Skicross countries

Errol Kerr: Pride of Truckee and … Jamaica?

Errol Kerr training at the Spyder Speedfreaks Camp in November in his Jamaica Ski Team gear.

Errol Kerr training at the Spyder Speedfreaks Camp in November in his Jamaica Ski Team gear.

Courtesy of rich adams

Skicross: Racing down a steep course, head to head, with the winners going on to the next heat and the losers going home. It’s bumps, jumps, sharp-banked turns and the thrill of a real race to the finish, where the goal isn’t to beat some unseen clock, but three to five other racers who are also skiing at close to 60 miles an hour and breathing down your neck. Skicross is poles flying like daggers, skis getting stepped on, racers bumping and crashing into each other. It’s like BMX racing in the winter for thrill seekers who love the adventure of congested competition. It’s like a small group of friends, who just happen to be world class skiers, getting off the chairlift and racing full speed, damn the ski patrol, to the bottom of the hill.

A World Cup level skicross race will start with about 100 top competitors. The first step is a time trial. This narrows the field to a group of 32. Next comes a series of four heats, and with each round, the competition gets fiercer, as only the top racers in previous heats make it to the next round. The final heat is an all-out dash to the wire. And the whole event is completed in just a few hours with the top finishers running five quick but grueling races.

Jamaica’s best hope in Truckee
For the first time, skicross will be an official event at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and given how much fun it is to watch, it should be one of the more popular events.

One to watch is 22-year-old Errol Kerr from Truckee, Calif., one of the best skicrossers in the world. Kerr moved to Truckee when he was 9 years old. Now he is the best hope of the Jamaican Ski Team.

That’s right, the Jamaican Ski Team.

Errol’s mother, Catherine Kerr, was vacationing in Jamaica when she met the man who would become Errol’s father. The couple left Jamaica and moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., but Errol says that his “father couldn’t handle life in the U.S., and he returned to Jamaica when I was just 1 year old.” His mother became a single mother with a young child and decided the best move would be to the Bay Area to live with her parents.

Errol’s grandparents, John and Virginia Fuller, had a second home near Sugar Bowl on Donner Summit. The family took frequent trips to the cabin, and Errol’s mother and grandmother, both former ski racers, began to teach him to ski when he was just 4 years old. It didn’t take Errol long to start loving the mountains, and when he was 9, he convinced his mother to move from the Bay Area to Truckee.

In the summer, Errol raced BMX bikes and motocross. In the winter, since his friends were snowboarding, he tried that out. But, he says, “One day I was watching a downhill ski race when I decided that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Determined to reach his goal of becoming a downhill racer, he started racing and training at Squaw Valley with future Olympians like Marco Sullivan and Julia Mancuso. His coaches, including Marco’s uncle Mark Sullivan and former Olympian Greg Jones, have coached several Olympians. Raised without his father, Errol credits his coaches for providing a powerful, positive impact on his development, not only as a skier, but also as a person. Errol, who has warm intense eyes, black spiky hair and a tiny beard on his face, says that when you are racing, the coaches “are the people you spend your life with. They create a family atmosphere and help create a love for the sport. That is why these coaches have been so successful.”

From left, Davey Barr, Jake Fiala and Errol Kerr at the World Cup Skicross Race in Les Contamine, France this past January.

With training and racing taking up much of his time, Errol’s mother took on another task: Home schooling Errol so he would have more time to train. Catherine Kerr spent years teaching Errol how to ski, providing his education and taking him to training and events, while working to support both of them.

“It’s simple,” Errol says, “she’s the best. My Mom is a single mom, and everything I have, everything I’ve accomplished, she has helped me. When I’m down, she’ll pick me up. When my head is full of helium, she gives me the reality check that I really need.”

The land of his father
All the hard work and perseverance by both Errol and Catherine are beginning to pay off. For years, Errol trained hard to become an Olympic downhill and giant slalom skier. When skicross came along, however, he discovered his experience as a BMX and motocross racer gave him a unique advantage in skicross—it was an event perfectly designed for someone with his background.

Errol became a member of the U.S. Freestyle Team, which includes skicross, in 2007. He surprised the world with a fifth place finish in his first Winter X-Games skicross competition at Aspen in 2008. Racing head to head against one of his childhood rivals, Daron Rahlves, Errol made it into the upper echelon of the new sport in his first year. He is currently ranked 24th in the world, second in the United States. Given the way rankings are earned, he would most likely have been ranked much higher if he had been able to participate in more events. This year, he plans to enter as many races as possible, with the goal of reaching the top stratum of the skicross rankings.

Having made a name for himself in the skicross world, Errol is finally obtaining the sponsorships that should enable him to make it to the Olympics. A prime sponsor is Alpine Meadows Ski Area in Tahoe City.

“We are thrilled to support Errol leading up to the 2010 Games and provide Alpine as his primary training ground,” says Alpine Meadows general manager Jim Kercher.

Errol has also obtained sponsorships from Spyder, Jamaican Beverages, Dominator and Atomic Skis. He is working to gain support from one potential sponsor that seems to be a perfect fit: The Jamaican Tourist Board.

His success last winter and the ensuing interest in sponsorship have for the first time given him the opportunity to become an Olympic champion in support of his father’s homeland. While nominated to become a member of the U.S. Ski Team again this year, Errol told a reporter for the Jamaican Gleaner, “I want to represent the land of my father.”

Errol’s father died when he was 14, and he feels that forming the Jamaican Ski Team and, more importantly, becoming successful as a member of that team, would honor his father’s legacy. But Errol says the transformation to the Jamaican Ski Team is like “stepping off the cruise ship of the U.S. Ski Team into the little dinghy that is the Jamaican Ski Team … but I am not alone in the dinghy. I have the whole island of Jamaica, a great big family, supporting me.”

Now that the Jamaican Ski Team is up and running, it is training hard for 2010. In addition to Errol Kerr, the team will now include another skicrosser with dual citizenship, Gregg Samuels, who is from Jamaica and England. This winter, the team is scheduled to take on a full World Cup schedule of races, including the World Championships in Japan, all in preparation for the Olympics, which are just over a year away in February 2010. And the Jamaican Ski Team is beginning to attract quite a bit of media buzz. People want to know whether a guy who lived in America his whole life, but with roots in Jamaica, can wear the orange, green and black to victory in a ski race? Kerr certainly hopes so.

He toured Jamaica this past spring, giving a series of interviews to all three Jamaican TV stations and a number of radio outlets. He told his story of becoming a ski racer to a tropical island nation with no snow. Fascinated by Errol’s exotic story of skiing down the white stuff, the people of Jamaica wished him well in his effort to bring home the gold for Jamaica.