A man and his machine
BRECKENRIDGE – It’s no accident that Breckenridge is once again hosting the Chevrolet U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix. It’s also no accident that Breck’s renowned superpipe is supervised by a dedicated professional: Brad Hoerter.Hoerter, who learned the art of cutting a pipe at Breck, has won two Cutter’s Cups with Team Breckenridge in the past five years. The Cutter’s Cup is the premier competition for park and pipe designers around the world.With the cream of the snowboard crop in town for the Grand Prix, a common theme among the athletes is that they all seem to love Breck’s pipe.”This place is awesome,” 2002 Olympic gold medalist Ross Powers said. “It’s definitely one of the best early season pipes around and it will probably be one of the better ones we see all year.”What many people don’t know is that Breck’s halfpipe is considered upper-echelon largely because of Hoerter, its builder and primary caretaker.As halfpipe supervisor, Hoerter (pronounced Hurt-er) spends at least 40 hours a week refining Breck’s superpipe as well as the resort’s four other halfpipes. Hoerter first learned how to drive a snowcat eight years ago when he was hired by Breckenridge, he said. Within a few years, he fell into the job of looking after the mighty halfpipe.
“Terrain parks were not very predominant when I started,” he said in an interview last week. “I was the low man on the totem pole and I volunteered … the old-timers didn’t want to do it so I got the job by default.” This year, it took Hoerter nearly a week to cut the pipe after snow guns blasted the site for 30 straight days. “The hard part of my job is over,” he said.Hoerter’s creation is 450 feet long and has 18-foot walls with a 17-degree slope. The pipe walls, which were originally cut 50 yards apart, may grow to be 80 yards apart by season’s end, Hoerter said.To cut the pipe, Hoerter uses a machine known as the Zaugg Pipe Monster. The Zaugg has an 18-foot-long arm containing augers that sand the walls of the halfpipe until they are smooth. During a typical evening shift, Hoerter operates both the Zaugg and a more traditional snowcat, which he uses to level out the decks on either side of the pipe.Working overtime
In the days leading up to the Grand Prix, Hoerter worked long hours, including one 70-hour week. Hoerter said one reason he enjoys his night job is because it allows him to be alone on the mountain for extended periods of time.”It takes a lot of tedious work to get it to be a world-class venue,” he said. “If it means I have to put in a few extra hours, I don’t mind.”According to Danny Kass – who took fourth in Wednesday’s Grand Prix final – Breck’s pipe is among the top three anywhere.”It always has a good shape and good cutters,” said Kass, the 2002 Olympic silver medalist. “It’s early season but they couldn’t have done it any better.”Fifth-place finisher Keir Dillon is also a big fan of the prestigious competition’s venue.”They (Breckenridge) spend a lot of money and a lot of time putting that much snow here,” Dillon said. “It’s definitely an A-grade event.”
In order to help Hoerter prepare for the Grand Prix, Breckenridge hired Pat Malendoski, a well-known park and pipe designer who owns Planet Snowdesign in Bend, Ore. Malendoski has been working on the pipe for the last week and plans to stay through the competition. The traveling consultant is no stranger to marquee halfpipe venues, including the one at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, which he built.Although he does play a key role, Malendoski – who recently was featured in Snowboarder Magazine – is often mistakenly given credit for cutting Breck’s pipe.Hoerter, however, doesn’t seem to mind. He’s not looking for notoriety, he’s just quietly doing a job that he’s passionate about.”I enjoy riding the pipe myself so I have a vested interest in a good product,” Hoerter said, adding: “The best part is that after the Grand Prix is over, we’ll have a world-class venue that’s open to the public.”Adam Boffey can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13631, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado