Antonio Olivero: Breck ski legend Keri Herman wins Copper Hella Big Air at first contest in years
Breckenridge local Eric Willett wins men's snowboard competition
COPPER MOUNTAIN RESORT — Hours before Keri Herman won the first contest she’d dropped into in years, the Breckenridge local wasn’t even aware Saturday’s 10 Barrel Brewing Hella Big Air competition at Copper Mountain Resort would be taking place.
After her friends tipped her off on the comp, the Dew Tour, Grand Prix and X Games medalist figured, “Why not?”
“I wasn’t really planning on getting back to competition at all,” Herman said Tuesday. “But I was feeling good, and it ended up going pretty well. I’m pretty out of the loop. I haven’t don’t anything in so long. I was just planning on winging it.”
Herman certainly winged it Saturday. Her first attempt on the 65-foot long jump came within a ski’s length of landing on the knuckle. But when all was said and done, Herman landed a pair of cork 360s to win.
Heading into Saturday, the 2014 Dew Tour slopestyle champion wasn’t sure what to expect — both from herself and in terms of the competition. Just over three years ago, in January 2017, Herman suffered a bad leg injury that required her to receive a partial femur transplant. Then this past summer, she had knee surgery, and this coming May she anticipates having another transplant.
Before May comes around, though, Herman has had a window of time to be back skiing after mending from the chronic leg injuries in recent seasons. That led to Saturday’s impromptu contest. It’d been a while since Herman had attempted a massive big air jump herself. Beyond that, the longtime Summit County local wasn’t sure she’d recognize that many people over at Copper. At age 37, and with her injuries, it’d been a while since the Minnesota native had been smack-dab in the middle of the Summit County contest scene. But after she arrived at the towering big air jump Saturday, she realized the event under bluebird skies felt like a reunion of the park rats she used to shred with at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
“I ran into a bunch of the snowboard guys I skied with forever,” Herman said. “Eric (Willett) and I ended up winning. It was reminiscent of old times. It was cool nostalgia.”
Until this year — when Breckenridge didn’t construct a 22-foot superpipe or host the Dew Tour for the first time in memory — the resort was arguably the world’s premier destination for park and pipe skiers and snowboarders. With a 22-foot pipe, Dew Tour, Danny Davis’ Peace Park and Woodward Copper’s Mountain Park, Copper has unofficially become the county’s terrain park of choice.
That said, Breck’s parks always will hold a special place in the heart of local legends like Herman and her fellow Hella Big Air winner Saturday, Breckenridge local snowboarder Eric Willett. Willett is now an elder in the Summit snowboard community after he perfected his craft in Breckenridge’s parks before a successful career included 10 X Games top 10s and an X Games slopestyle silver medal in 2010.
Herman descended on Breckenridge in 2004 from Minnesota like so many others from around the country and world for that time period, all of them chasing their freeski and snowboard dreams in Breck’s parks.
Unlike the vast majority of them, though, Herman stuck around town, winning more than a dozen major competition slopestyle and big air medals as a resident of Breckenridge. She’s remained a Breck local from the high of her Grand Prix gold medal on Copper Mountain snow seven years ago to the high of her competing at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics to the low of her devastating injury three winters ago.
Despite the injury, Herman has found the silver lining in her situation, as she’s transitioned from the end of her competitive slopestyle career to the development of her own ski: Rocky Mountain Underground’s Valhalla 97 LTD, Keri Herman edition. The all-mountain ski is based off a painting of Herman’s. Now the real thing, Herman says, is the best all-mountain and big-mountain ski she’s ever ridden. Summit County local Nadia Gonzales finished second behind Herman on the same skis.
“And we didn’t know how well it would perform in the park,” Herman said, “but it’s the best ski I’ve skied on in my entire life. I cannot believe how much control and how responsive it is. It’s quick and fun and light, and it was fun to win Saturday’s contest on a ski I put so much time and heart into creating.”
Antonio Olivero is the Sports & Outdoors editor at the Summit Daily News.
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