Father-son team Greg and Connor Hoffman built the first electric snowmobile for Aspen Snowmass — employing YouTube and Google, local funding, innate curiosity, and a knack for the project fueled by both nature and nurture. Greg, a master electrician and all-around fix-it man, is the lift maintenance director for Aspen Skiing Company. Connor, 16, attends Basalt High School and already has a lengthy resume of experience and projects in science and tech.

We caught up with the Hoffmans to check in on the snowmobile build, and to hear what projects are in their future, what makes them tick, and what they have to say about each other.

It is in the Genes

Greg and Connor are descended from pioneering, do-it-yourself miners and ranchers; Greg’s grandfather’s grandfather came to the Roaring Fork Valley in the 1880s and mined a claim up Lincoln Creek. The family’s local history starts with this great-great-grandfather disassembling and reassembling a wagon to get over the pass on the way to Aspen, and over the years includes plenty of building, repairing, and mechanical projects that were part of everyday life on their Snowmass ranch. Greg says he takes after his mechanic and carpenter grandfather, and is thrilled that Connor shares the same aptitude.
Hoffmans e-snowmobile
Hoffmans e-snowmobile

Nurturing Natural Talent

Greg and Connor’s first project together was building a go-cart when Connor was around five years old. Using an old lawn mower chassis, an axle from a golf cart, and a snow blower engine, they rigged it all together into something Connor remembers being super fun to ride around on. “I was very young and got as much done as I could,” he says, giving his dad the lion’s share of the credit for that project.

In fourth grade, Connor joined a LEGO league (technically open to middle schoolers only!). His team, tasked with using STEM skills to build a LEGO robot, made it to the state-level competition four out of the five years he participated. “Dad was always there,” says Connor. “He was very supportive and gave input for all the missions.”
The Hoffmans: makers of an electric snowmobile at Aspen Snowmass
The Hoffmans: makers of an electric snowmobile at Aspen Snowmass

The Hoffmans: makers of an electric snowmobile at Aspen Snowmass
The Hoffmans: makers of an electric snowmobile at Aspen Snowmass

Greg is quick to push back on his involvement in Connor’s projects. “He gives me way too much credit. He wrote the programs; we just had conversations on what would be cool to do. I only gave advice.” The pair also modestly disagreed on Greg’s level of involvement with Connor’s high school Solar Rollers team, which builds and races solar-powered radio-controlled cars. Connor calls his father a team mentor who helped them figure out things they wouldn’t have on their own, while Greg insists he was barely involved.

Compliments and Complements

Greg and Connor clearly hold each other in high esteem, and they’ve built a mutually respectful working relationship in which their skills complement each other’s, leading to successful outcomes.

“Dad’s always been a tinkerer,” says Connor. “He can fix anything anybody gives him.”
Hoffmans e-snowmobile
Hoffmans e-snowmobile

In fact, the elder Hoffman notes that he, too, had a mechanical bent from a young age, and counts among his talents fixing and building snowmobiles, ski lifts, and cars. And while Greg is more inclined to the mechanical than the new technology aspect, “he picks up on stuff pretty easily,” according to Connor, “and he’s much better at implementing ideas. Being motivated to work on problems like that, that’s something I’d like to inherit and work on myself a little bit.”

Perhaps the true secret sauce are the conversations they have — the two are constantly bouncing ideas off each other, and talking through problems and next steps to identify the correct path forward.

How About That Snowmobile?

The electric snowmobile wasn’t the first joint project linked to Greg’s job at Aspen Snowmass. As lift maintenance director, he also oversees Snowmass’s Alpine Coaster. One day, says Connor, his dad came home with a problem he wanted his son’s help with: People were going too fast in the coaster cars. Working together, the pair came up with a system to sense, measure, and, when needed, slow down the cars. Connor, then 13, wrote the code for the system. “He got it right instantly,” says Greg. “It worked the first day — that’s just amazing.”

Fast forward a couple years, and the father-son duo pitched the idea of building an electric snowmobile after Greg worked with Taiga Motors, testing its electric-sled prototypes at Aspen Snowmass. On their own aside from Ski Co. funding, they planned, designed, and built the machine — using mostly recycled parts — over much of last winter. Testing in the spring revealed a few minor issues, and after tweaking a few parameters in the battery management system, the snowmobile should be put to use in the winter of 2021–22, either hauling supplies for on-mountain restaurants or pulling young children in ski school programs at Buttermilk.

Both Connor and Greg say they learned a lot from their biggest project to date.

“It feels good to see all the work that we put in go somewhere,” says Connor. “It’s always a process to fine tune, and I’m excited to see where this can go.” Adds Greg: “With what we know about batteries now, I know we can build the next electric car.”

The Future is Bright

So, what’s next? “In the Hoffman household there are always ideas we can start working on,” says Connor.

In addition to fixing a broken electric lawnmower, those projects include a wind turbine (to take advantage of the copious wind on Missouri Heights and to supplement their home’s solar power) and potentially a power wall, a battery back-up system to store renewable energy and feed it back into the house or even the grid. The only hesitation they have about the power wall is that local utility Holy Cross Energy mandates using its installers. “We like to do all the work ourselves!” Greg points out.

No matter what, any future projects are likely to be environmentally conscious — it’s an ethic instilled in kids in the Roaring Fork Valley from a young age and all through school. “Even though Connor is more into tech, the environment is an inspiration,” says Greg.

While Connor hasn’t decided on a career yet, Greg suspects he’s leaning toward electrical engineering. He’s ahead of most kids his age with his in-depth understanding of electronics and programming, says Greg. “I think he’s going to be developing electric cars, or somehow using that knowledge.”

With families like these in the Valley, the future is bright indeed.

About the Author

Catherine Lutz
Catherine Lutz

CATHERINE LUTZ

Catherine Lutz is an Aspen-based freelance writer and editor who has helped craft stories and content for the Aspen Institute, Aspen Sojourner magazine, Powder magazine, and many others. An avid skier, paddleboarder, and mountain biker, she’s now vicariously experiencing a second childhood through her two young children in one of the best places on the planet to raise a family.

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