After a quick “let’s do it” at the top of the slope, it doesn’t take long before Olympic slopestyle freeskier Keri Herman’s gone, weaving in and out of some of Breckenridge Ski Resort’s tightest tree lines at speeds most on the mountain would find unsettling.
But for the 10-year Breckenridge resident it’s more like second nature, even if she leaves the mountain’s terrain park only for the occasional powder day.
Minutes earlier a ski patroller had dropped the ropes to open the resort’s double-black diamond “Windows” run — a heavily gladed portion of Peak 9 — granting access to the 7 fresh inches of snow that had fallen overnight.
Occasionally a glimpse of Herman’s purple ski pants and black jacket peaked through the trees and then were gone again. She was off at her own pace, in her own world — keep up if you can.
“She’s always been that way,” Herman’s mother, Diana, said, busily preparing dinner in her Minnesota home but still insisting on taking the time for a phone interview. “She’s always kind of liked to march to her own drum.”
As a kid that meant anything from climbing trees in the backyard to joining the first girls’ hockey team in her hometown.
“I’d just about die seeing how high up she was,” Diana Herman said, recalling looking out the window into the backyard and seeing her daughter climbing a tree at age 4 or 5. “She says she’s afraid of heights. I have a hard time believing that. She’s always been a daredevil.”
Herman’s father, John — also an avid skier who once also called Colorado home — echoed the sentiment. “If there’s something crazy and fun to do she’ll be the one to do it.”
Back at the bottom of E-Chair, Herman headed straight for the line to do jump back on and do it again.
“That was sick,” she said with the signature smile that rarely leaves her face when she’s clicked into her skis.
On the chair the multiple Dew Tour and X Games medalist already was thinking about the next line, one that doesn’t usually get tracked right away on a powder day.
After a morning of charging fresh lines — stopping only to buy a coffee to drink on the chair — it’s hard to imagine that the longtime pro skier once had her sights set on a finance or marketing career on Wall Street.
“I never thought that would match with her personality at all,” Herman’s mother said.
Her father agreed. “She wasn’t the personality to be a CPA.”
Something in marketing maybe, he explained.
But when Herman came to her parents and told them she was going make a career of skiing, Diana didn’t exactly see that either. “When she said she wanted to be a pro skier I rolled my eyes,” she said, adding that in her mind the cartoon thought bubble said, “Really? Why don’t you get a real job?”
John on the other hand, a self-described ski nut whom Herman clearly seems to take after, said go for it.
“I had no idea that she was going to turn into an Olympic skier,” he said, looking back at a time when X Games and Dew Tour weren’t the spectacles they’ve become. “I just thought why not go for it, try your passion.”
Diana has since come around.
“When I saw how happy it made her, that’s all I cared about.” She said. “I’m her biggest fan (now). I’m so happy she did it. I was wrong, she was right.”
With an appearance in the inaugural Olympic slopestyle competition earlier this year in Sochi, Russia, it’s been a crazy season for the 31-year-old Herman. But with the season now drawing to a close, she said not a whole lot has changed — a trip to the White House to meet the president and first lady and invite them to Breckenridge not withstanding.
“I was there (in Sochi) the entire time, so I felt like it didn’t even happen when I came home. When I got back all the hype was done. Life just eased back into normal Keri living.”
That normal also included a quick trip to Italy for the annual Nine Queens women’s slopestyle competition, where she took third.
But around town she said she doesn’t get recognized any more or any less.
“It doesn’t feel like anything’s really changed. People around town say what’s up, but that’s how it was before. It’s just stayed pretty mellow.”
While she didn’t come back from Sochi with a medal, that didn’t seem to matter much. She finished 10th in the finals in Sochi — a mistake on her first run, followed by two rough landings on her second, cost her a higher placing.
But money, competition results, that’s not what skiing is about for her.
“That’s not why she does it,” Herman’s mother said. “She does it because she loves it.”
For Herman, it’s just fun.
“You always have to have fun. I try to have fun every single day of my life. As long as skiing is helping me do that, I’m going to continue. It keeps a smile on my face all day long, and all night waiting for the next day. Skiing is just the best,” she says with a big smile.
And she continues to take the same approach to training.
“I don’t train,” she’s quick to respond. “I try not to train, or call it training, or act like it’s training. To me that takes the fun out of it. I want to just keep that easygoing fun-loving attitude, cruising around having a blast at all times, without the serious aspect. It’s just another day with your friends. It’s just playtime; it’s like recess at school 100 percent of the time.”
Before qualifying for Sochi she told the Daily that if she managed to make it and medal, great, and if it didn’t happen she was just as happy about the opportunity. That seems to have rung true through the Olympics, according to her mother.
“I think I took it harder than she did,” Diana Herman said of her daughter’s not medaling. “She seems just fine with it.”
Herman’s so at ease with it that she’s elected not to compete in the Association of Freeskiing Professionals World Championships this week in British Columbia, even though she was ranked No. 4 in the world in slopestyle — a ranking she wasn’t even aware of. She decided instead to enjoy some time with friends.
“I have no clue what I am,” she said of her ranking. “It’s the end of the year. I’ve had a good season. It’s important to have some you time.”
As for the future? While some past sponsors might not have much faith in the seasoned star coming off of one of her best years in competition, she’s already got her sights set on 2018 in South Korea.
“I’m going… oh, yeah, for sure.” After a pause, she repeated, “For sure.”
She tensed noticeably at the mention of her age, clearly frustrated at the notion that it’s even an issue.
“I hate having to always talk about it. I don’t see my age as a challenge at all. I think it’s stupid. I mean our sport’s so young, you don’t know how old you can be. Look at BMXers in the Dew Tour, skateboarders in the Dew Tour. They’re in their 40s and still on top of the podiums. That’s going to be me.”
And she’s right. Last year at age 40, skateboarder Bucky Lasek won his fourth consecutive X Games gold medal.
Herman’s mother said that’s been the hardest part in the last year. “Unfortunately, the sponsors don’t see it that way. They don’t seem to embrace that.”
Time will tell, but betting against Herman wouldn’t appear to be the smart choice.
She thrives on challenges and said she plans to show people they shouldn’t count her out, and that she hopes to set a precedent for future skiers going forward.
“I’m going to ski forever. I’m going to ski till I’m a hundred,” she said with conviction. “That’s just the facts. As long as I’m having this much fun skiing, there’s no reason to do anything else. I’ve found my place.”