An Olympic gold-medalist brings a Zen approach to fame, family and the future of snowboarding
Red Gerard wasn’t expected to win gold at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, last February.
He entered the final of three runs through the Olympic slopestyle course in as good as last place after failing to stay upright on his snowboard on his previous two attempts.
What a difference 51 seconds can make. After letting out an audible sigh at the top of the Olympic slopestyle course, Red dropped in. He then executed an atypical line through the course’s features compared to his fellow competitors. After rotating for three vertical inversions and four 360-degree rotations on his final trick, Red slid on his belly to come to a stop in front of adoring television cameras that were glued to him like heat-seeking missiles. He nearly tripped over his Burton board unbuckling his bindings. He then jogged over to receive his gold-medal score of 87.16.
Moments later, Red found his family. Namely he found the youngest of his six siblings, his little sister Asher, 9, then a third-grade student at Frisco Elementary School.
“He came out and she was standing there,” Malachi, Red’s older brother and social media guru recalled, “and, it was like she didn’t know him, or something. She was nervous to, like, hug him. And he walks up and he’s like: ‘What are you doing? Get over here!’ And she ran up and finally hugged him and said, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ It was really cute.”
“I don’t think any of us really expected it to go like that,” Red said. “It was just a really crazy and surreal moment. I didn’t even know when I gave her a hug that she was going to be all over TV.”
Shortly after Red’s win, the Silverthorne sign off Interstate 70 was draped with a “gold” banner, turning the then 17-year-old’s hometown into a more fitting “Goldthorne.”
Red’s schedule was suddenly filled with a parade, a meeting with the president and late-night TV appearances as the laidback teen who overslept, lost his coat and still took gold became an overnight sensation. But for Red, one of the most important appearances on his schedule was going back to his roots at Frisco Elementary School to meet with his little sister’s classmates.
With some free time in Red’s globetrotting schedule, Asher asked her mom, Jen, to email her teacher about having Red come in. On the heels of preseason training in Switzerland, it’d be a tight turnaround for Red to swing up from Denver, but he was more than happy to make it happen.
While Red and Asher handed out snowboarding-related goodies to the throng of students, their older brother Malachi took photos and filmed the festivities.
“She set everything up,” Malachi said of Asher, “she wanted me to get all of the prizes, asked me to contact Red’s sponsors — Red didn’t know about any of that.”
At the end of the elementary school event, while on the front stoop of the school, Red finally got a reprieve from handing out sponsor gear and signing autographs. During the last few minutes of signing — beneath a student-created banner that read “Welcome back, Red!” — Red was with Asher.
Moments later, the two youngest Gerard children departed the school together. Asher’s favorite ski resort, Copper Mountain Resort, wasn’t open yet, but she’d be there to snowboard soon enough.
“They are eight years apart,” mother Jen Gerard said, “but yet they are numbers six and seven. So they’ve always had fun together.”
FAR FROM FAME
After the initial media push, it was time for Red to disappear back into the kind of lifestyle he loved.
Over the summer, Red and Malachi lived in a beach house near the waves and skateparks of Oceanside, California. As far away from snow as possible, this may have been an unusual path for an elite athlete. But this was Red. He’d bike each morning to retired professional snowboarder Chas Guldemond’s small backyard gym by the California coast. Afterward, Guldemond would take Red surfing, typically at Buccaneer Beach. There, Gerard grew from being a still-learning surfer into a more confident carver in the water — confident enough to ride the bigger waves down by the Oceanside Pier. Out on the water, he was back to those familiar elements of fun, family and friends. But, maybe more importantly, he was also back to personal growth far away from the bright lights of superstardom.
“The point where you can actually see and look into the future,” Red said, “and see, like, ‘man, this is a fun sport. I can start learning stuff and doing turns and all of that,’ that’s when it really started becoming really fun for me.”
EYE ON THE FUTURE
“Fun” was the emblematic word for Red’s life following the Olympic madness. He was having fun while facing his fears and the crashing waves at Buccaneer Beach. And he was having fun at December’s Dew Tour at Breckenridge Ski Resort when the 5-foot-5, 116-pound teen pondered where his snowboarding would go from here.
On the morning of the Dew Tour, Red isn’t even sure what he’ll be attempting when he competes on the slopestyle course. In between sips of coffee, he says he has “no clue” what he’s going to do for his run. Calmly, he relays that it’s something he’ll “work out” in practice. Free and easy as always, Red isn’t overly concerned when plans aren’t nailed down.
He has the same attitude when looking at the future of snowboarding. Though he doesn’t know what it is yet, creativity and fun are key elements. Red would like to see competitive snowboarding evolve as his teens become his 20s, with one-of-a-kind snowboard terrain and courses.
“Something where you could include both halfpipe snowboarders and slopestyle snowboarders would be my dream way of competing,” Red said.
He looks to his fellow Mountain Dew athlete Danny Davis and his Peace Park concept as inspiration. Gerard said he’s open to the idea of working with a group like Snow Park Technologies — who built the Dew Tour modified superpipe and Peace Park — to conceive of his own creation.
“It’d just be cool if something stuck like that,” Gerard said of Peace Park.
The Peace Park concept allows for multiple riders on a course at the same time, and for Red more is always better.
He makes it a priority to snowboard with his energetic family when they are snowmobiling in the Summit County backcountry at Red Cliff near Vail Pass. Out there, he’s joined by his four brothers, two sisters, father, Conrad, and mother, Jen. They are laid-back parents who’d prefer to chat about, say, hiking, hunting and fishing in the wilderness north of their home near Silverthorne than to chat about Red’s latest competition escapades.
Which is why those little moments with family are everything for Red.
Despite all of the fame that came with his Olympic victory, one of Red’s favorite memories is the airplane ride home. He sat beside Malachi on a flight back to the U.S. Unplugged from it all, Red relaxed.
This moment — hanging out with the older brother who first inspired him to take up snowboarding at just 2 years old — put it all in perspective.
He was free again.
“It was really cool because that was like the only free time I had,” Red said in November. “It was so cool to just sit there and hang out and actually realize what just happened.”
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