Take 5: Why 34-year-old X Games original Keri Herman is far from finished
A decade of Keri
We take a look at Keri Herman’s sprawling list of accolades from 10 years of ski slopestyle — and counting.
Winter X Games in Aspen
2010 — Silver, ski slopestyle
2011 — Silver, ski slopestyle
2015 — Silver, ski slopestyle
X Games in Europe
2010 — Silver, ski slopestyle
2011 — Silver, ski slopestyle
Winter Dew Tour
2008 — Bronze, ski slopestyle (Breckenridge)
2009 — Bronze, ski slopestyle (Mount Snow)
2010 — Silver, ski slopestyle (Breck)
2014 — Gold, ski slopestyle (Breck)
2013 — Gold, ski slopestyle (Copper Mountain)
2014 — Gold, ski slopestyle (Breck)
2014 — Silver, ski slopestyle (Park City)
FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships
2011 — Bronze, ski slopestyle (Park City)
2012 — Gold, ski slopestyle (Argentina)
For the first time in 11 years, Keri Herman won’t be going to X Games in Aspen.
It’s not like the fiery freeskier doesn’t want to go. At 34 years old, Herman, a longtime Breckenridge local and five-time X Games silver medalist, would love to compete at the event she says launched her career. She hasn’t missed a single one in the past decade — that’s 13 separate X Games on two continents — but for some reason, all she’s heard from event organizers this season is crickets.
“I didn’t get a single email or message,” Herman said about X Games from Jan. 26-29, and then continued about the state of her career. “I was talking with girls I started skiing with — the girls who started the sport — and talking about how I’m almost done with skiing because people are making me be done with it.”
Herman would be lying if she said the X Games silence didn’t hurt, and hurt bad. Not only has she been competing there since the beginning — she helped pave the way for all women to simply get invited to the big show.
In the mid-2000s, she and a small corps of female freeskiers like Ashley Battersby, Anna Segal and Michelle Parker traveled the country and world with minimal support to show what they could do on skis. After proving they could hang with the boys — something Herman had been doing in Breck’s Freeway terrain park since moving to town in 2004 — X Games added women’s ski halfpipe and slopestyle to the event roster.
Today, just over a decade after Herman’s first X Games, women’s freeskiing is blowing up in a monstrous way. Youngsters like Kelly Sildaru of Estonia and Maggie Voisin of Montana are leading the charge — Sildaru is already an early favorite to win gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang — while veterans like Herman and Canada’s Kaya Turski continue to make the podium at World Cup events across the globe.
Women’s freeskiing is big and getting bigger, and the sport owes a world of debt to originals like Herman, Battersby, Parker and Turski. But what does this electric growth mean for the 34-year-old Herman, a former ice hockey player who didn’t even pick up skiing until her 20s and, in 2015, changed her age on Wikipedia when sponsors dropped her for being too old? In short, the fire is burning hotter than ever. She admitted to chopping a few years off her age — an article explaining why ran on the U.S. Olympic Committee website — but she’s still reeling from the X Games silence.
In the meantime, though, there’s powder to slash and parks to slay. Between January snowstorms, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with Herman to talk about powder skiing off T-Bar, her sport’s recent explosion and why she has no plans to retire soon — even if sponsors say she should.
Summit Daily News: We’re in the thick of a two-week pow storm. How’s the skiing been?
Keri Herman: Absolutely amazing — I have hit so many places. I went to A-Basin one day, Keystone the next, then Copper and Breck. It’s just so incredibly fun out there. Yesterday at Breck, I accidentally went by T-Bar early in the morning and it was running, but it was empty. I think it was because it was the weekend and no one really knew what they were doing. I got like 10 T-Bar runs before there was a line. I’ve never had that happen, ever.
SDN: Where are your go-to places for skiing when it dumps like this? Don’t give up any secret spots — just the gist.
KH: I love T-Bar. It’s just so much fun. That’s honestly my favorite spot when there’s legit snow that’s worth it. I also like 6-Chair, E-Chair — the old-school stuff. I’ve hit Peak 6 on occasion, but I like the other stuff better. Imperial Chair is fun if there’s visibility — if there’s not it can be sketchy — but when there is it’s a blast.
SDN: Have you gotten into backcountry travel and skinning like everyone else?
KH: I stick to the resorts. I haven’t done much backcountry in the last 10 years, really. I used to be really into it, but with all of the competitions and everything I’ve been focusing more on park skiing. When it does snow I tend to stick to the resorts.
SDN: You’re a Minnesota kid. How did growing up in the flat, cold north shape your style of skiing?
KH: I didn’t ski much back home. I grew up playing ice hockey, so transitioning to skiing was a different story. That said, I think it was really easy. I had edge control from skating, so it was an easy transition to learn how to ski. I didn’t do much on the snow until I moved out to Colorado for college, but all the cute boys were skiing, so I figured, “I might as well do this too.” Then I ran through the park one day and decided, “Man, this is awesome.” I got addicted and it was love after that.
SDN: Now that you’ve lived and trained in Breck for a decade, how has Colorado shaped your style of skiing?
KH: Well, back in the day, there was such a core group of skiers out at Breckenridge every day. The Freeway park — the Peak 8 terrain park — had the big jumps, and so you either hit those or you didn’t ride at all. It was a quick learning curve. I’d ski with the boys and a few girls all day, just ripping Freeway all day long, so you either did it or you didn’t. When I went off the competitions it wasn’t even that hard because I’d been hitting the big stuff anyway. At Breck, everyone is always having fun, just being friendly and happy.
KH: Big time. It’s really, really, really hurtful and stressful. It actually broke me a bit this year. I came off last season with a lot of really big podiums — second at a Euro event, third at the Nine Queens big air, and that’s after an injury — but I had a bad concussion after my silver medal in X Games (in 2015), the year I won at Dew Tour, and it was a struggle to come back from that.
Looking back, the hardest thing was coming back with no support. The teenagers get everyone talking about how they’re young and able to come back, but I had to fight through and convince everyone that, “Hey, I’m still awesome, I’m still here, I’m still doing just fine… Don’t phase me out.”
This year, it really broke me. It was the straw that broke the camels back to return, get on the podium, and still have to fight for an alternate spot at Dew Tour. I was like, “What’s the deal guys?” When you get injured, most everyone else gets put right back in when they return, but for me I had to fight. They said something along the lines of, “We have new sponsors and they have new criteria.” So somehow, my past results didn’t come into play. I’m 34, and that’s the reason they wouldn’t have me. My results haven’t faltered. No matter how well I do, how well I ski, I’ll get penalized for my age. It’s so frustrating and so sad that I’m getting phased out for political issues.
SDN: Has aging — you know, spending 10 years on the contest circuit — changed your approach to skiing?
KH: Yeah, it really has. It’s taken my heart out of it though. I’m so obsessed with skiing (pause). I’ve just been really confused and in a weird place this past month because people are taking away from what I love, my favorite thing in the world, and they’re taking it from me for superficial reasons. It’s something I love, yes, but it’s hurtful to go someplace where they now treat me differently. It’s just hard — it’s really hard.
This is a different topic, but I was talking with girls I started skiing with — the girls who started the sport— and talking about how I’m almost done with skiing because people are making me be done with it. Ashley Battersby was telling me how when she retired, the hardest thing for her is that you go from being a pro athlete, traveling the world, being super awesome, to being phased out. There’s no basis for transition. My friends who were big-time pro skiers somehow get completely lost because there is no help getting into the next thing — there’s no path, and you have to figure it out on your own.
SDN: After missing Dew Tour last season, you had to fight for an alternate invite this year. Did it feel good to get back in the competition groove?
KH: It was tricky this year. It was the first big jump (and) big rail of the season with no training. It was fun to see everyone and get the season going, but it was a little bit of a shocker to start with that. I was so sick out there — I had like a 102 fever the day of the big air. But I couldn’t say no. It gives you the best rush in the world.
SDN: And now X Games is around the corner. Any idea why you weren’t invited?
KH: I really don’t know. I didn’t get a single email or message, and I think it has to do with my Dew Tour performance. (Editor’s note: Herman finished in ninth overall.) But I’ll be going to World Cup and Grand Prix and everything else because those are based on standings.
Back in the beginning, I even competed in halfpipe once because it was the only event for women’s skiing. I said, “We need to support this and show our presence so that they continue growing our sport.” I drove to Utah and everywhere else just to support the women. The first year slopestyle was admitted for women at Dew Tour, there were only five girls. It was really weird, like a trial event.
SDN: Now that women’s ski slope is gaining momentum, who has you stoked on the sport?
KH: There are so many girls with so much talent out there. I just can’t believe the progression I’ve seen in women’s skiing over the past few years, and I think that’s because younger girls are getting into it. When I started, there were no young girls in the park. Now, they have the opportunity to hit park when they’re kids and that’s huge. Lisa Zimmermann is just so funny — she’s from Germany, I think — and she’s absolutely insane. Clearly, Kelly (Sildaru) is out of this world and amazing. Kaya Turski is still in the game and her rail tricks are mind-blowing, and I love seeing that because she and I grew up together, saw things progress and change while other things stayed the same.
SDN: How does it feel to be part of the old guard now?
KH: It’s kind of an honor to still be here, honestly. I’m lucky that my body has held up for high-level competition. It’s kind of lonely to see my friends move on and retire, but it’s been really fun to see the new girls coming up, see their excitement and motivation.
SDN: The 2018 Winter Olympics is almost exactly a year away. How does that factor into the training and competitions you’re doing right now?
KH: Working toward it, for sure. Right now I’ just hoping for a sunny day so I can get into the park for training, but the pow has been so great that I’m torn (laughs). I spent so much time doing what other people thought I should be doing, and that wasn’t the best for me. Now, I’m just going to ski for me, do the high-level tricks every single run through the park so I can throw that down at every comp, no matter the conditions.
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