Breck freestyle pioneer Keri Herman talks about career, from hockey to X Games
DILLON — After longtime Breckenridge local Keri Herman won the 2007 Aspen Freeskiing Open, the only major freeski competition for women at the time, the mother of Carbondale pro skier Meg Olenick had a question for the Bloomington, Minnesota, native.
“Who are you, and where did you come from?” Olenick’s mother asked Herman, then 24 years old.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know. I’m a hockey player, but I’m skiing today,’” Herman recalled saying.
The truth was, Herman was a Minnesota hockey star turned Breckenridge park rat who shocked the small, tight-knit freeski world on that fateful day at Buttermilk in 2007. Reflecting on how her life evolved from a heart for hockey, to studying to work in pantsuits on Wall Street, to Breckenridge ski bum, Herman said it all really fell into her lap.
After a successful youth hockey career where she played on trailblazing all-girls hockey teams in Minnesota, Herman moved to Denver for college having really skied only on spring break trips. Throughout college, she went from being someone who skied a few days to pay off her pass to someone who fell in love with the sport after she stumbled across a terrain park at Beaver Creek Resort.
“I accidentally went through the park and was like, ‘What is this?’” Herman said. “And there was no turning back.”
Two decades later, Herman is remembered in Summit County and globally as one of the female freeskiers who laid the foundation for the opportunities so many young women have today. The 2014 Olympian won several gold medals at U.S. Grand Prix World Cup events, five silver medals at X Games and four medals at Dew Tour, including her crowning achievement on home snow at the 2014 Dew Tour at Breckenridge Ski Resort when so many told her she was too old to keep competing after losing several sponsors.
Still a Breckenridge local who loves skiing as many days as she can each season, Herman is the freestyle skiing winner of the Summit Daily’s Peak Performers project, which honors the greatest athletes and most influential figures in Summit county ski and snowboard history.
Receiving the highest total of the freestyle fan vote, Herman edged out accomplished Summit County freeski figures such as runner-up Chris Hawks, moguls legend Scott Rawles and slopestyle and big air champion Bobby Brown for the honor. At the strength of Herman’s legacy is a driven attitude and trailblazing path she set for other female freeskiers.
But for Herman, that legacy was supposed to be on the ice — not the snow. The member of a hard-working hockey family, Herman played on all-girls teams that were so good they were kicked out of boys leagues because they won too much.
Her zest for competition and drive to always learn more aided Herman once she stumbled upon that Beaver Creek terrain park. Eventually finding her way to Breckenridge in 2003, Herman took to the slopes the edge control, athleticism and I’ll-prove-you-wrong attitude she had in hockey.
“I was so determined to learn things,” she said. “I could hike a rail all day until I learned it, and it was just no big deal.”
The former finance and marketing major at Denver University said she found her people at Breckenridge’s Freeway terrain park. They were the friends she’d work with in the deli at City Market in Breckenridge, one of many jobs Herman had through the years to make the ski-bum lifestyle work. On most every day before she’d go into her job at City Market or Christy Sports or Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., among other gigs, Herman and the park-rat tribe at Breck would be out there cheering each other on to try to progress their skills, feeling more like camaraderie than competition.
“You know that music video by Blind Melon, ‘No Rain’?” Herman asked. “That bumble bee that felt lonely by herself? That was me in Denver. So moving here, I found all of my bumble bees. … We were living in a house in Warrior’s Mark with 10 people, sharing rooms. People were sleeping on the couches, floors, tables. We just squeezed everybody in to make rent as cheap as possible. We couldn’t afford TV. We could barely afford heat. We all slept in our ski clothes and just survived.”
Little did Herman know the skills her friends helped her learn on the big Freeway jumps would seamlessly transition once a representative from Spyder sponsored her and got her contest career rolling. It was a career, Herman said, that culminated after the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Around the time of the Olympics, Herman said people in the ski industry began telling her she was too old to keep competing. By the time the 2014 Dew Tour rolled around, she’d lost sponsors and was doubted. That’s why the win at Dew Tour on the Freeway jumps she was so familiar with and the silver medal a month later at X Games Aspen meant so much.
“I was like, ‘You know what? Screw you,’” Herman said. “You are not here, just because of your insecurities, to tell me I should be insecure about my ability and what I’m doing. And those wins with no backing, hardly, I am most proud of. It’s like, ‘You know what? Stop telling any kind of person that this isn’t for them. Or they are too old to do this, too old to do that.’”
The win at Dew Tour also bookended the journey women’s freeskiing had gone on, how far it’d come since Herman’s first podium at Dew Tour when her winnings consisted of a lunch box with shampoo and conditioner.
Though her competitive career has wound down due to chronic leg injuries, including a partial femur replacement, the 37-year-old is at peace with her ski journey. Her goal, ultimately, is longevity. If she can do switch 540s for the rest of her life, that’d be sweet.
Her larger focus, though, is ensuring women, young and old, are never discouraged from attempting what they know is possible.
“I’m inspired by them because they are paving their own path, trying to do things for themselves,” Herman said. “If you know you can do it, you can do it.”
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