Copper winch cat operator, Paul Hoagland, builds world class race courses
By Lu Snyder
One needn’t go far in Summit County to bump into an Olympic hopeful, contender or champion. They come here to train. They come here to live. Paul Hoagland came to Summit County with an Olympic dream—but his was a little different than the others.
“I’ve always liked winter sports, especially skiing,” he says. “I was never competitive, though. It was always just for fun.”
At 54, it might seem Hoagland is past his Olympic prime, yet in just a few weeks, he’ll leave for the Jeongseon Alpine Center in South Korea, 2018 Winter Olympics venue for alpine speed events, including downhill, super-G and combined, and Paralympic skiing and snowboarding events. It is a dream come true for Hoagland – the same dream, coincidentally, that brought him to Summit County.
Hoagland grew up new Billings, Montana. After he was married, he and his wife moved to a ranch in Wisconsin, where they raised their daughter while tending to herds of cattle, sheep and pigs. When the economy crashed in 2008, Hoagland began a search for his next career – and a chance to fulfill his Olympic dream.
“I thought it would be really cool to work at a resort where the Olympics were,” says Hoagland, who searched for a position at Whistler for the 2010 Olympics. “At that point, I would have done anything, from checking tickets to being a lift operator.” Unable to get a visa, Hoagland devised an alternate plan of attack.
At the time, Whistler-Blackcomb, Steamboat and Copper Mountain were all owned by Intrawest. Hoagland hoped if he got a job with an Intrawest resort, he might be able to get into the Olympics through a back door. His extensive experience with farm equipment made him a good candidate for cat operations and he has been grooming the slopes of Copper Mountain and building his resume as a cat operator ever since.
These days, Hoagland runs a winch cat – a snow cat designed to groom a resort’s steeper slopes and an integral part of building and maintaining world-class race courses. He is among the cat operators that prepare the race course at Copper’s Speed Center, a U.S. Ski Team downhill training venue, where world-class skiers, such as Mikeala Shiffrin, Julia Mancuso, and Lindsay Vonn come to train in early season.
This experience led Hoagland to qualify for the grooming crew at the 2015 World Cup Championships at Beaver Creek. And that experience helped Hoagland finally secure a position – one of ten – on the cat crew for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea.
“It’s a great honor to groom at the Olympics,” says his boss, Mike Looney. “This is a life goal for (Hoagland). He is a highly skilled and patient operator that takes the time to do it right.”
Hoagland leaves for Korea in a few weeks and will be there for three months, grooming for the Olympic alpine speed events and the Paralympics. He’s excited about every aspect of his Olympic experience, from visiting Korea and experiencing the culture there (he has never been to Asia) to working at an Olympic venue and being a part of the Olympics.
Now that he’s made it into the 2018 Olympics, will he set his eyes on 2022?
“I’m looking at this as a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Hoagland says, laughing. “I would probably do one more if I had the chance, but I might be ready to retire by then.”