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Snowcats cost up to $400,000

Drivers keep piste in top condition

CNN  — 

Ever looked down and wondered how the mountain snow beneath you became so smooth, compact and perfect for skiing?

Take a bow, snowcat operator.

For every hour a resort is open to recreational skiers, snowcat drivers spend two ensuring the piste is in perfect condition.

Travis Benson and his colleagues in Aspen prepare over 350 acres of skiing area, working a swing shift from 3.30 p.m. that lasts all through the night until 9 a.m.

Snow grooming can entail moving, rototilling – breaking it up – and compacting the powder.

After mastering the “very reactive” blade, tiller and maneuvering of the snowcat, the budding driver is “ready to lay down some perfect corduroy” – a slick, corrugated surface ideal for skiers.

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Some might consider it rather lonely work. Not Benson.

“The nights are peaceful,” Benson, who offers snowcat driving lessons to guests of luxury hotel The Little Nell, told CNN. “It’s beautiful; the stars are out, there’s the moon. It’s beautiful.”

The latest models cost as much as $400,000 but Benson finds many of the best operators now are “kids that grew up on video games.”

Visit cnn.com/skiing for more news and videos

Watch CNN Alpine Edge’s Christina Macfarlane try her hand at snowcat driving in the video above.