Red Gerard Goes From Backyard to Big Time

Red Gerard catching some big air.
Red Gerard catching some big air. Mark Kohlman/ESPN

Before Red Gerard’s improbable rise to the top
of the Snowboard Slopestyle podium at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, before his hard-partying family and headlines like “Teen Olympian Overslept, Lost Coat, Said F*ck on TV, and Won U.S.’s First Gold of 2018” made him an overnight celebrity, before comparing notes with Jimmy Kimmel on shotgunning beers, before Donald Trump called him to the White House lectern by the name “Redmond,” before he called the president “Dude,” before all that, there was Red’s backyard in Silverthorne.

Red, still just nineteen years old, is the sixth of seven children in the Gerard family. He was born in Cleveland, but the family started spending winters in Colorado when he was seven and became full-timers a few years later. In 2012 the Gerards bought a house in Silverthorne, and Red says the move may have marked the moment his destiny was first carved in snow.

“Right when we pulled up to the house, my brother Brendan looked at the yard and said, ‘That slope is perfect,’ and we all started dreaming,” Red recalls. “All my siblings snowboard.”

The Gerard clan — older brothers Brendan, Creighton, Trevor and Malachi, and older sister Teighan — promptly set to building a makeshift terrain park behind the new family home. They even installed a rope tow, powered by an old 50cc Honda dirt bike engine. Their parents, Jen and Conrad Gerard, were fully supportive from the beginning; after all, they’d moved the family to Colorado to fulfill their own dreams of living in the mountains.
Red spent hours every day in that backyard, and Malachi, a budding filmmaker, began shooting video to document the youngster’s exploits on the rails and jumps that would shape his early snowboarding career.

Today Malachi is Red’s personal filmer, and has co-directed several feature-length snowboarding films. The Gerard backyard also helped launch Trevor’s career in the snowboard industry; he’s done stints on the sales teams at Snowboard, Transworld Snowboarding and Snowboarder magazines and Fallen Footwear. Now the youngest Gerard, eleven-year-old Asher, is a fledgling snowboarder, and Red has been excited to pass down his love of the sport in the same way his older siblings did for him.

“The setup changes from year to year, but we typically have one long down bar, an up rail, a waterfall drop rail, a couple corrugated tubes,” Red explains.
click to enlarge Olympian Red Gerard trained in his backyard in Silverthorne. - AARON BLATT/FUSE
Olympian Red Gerard trained in his backyard in Silverthorne.
Aaron Blatt/FUSE
Red doesn’t want to overstate it, but those backyard roots definitely put him on the right path and into the right mindset for approaching big contests and everything else that comes with a pro-snowboarding career: “It’s really pretty mellow, but for me it was a place to go out and play around with new tricks and just have fun with friends and my family,” he says. “I’ve done pretty well by remembering that’s what it’s all about.”

Red used the backyard park and the nearby Summit County ski resorts — Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin — as a springboard to the contest scene, beginning with regional Rocky Mountain Series events under the umbrella of the United States Amateur Snowboard Association (USASA) while he was still a kid and building up to the USASA Nationals at Copper Mountain. In February 2014, at age fourteen, he bumped up into the International Ski Federation (FIS) amateur circuit; in March 2015 he took fourth place in slopestyle at the FIS Junior World Championships in Yabuli, China, then moved into the FIS World Cup ranks beginning with the 2015-2016 winter season. By the time the qualification process for the 2018 Winter Olympics was under way, Red was on a tear, winning FIS World Cup slopestyle events at Mammoth Mountain in California, and here in Colorado at Snowmass to assure his spot on the U.S. Olympic Team.

But no one could have predicted where Red would go from there.
click to enlarge Donald Trump put Red on the spot at a post-Olympics reception at the White House. - MARK WILSON/GETTY IMAGES
Donald Trump put Red on the spot at a post-Olympics reception at the White House.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Looking back on his Olympic gold medal run in PyeongChang and everything that followed, Red says he’s amused that the world got a fairly accurate representation of him and his family. Between his parents, siblings and cousins, the Gerards were rolling eighteen-deep in South Korea, beers in hand in every photo taken of them, partying from dawn to dusk and beyond.

It’s entirely true that Red stayed up late watching Brooklyn 99 on Netflix the night before his big contest, that he slept in on the morning of the final because of it, and that he managed to lose his officially issued U.S. Snowboard team jacket somewhere along the way and had to borrow a much bigger jacket from Kyle Mack, his roommate and teammate, for the final.

It’s true that his cousin was in the crowd waving a bright-orange sign that said, “We’re here to get GERARDED.”
It’s true that he was in last place coming into his last run, opting for a unique line casually showcasing his calm, almost sleepy style. He landed a big, fully extended frontside air over a hip feature, stomped a triple-cork 1440 on the final jump, and ended with an all-the-way-laid-out carve at the base, as if he could barely believe he’d made it to the bottom.

It’s true that he said “Holy shit” on the live broadcast as his score was announced, and that Red or someone else in the Gerard entourage exclaimed “What the fuck!” as the cameras captured them celebrating together. You can take the Gerards out of the backyard, but you can’t take the backyard out of the Gerards.

It’s true that he hopped on a thirteen-hour flight to do the full media circus back in the U.S., leaving his family to party in PyeongChang without him while he did a whirlwind talk-show tour before flying back for the big-air competition, in which he finished fifth.

It’s also entirely true that, when it was all over, Donald Trump couldn't resist an unscripted moment with Red at the White House reception for the U.S. Olympic Team.

“He must be a wild guy. These snowboarders are a little wild,” Trump began. “Where’s Redmond? Where’s Redmond? Come here. Oh, I know this guy!”

Red blushed mightily as he walked up to meet the president, and mightier still when the president asked him to “say a couple of words.” Red found himself at an uncharacteristic loss, and replied, “Dude, come on, you can’t put me on the spot like this!”

Trump seemed happy with that. “See, he was more nervous here than he was when he was doing the flips,” he said.

“I didn’t really understand or appreciate how big of a deal the Olympics was until I was right in the middle of it,” Red says now. He grew up on X Games dreams, Dew Tour dreams, filming in the backcountry dreams, playing in the backyard dreams, not Olympic dreams and kidding-around-with-the-president dreams. “If I could do it all over again, my one wish is that I’d had more of a chance to take it all in, because it all happened so quickly. It was there and then it was over.”
click to enlarge The waterfall drop is a Backyard feature. - DEAN BLOTTO GRAY/POWDR CORP.
The waterfall drop is a Backyard feature.
Dean Blotto Gray/POWDR Corp.
Dozens of the world’s top pro snowboarders have made visits to the Gerard family’s DIY setup in Summit County over the years, and next month, Red will bring the concept to the public through a new partnership with Woodward and its parent company, the POWDR Corporation resorts group, which also owns Copper Mountain, where a new terrain park branded as Red’s Backyard will open at the Center Village base area.

The park was actually his mother’s idea.

“It’s kind of been me and my mom’s project: We wanted to do something that’s all about giving back to the community that has been so supportive and still in the spirit of what we were able to create in our backyard,” Red says. “The coolest thing is it’s going to be free entry: You basically just sign a waiver and you’ll get to hike the park. We wanted it to be accessible to anybody who wants to try to learn some tricks on a snowboard. I’m beyond psyched that it’s all coming together pretty much exactly how we wanted it, and that we get to do it at Copper Mountain. I’ve been riding Copper and going to Woodward at Copper for as long as I’ve been riding in Colorado.”

Woodward, originally an action sports camp founded in Woodward, Pennsylvania, now boasts action-sports destinations in eleven locations across the country, including two in Colorado: Woodward Copper and its indoor facility, known as the Barn, celebrated a ten-year anniversary in April, and Eldora began adding Woodward-branded terrain parks and camp offerings after POWDR Corp. acquired the ski area in 2016.

“I’ve known Red for a pretty long time, and always have to stop and remind myself he’s only nineteen,” says Chris “Gunny” Gunnarson, senior vice president of youth development at POWDR. “He seems like such an old soul, remarkably talented physically, with so much focus and physical skill, and he’s also an engaging, chill, conscientious kid who’s mature beyond his years.”

Gunny, as he’s known throughout the snowboard industry, is the former president of Snow Park Technologies (SPT), the company responsible for designing and building terrain parks at Copper Mountain and the competition courses for major events like the X Games, Dew Tour and Burton U.S. Open. He worked closely with Red and the SPT team on the design concept for Red’s Backyard at Copper Mountain, which will be a free hike park located between the American Eagle and American Flyer chairlifts, with a rail garden and jib features suitable for riders of all ability levels.
click to enlarge Chris "Gunny" Gunnarson and Red Gerard discuss plans with the Woodward design team. - CURTIS DEVORE/POWDR CORP.
Chris "Gunny" Gunnarson and Red Gerard discuss plans with the Woodward design team.
Curtis DeVore/POWDR Corp.
“Red has had a long relationship growing up around and riding at Copper, and training indoors there at Woodward, learning aerial awareness on trampolines, but he’s also had this homegrown backyard park at his family’s house in Colorado that a lot of his friends have been able to come and hang at,” Gunny says.

“Obviously, he can’t invite the entire world to come ride his backyard at his actual house, but we thought, ‘Maybe we can bring the idea of what you’ve created in your backyard up to our resorts,’ to help re-create the idea of a hike park and sort of break the mold of conventional terrain parks.”

Killington Ski Resort in Vermont and Woodward Park City in Utah will also have Red’s Backyard-branded areas this season, each offering different features designed with input from Red and an SPT team that included freestyle snowboarding pro Jeremy Jones. Gunny says the three Red’s Backyard parks are part of a broad reimagining of the resorts’ terrain park systems under the name Woodward Mountain Park, of which a key component is Peace Park, inspired by pro snowboarder Danny Davis’s annual Peace Park snowboard progression event; that’s in line with Woodward’s approach to helping guests master ski and snowboard tricks in the terrain parks through a sequential learning process, gradually moving from start parks to more advanced features.

“How do you truly make the mountain different in special, new ways? Clearly, there are some people who are big influencers and impactors who are helping shape and drive where these sports rooted in outdoor fun are going,” Gunny says. “Guys like Danny Davis and Red Gerard are shaping that in really different ways. In a nutshell, it’s about imagining what that would look like if it was up on the mountain — everything from the way you learn and progress to the way you can hang with your friends and family in an entirely reimagined perspective of what being on the mountain can mean, especially to the next generation.”

Taylor Prather, spokesperson for Copper Mountain, says the resort is planning to offer rail jam contests and other events at Red’s Backyard during the season, in addition to hosting grand-opening festivities on December 23.

“We feel really fortunate to have Summit County’s own local hero partnering up for this park,” she says. “It’s going to be next to our Superpipe and visible from the deck at Jack’s Slopeside Grill & Bar right at the base area, in the same space where we’ve hosted some fun recent events and our summer rail garden terrain park, so it’s going to be super-accessible and spectator-friendly.”

And a perfect training ground for future Red Gerards.
click to enlarge Red Gerard at the X Games in Aspen in January 2019. - TREVOR BROWN JR./ESPN
Red Gerard at the X Games in Aspen in January 2019.
Trevor Brown Jr./ESPN
Though he’s been a competitor on the World Cup circuit since 2015 with multiple career wins and is now the reigning Olympic slopestyle gold medalist, the reigning 2019 World Cup slopestyle champion and the reigning 2019 Burton U.S. Open slopestyle champion, Red says he doesn’t put a lot of emphasis on competition.

He’s not particularly concerned with defending Olympic gold in 2022, or about any other pressures, internal or external, and he says he’s thankful that his sponsors — including Burton Snowboards, Mountain Dew, Woodward, Bose and Toyota — haven’t pushed for contest perfection.

“I never really think about any of that,” he says. “I never think of it as trying to qualify for something or win something. Winning, to me, is getting to do what I love and have a bunch of fun at it.”

By that measure, too, he’s been winning big. He skipped most of the World Cup big air and slopestyle contests in the 2018-2019 season to make Joy, a film directed by his brother Malachi and friend Tyler Orton. Overjoyed, a behind-the-scenes documentary about the project, aired on ABC’s World of X Games at the end of October.

“After the Olympics, I wanted to change things up, but it still ended up being the busiest season ever,” Red says. “From January to June, I was snowboarding every single day. I still did the main contests — Dew Tour, X Games, World champs, U.S. Open — and then we were traveling all over the place filming in between. We started up in Jackson Hole, then went to Japan, Aspen, Mammoth Mountain and then to Tahoe for a while, then ended it off in Whistler.”

Joy premiered in October and hit the iTunes store online on November 5. It features Red and co-stars Ben Ferguson and Sage Kotsenburg, the slopestyle gold medalist from the Sochi 2014 Olympics, as well as appearances from Danny Davis, Gabe Ferguson, Brock Crouch, Hailey Langland and Nik Baden. It’s the second major film he’s collaborated on with Malachi, after the 2017 TransWorld Snowboarding film Arcadia.

The 2018-2019 season rolled out the white carpet for Red and friends wherever they went, and as a result, Joy is pure snowboarding, with powder rooster-tailing in great waves behind the riders in nearly every shot. “Joy was awesome to film with Malachi and such a small group of good friends,” Red says. “We hit all these amazing spots all around the world and still managed to make it feel like a personal project. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Red hopes that people who might only pay attention to snowboarding every four years during the Olympics get a chance to see Joy. He resists thinking of contests versus filming as some sort of yin and yang of snowboarding, he says, and aims to bring the same mentality to everything he does. “Joy” is the right word for it, and the film ends with Red’s exuberant celebration at the 2019 Burton U.S. Open in March before the credits start rolling over another round of backcountry powder shots.

The film reflects just how much bigger his backyard has gotten: Red is now perfectly at home riding some of the biggest, deepest, steepest, most challenging terrain there is, with the same playful spirit he honed behind his parents’ house.

Red got his own place in Lake Tahoe last winter and travels for much of the year, but the original backyard setup lives on.

“It doesn’t get as much attention as it used to, but it’s been getting set up every year, for sure,” he says. “Last December was the funnest year we’ve ever had back there. It’s all Asher’s now, and I’m excited to see what she gets up to, because she’s been really getting into snowboarding lately. She’s really good at carving. She’s a real mountain goat. It’s pretty sick. I really wish I had more time to ride with her, so I’m going to make it a priority this winter.” And he should have ample opportunity, because both Red’s Backyard and various contests make Colorado a frequent stop on his schedule.

“I learned really early on not to take any of it too seriously and not to take any of it too lightly,” Red concludes. “Whether it’s snowboarding or anything else you’re into, you should do it because you love it — and because you love it, you should give it everything you’ve got, every time.”

Ready to see Red Gerard in action? He’s hosting the grand opening of Red’s Backyard at Copper Mountain on December 23 and competing at the X Games Aspen January 23-26, the Dew Tour Copper Mountain February 6-9, and the Burton U.S. Open at Vail February 24-29. He’ll also be at the MTN Dew Snow Dance event at Breckenridge on November 23, with Danny Davis and Julia Marino, featuring DJ sets by Australian indie dance trio Rüfüs Du Sol and Canadian turntablist A-Trak.
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Colin Bane
Contact: Colin Bane