Master It: From Never-Ever to Freeskiing Olympian
Keri Herman only started skiing seriously in her senior year of college. Now she's an Olympian. Here's how she turned her late start into a competitive advantage.
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Keri Herman grew up in Minnesota, where everyone grows up playing ice hockey. So, naturally, she played varsity hockey all through high school. Her family took occasional ski trips, but Herman never considered herself a skier. If you had told her back then that one day she’d become a pro, she’d have laughed in your face.
“I wasn’t very good at skiing, and I didn’t even really like it much back then,” Herman, 32, says.
After high school, she moved to Colorado to attend the University of Denver and started tagging along with friends to ski at Breckenridge and Copper Mountain. But it wasn’t until her junior year when she discovered the thing that would change her life: the terrain park.
“I was like, ‘Excuse me, what is this? A gigantic jump?’” she remembers. “I didn’t know you could ski more than just groomers and moguls.” After that, she took the winter quarter off during her senior year to move to Breckenridge and ski every day, learning new tricks on the rails and jumps.
When Herman graduated from college in 2005, the sport of slopestyle—which was added to the Olympic program in 2014 in Sochi, Russia—was just taking off, and women weren’t yet allowed to compete at the X Games. She was charting new territory and teaching herself highly technical spins and grabs.
“Hockey translated perfectly to skiing—edge control, stopping, skiing backward, it all felt like the same thing but on longer blades,” she says. “Plus, I brought my hockey player attitude—where you have no fear, and you crash and collide to get the puck—into the park, where I’d fall and then just get up and do it again.”
Women’s slopestyle was added to the X Games in 2009. The next year, Herman made her debut appearance and won a silver medal. She’s competed in every X Games since then and qualified for the inaugural U.S. Olympic freeskiing team in 2014.
Most of her peers started competing in freeskiing contests by their teens. But Herman says learning her sport later in life has actually given her an advantage. “I was more mature and smarter with risks,” she says. “I knew when my body was ready to push the limits and when it wasn’t. Plus, I knew enough about life to know it’s about more than just skiing.”
Keep It Fresh
“You can’t expect to be the best right away,” says Herman, who picked up golf last summer. “And who cares if you’re no good at first? Half the fun is learning.”
When things get stagnant or boring, she finds a way to mix it up. One summer, she flew to Australia to ski, where she hitchhiked around and crashed on a friend’s floor just for a change of environment. “Learning something new, you keep trying and trying, and sometimes you have a mental block,” she says. “It’s okay to take a step back and return when you’re fresh.”
Visualize Yourself Being Awesome
Visualization keeps Herman in the right state of mind during competition, and it’s a trick that can help anyone entering their first competitive event.
“I visualize my run and go through it many times. The less I have to think about it on contest day, the less stress I have and the calmer I am at the start gate,” she says. “Visualize yourself standing on the podium or going through the finish line. Focus on the positive things. Don’t waste time thinking about the worst-case scenario.”
Find a Skiing Buddy
Herman trains with fellow slopestyle skier Ashley Battersby almost every day. They key is to not be afraid to ask others for help. “We feed off each other. Yes, for that one hour of competition, we’re competitors, but the rest of the time, we’re friends helping each other,” Herman says. “So find a friend who’s better than you at certain aspects. Look for their qualities, and let other people’s skills accelerate your own.”
Do Something That Scares You
“The adrenaline rush you get after competing in something you’re scared of is incredible,” Herman says. “There’s always the thinking, ‘What if I lose? What if I fail?’ But you can’t think that way. We’re all going to fail sometimes. Coming out of those situations when I do fail, never once have I regretted trying.”