The Limelight: Breckenridge halfpipe pro Brett Esser
Jack Mitrani can’t get enough of Brett Esser’s mustache.
At Dew Tour in early December, pro-turned-announcer Mitrani was having a heyday with Esser’s signature facial hair. Before each of the Breck local’s practice runs through the halfpipe, Mitrani would come up with something ridiculous like, “Here comes the best ‘stache in Breck, ladies,” or “Now we have Brett Esser: the man, the myth, the mustache,” or nearly a dozen other jokes. Most of them were funny, honestly, and they gave photographers something to chuckle over while clinging to the icy deck before a mid-Tour snowstorm.
And Esser really does have one hell of a mustache. But can he give it credit for earning him a fifth at the Dew Tour final behind Shaun White, Ayumu Hirano and Iouri “IPod” Podladtchikov? With the exception of White, who has more halfpipe titles than any snowboarder ever, those two took gold and silver at the 2014 Winter Olympics. And White took fourth. At Dew, Esser was holding his own with the best of the best in his home pipe — even though he was actually eyeing a spot on the podium, especially after taking fourth in 2014.
“This year, I wanted to do the same (except) get on that podium,” he says. “The conditions were tough, but I still landed a run and ended up fifth. Competing in Breckenridge is awesome because it’s home. I sleep in my own bed and have all my friends around.”
But did the lip fuzz help? Not at all, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t give his hair credit for a top-5 performance. (Unfortunately, I forgot to ask during out interview.) At 23 years old, the native of Dubuque, Iowa, is carving a niche in the U.S. halfpipe scene as a young, hungry, hard-charging rider known for regular top-10 finishes, the sort of guy who can hold his own against White and IPod and the rest with double 1080s and inverted 1260s.
Crazy thing is, he’s pretty new to the extremely competitive — and increasingly acrobatic — halfpipe scene. The Iowa native started with slopestyle at 18 years old, earning accolades right away with third-place finishes at the Mammoth Grand Prix in 2010 and 2011 and a first-place finish at the Canadian Open in 2010. At the same time he was transitioning to halfpipe and admits, well, it wasn’t exactly his first love.
“I got bored of halfpipe until last year, when I switched my riding and tried to make it fun and different,” says Esser, who’s got a mean frontside 900. “Since then, it’s been such a joy.”
It’s why he got into snowboarding in the first place. About 16 years ago, his snowboard instructor brother took him to the local hill (aka landfill) in Dubuque for a day of riding.
“I could not grasp the concept of snowboarding for awhile,” he says. “I remember the first day I went down the bunny hill — not well, if I may add — but there was a little cat track you could jump off. So I hiked up when my brother was preoccupied and jumped off it. That’s when I was hooked.”
Since then, he’s been hucking himself off way bigger and way more intimidating things. Knock on wood, he says, but, for someone who didn’t quite get snowboarding at first, he’s remained healthy. Even blind frontside 1260s (his least-favorite halfpipe trick) haven’t broke him off. No, he leaves that to skateboarding, like the time he broke his foot four days before opening at Arapahoe Basin.
“Thankfully, my brother introduced it (snowboarding) to me because, without it, I don’t know what I would be doing right now,” says Esser, who admits he’s a sucker for SportsCenter and grew up playing baseball. “Why I fell in love with it? Maybe because I sucked at it and wanted to get better.”
Safe to say he’s on the way, mustache or no.
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