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News

Multitool makes pistes safer and more exciting

SSAB Tunnpl : 29 November, 2002  (New Product)
Ulf Thors, a partner in the Swedish company MultiCat System AB, describes the context for the development of MultiCat, the universal tool for skiing centres which has received an honourable mention from this year's Swedish Steel Prize jury. Mr Thors heads the development team. The new snow tool opens the door to more advanced and exciting snowparks, jump courses for skicross and boardercross, and other slope formations demanded by an increasing number of Alpine skiers the world over. The tool system also makes work safer for people repairing and erecting chairlift support poles, and makes it simpler to carry out heavy lifts in inaccessible places.
'The Sami people have 26 words for snow, but even their language does not have a word for artificial snow.'

Ulf Thors, a partner in the Swedish company MultiCat System AB, describes the context for the development of MultiCat, the universal tool for skiing centres which has received an honourable mention from this year's Swedish Steel Prize jury. Mr Thors heads the development team. The new snow tool opens the door to more advanced and exciting snowparks, jump courses for skicross and boardercross, and other slope formations demanded by an increasing number of Alpine skiers the world over. The tool system also makes work safer for people repairing and erecting chairlift support poles, and makes it simpler to carry out heavy lifts in inaccessible places.

Development work on MultiCat began five years ago. The idea for the project was that of Per Eriksson, managing director of the Kläppen Ski Resort in Sälen, Sweden:

'It was during a snowboarding halfpipe competition that I noticed how much manual digging is required to obtain the right shape for the pipe. I realised that an entirely new tool was needed for efficient machine preparation of the piste,' Mr Eriksson points out. 'Lasse Eriksson, Kläppen's operating manager at the time and now sales director for MultiCat System – and myself got in touch with Ulf Thors, who is more knowledgeable than us in the field of mechanical design. Together we could provide the know-how required to start up the MultiCat project. We now have a machine which is an efficient, flexible and safe universal tool for Alpine skiing centres.'

High strength steel a clear merit
Designer Ulf Thors compares MultiCat with the machines that are used to cut roadside grass and brushwood. 'The final design was not that different from a brushcutter,' comments Mr Thors. 'MultiCat consists of a main section with supporting legs and a crane, combined with a series of accessories which can easily be connected to all of the most widely-used makes of piste machines.'

'More flexible accessories are being developed all the time,' asserts Mr Thors. 'Almost every time we demonstrate the equipment, we receive new suggestions of how it can be used.'

A precondition for the development of MultiCat is that high strength and extra high strength steel has been used consistently in the design.

There are currently six different 'tools' which can quickly be fitted to the base unit: a snow blower, a lift cage, an adjustable pipe cutter, a grip hook, a lifting hook and a bucket. In addition, MultiCat has a high strength steel transport container for piste preparation machines.

Low weight is essential for all parts of the system. MultiCat has a reach of 13 metres, and the tools must be light for maximal capacity throughout the work area. The crane section is also manufactured in high strength steel. 'By using high strength steel we can keep the weight down while ensuring that the tools meet exacting quality specifications,' says Mr Thors.

To show the scope of the equipment, Mr Thors mentions the Park Finisher, a variable shaping device. It was originally intended for use in artificial snow and can cut out radii and other shapes for skicross and snowparks. 'At a demonstration in Austria, however, we experienced no problems using it in glacier ice,' he asserts. 'That's proof of the challenging tasks the equipment can carry out.'

Rescuing stranded skiers
Although MultiCat was originally designed as a multitool for skiing centres, other groups are expressing interest in the system. Arctic researchers, for example, want to use it to handle oil barrels.

'Mountain centres have also found new areas of use,' Mr Thors tells us. 'The lift cage, designed for work on ski posts, can be used to save people from damaged chairlifts, the container to carry rescue equipment, and the bucket for rescue work following avalanches.'

To enable a flexible system to be fully utilised, the designers have taken as their point of departure the daily work of a skiing centre. 'It must be possible to change tools quickly,' Mr Thors explains. 'We have designed a quick-release coupling which enables a maximum changeover time of five minutes.'

The work is simplified further by the fact that the entire system is radio-controlled. The operator can take the transmitter with her or him and control the tool changeover close by.

'Remote control is also a major advantage when pipes and jumps need to be shaped. These would otherwise be difficult to see from the operator's cab,' says Mr Thors.

The piste preparation machine can then be driven as close as possible to the work zone after which the pisteur directs all the work standing alongside the unit. Since the shaping is supervised at very close range, there is an extremely high level of precision.

MultiCat has aroused considerable interest at skiing centres the world over. 'The design is the only one of its kind,' asserts Mr Thors, who has patented MultiCat for no fewer than eighteen different features. 'In addition, we have earned CE labelling and personal safety approval from Det Norske Veritas, the Norwegian risk management foundation. There are stringent specifications for this type of equipment.'

Keeping up with new trends
Ulf Thors is of the opinion that a growing demand for increasingly exciting boardercross competitions favours MultiCat. In boardercross contests, all the snowboarders start at the same time. The course consists of velodrome curves, jumps and other obstacles.

'At present, it is often the case that the rider who wins the start also wins the heat. When we construct courses using the Park Finisher, we can make velodrome curves of which the upper edges lean inwards. The riders can then overtake on the overhang.

Boardercross gave birth to a new trend on the pistes. People still visit smooth, ordinary pistes, but more now want slopes which are more fun because they have new, exciting shapes in the snow. 'When the snowboard arrived, ordinary piste preparation machines were inadequate with regard to shaping pipes and jumps. And the new pistes are almost impossible to prepare using conventional machines.'

Ulf Thors is an experienced piste preparer and designer, and the owner of the companyMekano i Malung AB. The business had both the know-how and the technical resources to design MultiCat, which is now a separate company, MultiCat System AB. From the outset, the idea was to construct tools which could be attached to piste machines.

'They can already be found at all skiing centres, but they are major investments which are often poorly utilised,' concludes Mr Thors. 'In addition, all piste machines have hydraulic equipment and other necessary technology.'
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