BEMIDJI -- The weather often dictates Bob Montebello’s schedule.
Montebello, 88, and his grooming partner Les Pederson, 85, take care of grooming the cross country trails at both the Montebello Trail and the Hobson Forest Trail.
“It depends a lot on the snow but we try and groom trails in town twice a week but its been so little snow that we actually have been working at it once a week,” Montebello said earlier this month, before all the snow melted away.
Montebello’s involvement with grooming trails began in the late 1970s and early 1980s as the Bemidji Area Cross County Ski Club was formed.
Montebello and Pederson have been grooming together the past 15 years.
In those days, there were only two cross country trails, Movil Maze and the Buena Vista Ski Club, and only occasionally would be groomed.
“The problem was, asking other people to groom your trails was not effective because they never knew when they were going to be able to do it,” Montebello said.
With the help of a grant from the Neilson Foundation, the club was able to acquire grooming equipment.
“We started with Movil Maze, first of all, and we took on the city trail (Montebello Trail) and also the Hobson Forest Trail and then Three Island County Trail was developed and we started grooming there,” he said.
Montebello was on the board of the Bemidji Area Cross County Ski Club for close to 30 years, serving as the trail administrator for most of those years. Three years ago, he gave up the title as Mark Walters, the Bemidji High School ski coach, took over.
But Montebello hasn’t stopped being involved or grooming.
Montebello enjoys working with Pederson or with another person; grooming ican done alone, but it is easier with a partner, he said.
“We have had a number of times, where you either get stuck in heavy deep snow or in a ditch or something like that,” Montebello explained.
Montebello enjoys the feeling of pride associated with the maintenance and the grooming of trails. “I think there’s a lot of satisfaction about fixing up a trail and it’s a beautiful sight when you have a freshly groomed trail,” he said. “The skiers really appreciate that,”
At 88, Montebello is one of the oldest groomers in the United States. Bruce Slinkman, a groomer himself, has done research on this topic. Slinkman has consulted with groomers from all parts of the county and Canada.
“There was one gentleman in New Hampshire, but he was only 85. Thus, it appears very likely, that Bob is the oldest active groomer in North America!,” he said.
Montebello has no plans to quit grooming cross country ski trails.
“As long as I can physically do it, we’ll probably do it.”