‘Our answer man’ | Friends, officials remember Squaw Valley pioneer Hardy Herger
OLYMPIC VALLEY – “Hardy was our answer man. He knew everything at Squaw Valley from what was in the air to the ground, and the loss of that wealth of knowledge will be missed by every department.”
This was how David Precit chose to describe former co-worker and friend Erhard Hardy Herger, one of the pioneers who helped make Squaw Valley what it is today – one of the largest and revered ski areas in the United States.
Herger, 77, died Sept. 9 after falling 200 meters while hiking alone in the Switzerland mountains near his home, according to friends and officials. He was found the next day by residents when he did not return home.
“It was with deep sadness that we learned Hardy Herger passed away while hiking nearby his home in Switzerland,” said Mike Livak, executive vice president of Squaw Valley, on behalf of the resort. “Hardy made enormous contributions to Squaw Valley resort during his lifetime of work here. Hardy’s infectious smile, keen intelligence and consistently positive outlook will be missed by all of us.”
Herger came to Squaw Valley in 1968 to serve as the lead electrician on the Aerial Tram, one of the resort’s signature attractions. The lift’s electrical drawings were in accordance to European conventions and written in German, and Garaventa, the Switzerland tram manufacturer, recommended Herger for the job, said Hans Burkhart, Squaw Valley’s former general manager and longtime friend of Herger.
“He had an extreme work mentality,” Burkhart recalled. “He never complained. … That was Hardy.”
After the Aerial Tram was completed, Herger and Burkhart spent a year at the Snowbird resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, to build the Snowbird tram, before returning to Squaw, Livak said.
“We always returned to Squaw,” Burkhart said. “I had to have Hardy come with me where I went because I needed an electrician.”
Precit described Burkhart and Herger as the “dynamic duo.” The two worked together at Squaw Valley until after the Funitel lift system was complete in 1998, Livak said.
Throughout his career, Herger worked on more than 80 ski lifts, according to a speech that was given at his funeral in Switzerland.
“People like Alex Cushing, Dave McCoy and John Riley were the strategic visionaries who conceived and built Squaw Valley, Mammoth and Alpine Meadows,” Livak said. “Guys like Hans Burkhart, Hardy Herger, Dick Reuter, Norm Saylor and Luggi Foeger were a few of the tactical and operational visionaries who actually built and operated the stuff of dreams in early California skiing.”
In 1992, Herger got involved in hydronics – which is the use of water as a medium for transferring heat in heating and cooling systems – and plumbing with the construction of Squaw’s children’s ski/snowboard school, Livak said.
Afterward, Herger worked as an employee and consultant in areas relating to plumbing, hydronics, electrical and HVAC, responsible for such systems as those designed to take the heat out of the ice rink at High Camp and use it warm the swimming pool, Livak said.
“He was very smart and a jack of all trades,” Burkhart said, “If he didn’t know, he could figure it out.”
While Herger worked full time at Squaw, he returned to school to earn his Ph.D. in theology, which he earned in 2004.
“After a full day’s work, he would clean up and drive to Sacramento for his classes, and then drive home the same night,” said Donna Brenner, executive secretary for Squaw Valley. “He had more energy and drive than most people I know. He was one of the most dedicated, motivated, caring people I’ve ever known.”
Driving and spending time in the Nevada desert were two of Herger’s hobbies, Livak said.
“Hardy drove countless miles exploring the open space of the Silver State,” he said. “He loved to drive, and sometimes would drive to Winnemucca, Nev. (approximately 200 miles away) for dinner.”
Herger was scheduled to return Squaw Valley for the 2012-13 winter season in mid-September, his 44th year with the company.
“He made his mark all over the mountain,” Burkhart said.
Herger was born on Feb. 10, 1935 in Urnerboden, Switzerland, a village with a then-population of 250 residents located in the Swiss Alps, according a funeral speech.
The speech went on to say, he was the fourth child of Maria and Josef Herger, who were mountain farmers, and the family eventually grew to 10, with four sons and four daughters.
In 1939, the family bought their own small farm on the mountainside of Rigi, a mountain in central Switzerland, and the children helped on the farm while attending school a hour away.
After finishing school, Herger became an alpine herdsman to the Baumgartenalp in Canton Glarus, but his dream was to become an electrician, a dream that came true through his association with Mr. Rüegger, a director of a power company.
Herger become a trained electrician and a telephone system designer, and by 28, he owned his own electrical firm. Through his training, he got in touch with Garaventa, making various steering systems for cranes and lifts.
When Herger traveled to the United States to assist with the Tram project, he agreed to stay in Squaw Valley for three months, but ended up staying in the country for 44 years. Yet throughout the years, his connection to Switzerland never broke. Every summer starting in 2006, Herger returned to Urnerboden, where he planned to retire.
Herger was laid to rest in Urnerboden and is survived by his daughter, Cornelia.
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