SILVERTHORNE — On any given winter afternoon, Red Gerard’s backyard teems with jibbing teens sliding rails, hitting jumps and ripping laps in a hand sculpted terrain park.
“I learned so many rail tricks back there. It’s so fun. We’d just stay out there till sunset every day,” said the 17-year-old Gerard, a high-flying snowboarding phenom whose creative prowess on rails and jumps makes him one of America’s favorites for Olympic glory in South Korea come February.
Gerard’s arc toward snowboarding luminary and the late-night talk show circuit began when he was knee-high, wowing spectators and peers worldwide as one of the youngest kids ever to stomp a double-cork and riding rails in ways that inspired professionals 10 years older. The 2018 Olympics could be his coronation.
But don’t tell him that.
He’s not eyeing gold medals. He’s not thinking about standing on a podium while “The Star- Spangled Banner” plays. He’s not even thinking about the demanding slopestyle and big air pre-Olympic qualification competition this month at Copper Mountain and Breckenridge.
“That might change when I get there and maybe I’ll start feeling nervous. But I doubt that. I have not thought about it at all, really,” Gerard said recently while nibbling through a Chipotle burrito at his family’s home perched above a yet-to-be-snowy backyard terrain park with views of Dillon Reservoir.
What Gerard is thinking about is his new snowmobile tucked into a trailer in the driveway. A 2018 Ski-Doo 850 Summit X, outfitted with snowboard racks to haul his ride into the snowiest corners he can find.
“I’m so jonesing right now,” he said, looking across a largely snowless vista after fitting his Burton board into the rack.
In a couple days, as the country’s top snowboarders and freeskiers rally in Summit County to begin prepping for four halfpipe, slopestyle and big air Olympic qualification events, Gerard and his older brother Malachi are heading to Wyoming’s Teton Range to throttle their sleds through the deepest snow they can find. He’s planning to arrive back just in time to grab a day of training before the first-ever U.S. Olympic qualifiers for big air at the Dec. 7-10 Copper Mountain Grand Prix.
“I did a lot of snowboarding this summer, so I’m good,” he said.
Last month, Gerard took silver in the season opener of the big air world cup season in Milan, Italy, right behind his pal Chris Corning, the Arvada snowboarder who, like Gerard, is a double-threat for big air and slopestyle gold at the PyeongChang Olympics. Last February, Gerard locked down the FIS world cup slopestyle season title and won the first Olympic snowboarding U.S. qualification contest for slopestyle at California’s Mammoth, marking his first major victory on U.S. snow.
Slopestyle, which made its Olympic debut at the 2014 Sochi Games, rolls snowboarders and skiers through rails, slides and jumps with judges scoring for “overall impression,” which is based on criteria such as difficulty, amplitude, execution, variety and progression. Gerard, 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds, is a spry and nimble rider. His technical bag of tricks includes the mandatory triple-flipping off massive jumps but he is also a visionary on the rails, spinning inventive moves on the sloping features that encourage creative interpretation.
“Red has got the technical tricks for sure. And that’s what it takes in the slopestyle world right now to get onto the podium. But the thing about Red, which is what I respect the most about him, is that he’s a snowboarder who does everything,” said Olympian Danny Davis, a champion of style in a competitive snowboarding scene that can lean toward maniacal flipping and spinning. “He rides rails, hits jumps and loves pow. He embodies snowboarding, which is about going out with your buddies and just riding.”
It’s a family affair
This past summer, Gerard played hard on a worldwide surfing and snowboarding jaunt, visiting Mexico, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Between trips, he rode his skateboard and learned to play golf. He takes online high school classes and admits he’s a little bit behind.
“I’m getting a pretty good education traveling around the world and it’s definitely different than what most kids get,” he said. “I’m not doing it the traditional way, but I figure there is time when you are older to do all that.”
Gerard is the youngest member of a 10-man U.S. Snowboarding slopestyle team that includes four teenagers. He is the second-youngest in his family, a bustling brood of seven kids spanning age 9 to 32. Mom Lisa was 15 when she started dating dad Conrad. They married as teenagers and began raising their family in Cleveland.
Gerard was 8 when his family moved to Silverthorne. His memories of Cleveland in the winter are not going to land him any Ohio tourism sponsorship deals. As soon as he arrived in Colorado, he took to snowboarding with gusto, chasing his older siblings around the mountain.
His brother Malachi is a professional photographer who began documenting Gerard’s exploits at a young age with YouTube clips that lured snowboarding titan Burton as a sponsor when Gerard was 10. His older brother Trevor, a gifted snowboarder in his own right, works for Snowboard Magazine. His sister Tieghan, 21, is a renowned food blogger whose Half Baked Harvest posts and recipe videos — filmed largely by Malachi — draw huge online audiences. Lisa and Conrad work for Tieghan, who lives and works in the family barn at the bottom of the backyard terrain park. A massive new barn is under construction where Tieghan plans to expand her surging cookbook, blogging and food photography empire.
“My sister is such a superstar,” Gerard said. “She’s the hardest-working person I know.”
Is there room for another superstar in the Gerard clan?
“He can’t get too big of a head because of his sister,” Lisa said. “But having a big family like this keeps everyone in check.”
Constantly on the go
Gerard rarely sits still for long. He’s run down the battery on the OneWheel, so it’s time to move. Showing off the family’s goats, he again laments the lack of snow. He would be riding with his buddies if there was snow. His backyard park typically draws dozens of kids before any other terrain parks are open. This year, with the late start to winter and the busy season ahead, he told his mom he didn’t think he’d have time to help set up the park and shepherd the young shredders.
Lisa said she’d handle it. Back in Ohio, the family would escape to a cabin in update New York, where the boys would build jumps and play in the snow under the lights until after midnight. She loves hosting swarms of riders in her backyard park.
“I like for this place to be used and I like people here. Snowboarding has become so expensive that you need to have something like this,” she said. “I would like to see more municipalities have little parks. It’s just a great way to get kids outside.”
Davis said parks like the Gerard backyard can spark the next generation of snowboarders.
“It’s really cool when people are truly part of the snowboarding culture and they seek out solutions,” he said. “It’s people like the Gerards who make the sport better.”
As the Olympics near and Gerard’s name reaches beyond snowboarding tribe — where, since he was knee-high, he has been favored as the next boss — companies are calling. He has worked out deals with Comcast and Ice Breakers gum, which join his lucrative sponsorship contracts with Mountain Dew, Burton and more.
Sponsors can bring pressure. But not for Gerard.
“I’m pretty mellow. No need to be so intense. I’m an easy-going guy,” he said. “The only thing that keeps me up at night is thinking about what I’m going to do the next day, really.”
As industry leaders fret the recent slowing growth of snowboarding and how that might impact snowsports sales and resort business, athletes such as Gerard could be the next Shaun White.
“I’d love to be that guy, but it’s hard to make yourself into that guy. If kids look up to me, that’s all I can hope for,” he said.” I hope kids look at my snowboarding and get interested in snowboarding and go snowboarding. I don’t need to be a Shaun White or whoever. I just want to have fun and snowboard.”