BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — If things go as planned, Red Gerard will walk away from the first Olympic Big Air contest with a gold medal around his neck.
To hear the 17-year-old snowboarding phenom tell it, though, his greatest achievements don’t lie ahead in South Korea. Instead, they’ve been scattered about his own backyard for years.
Gerard learned some of his best tricks in the features park he and his brothers set up on the hill on the back side of his house in Silverthorne, a few miles from the Continental Divide and the Breckenridge ski resort.
Gerard rode the rails and soared over the hand-built jumps to help hone a craft that got him to this point — a good bet to win a medal either in the Olympic debut of Big Air, or the slopestyle contest, where all the rail work pays off.
When Gerard and his brothers built the park, they rigged up an old dirt bike and attached it to the rope tow that carries the riders back up the hill. At first, Gerard, along with his friends and family, would spend hours working on tricks, then call it a day and relax by firing up the barbecue and enjoying dinner on the porch. As time passed, word about Gerard’s yard spread, and kids from around the neighborhood came over to ride the rails and catch some air, too.
So, even though Gerard’s schedule has grown, the backyard has largely remained open during the winter in the hopes that someday, “The Next Red Gerard” might discover his skills there, too.
“It’s so hard to look at someone doing a triple cork when you’re 7 years old and them saying, ‘I want to go do that,'” Gerard said. “It’s not really relatable at all. So, if I can somehow make it so kids want to get into snowboarding, that’s special.”
Gerard first buckled into a snowboard when he was 2, though his career took off when his family moved to Colorado from Cleveland when he was 7.
A typical winter day involved snowboarding on one of the mountains close to the house, then returning home and riding the rails in the backyard. The rails, while safe and sturdy enough to practice on, are nothing like what they ride at the big events. But they were perfect for learning the technical ins and outs of turning, sliding and jumping on and off — skills can make or break a slopestyle run at the X Games, Olympics or anywhere else.
“By then, I had double corks and other big tricks,” Gerard said. “But I learned so many rail tricks in there. It’s something that separates your style from the others.”
Gerard isn’t unlike many of his snowboarding buddies who are more in love with the backcountry riding and filming that defines their sport — he landed his first big sponsorship deal after Burton discovered Gerard’s homemade videos on YouTube — while more or less enduring the contests that generate the bigger audiences and put them in the spotlight.
In many ways, it makes the backyard perfect. He can practice for whatever’s coming up next, be it a fun shoot with his friends or the Pyeongchang Olympics next month. But he can do it in a place where it’s impossible to stray too far from his roots.
“There have been times when things have gotten so busy that I’ve told my mom that I don’t think we can keep the backyard running,” Gerard said. “She’s like, ‘Oh, no, we’re going to keep it running, trust me.’ We like having the people over.”