great teachers and colleagues.
MT: Any particularly significant job experience?
DL: Yes, so many it’s hard to choose just one. Hosting the first World Cup race was one of the top challenges.
MT: What are the greatest changes you’ve seen?
DL: Snowmaking systems have evolved so much over the years to improve quality and efficiency.
When I started making snow it was pretty rough and basic. Snowguns were homemade for the most part and the quality of snow you could make was limited. The snowmaking system was also very basic with mostly manual controls. Today automatic control valves maintain a constant pressure and allow the guns to turn out a more consistent product. We made the transition to a computer-controlled system thanks to technology and computer advances. The evolution of the low-energy snowguns both tower and ground style guns give us ability to convert more water to snow utilizing less energy.
MT: Do you get to ski?
DL: I try to get out on the mountain as much as possible. It’s the best part of the job!
Trails have to be monitored at all times as the weather and skier traffic affect conditions differently every day. The snowsurface department depends on input from a variety of departments as to how conditions are and how to make them better. Skiing is one of the most effective methods to check trails.
MT: And time outside of work?
DL: I spend the majority of my time fishing. I enjoy every type of fishing and generally spend the most time going for Bass. A group of us also have gone Steelhead fishing each spring in New York for over 25 years. I also enjoy deer hunting when time allows, but it’s tough to get away that time of year. Also hiking, riding my motorcycle, and spending time with my grandchildren when possible. My wife and I travel all over buying and selling antiques. We meet great and interesting people.
MT: What’s your take on the mountain lifestyle? Winter?
DL: Generally the people are outdoor enthusiasts. So we have the same desires.
My take on winter is that I feel if you are going to live in the region, you need to take advantage of all that winter has to offer — sports such as skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, ice fishing, snowmobiling. If you do not enjoy playing in the snow, then it could become a burden and inconvenience.
MT: What advice would you give someone who wanted to move here?
DL: Don’t let the weather stop you from being outside or doing stuff. It’s not bad weather it’s bad gear.
Get the gear you need for all the hobbies you enjoy and don’t worry about the weather. It’s a playground for any outdoor enthusiast year around, and it’s a great laid-back lifestyle compared to larger states.
MT: Other sports, hobbies, spare time activities?
DL: I love to travel as much as possible. The ocean is one of my favorite places to be in the summer. Fishing, swimming, watching the sun rise and set from the shore, eating as much lobster as I can, and antiquing with my wife.
MT: Any advice or words of wisdom?
DL: Make every day count. It’s so important to enjoy all aspects of life and all the wonderful things it offers.
Be sure to pick a job that you enjoy and you will excel.