Nice Up The Snow: Jamaican Olympic skier Errol Kerr

February 12, 2010

Words by Jesse Serwer

For the first time, Jamaica will be represented at the Winter Olympics (which begin today in Vancouver) in a competition other than bobsledding. Errol Kerr, the son of an American mother and a Jamaican father who was born in Brooklyn and raised in California, is competing in skicross, a ski event held on a motocross-style obstacle course that is making its Olympic debut at this year’s Games. The decision to ski for JA instead of the U.S.A. is part tribute to Kerr’s father, who passed away 10 years ago, and part mission to enhance youth development in Jamaica. While he is the Jamaican Ski Team’s only rep at the Olympics this year, Kerr and his sponsors are engaging in a number of efforts to boost its profile, including a a contest to create a Jamaica Ski Team theme song. We caught up with Kerr earlier this week as he was making his final preparations before heading to Vancouver.

Large Up: Can you explain what, exactly, ski cross is?
Errol Kerr: Absolutely. Four people at a time start on a starting gate which is similar to a BMX starting gate. It’s forward falling, so when the gate releases it releases four skiers and you race over a course that has different obstacles from big huge tabletops to big rollers, whoopdedoos and big banked turns. And the first guy at the bottom wins. It’s in-your-face action, it’s not like alpine racing with one person racing the clock. How much fun would it be if NASCAR was just done with a time trial or you had the 100-meter dash against the clock? You get to see everybody on the hill at one time racing each other.

Your bio said you did motocross before? Seems like a logical transition.
I grew up racing BMX and motocross and alpine ski racing in the wintertime. When you put that whole skill together it set me up perfect for ski cross. I was comfortable skiing right next to people and it wasn’t intimidating flying over big jumps six inches away from people.

Why was it important for you to ski for Jamaica instead of the U.S.?
‘Cause it’s the land of my father, it’s in my DNA and it was what I was always meant to do. It’s a big undertaking. At the end of the day I hope to lay a foundation for a program that, when there is another Jamaican ready to pursue skiing, there will be a program there like the U.S. to be able to take it on. When I’m done, I want this to be an avenue. Jamaicans are so dominant in the Summer Games and you have some of the best athletes in the world coming out of that small little island, so I don’t see why we can’t prove that in the snow.

The only reason I can see is that there isn’t any snow there.
[Laughs] Obviously they are geographically challenged but in a sport like ski racing, we travel the world racing world cups. In the summertime there’s no snow in the Northern Hemisphere, so we have to go to the Southern Hemisphere to train. You spend so much time training and racing that where you live doesn’t really dictate how good you can be. Jamaica has been recognized by FISโ€”the International Federation of Skiingโ€”since 1999. That means the country can have athletes compete in world cups and world championships. Back in ’99, there was an athlete who competed for Jamaica in the world championships at Vail, Colorado in giant slalom. So that groundwork has already been laid. Taking it a step further, my FIS license has been changed over to a Jamaican one. I’ve been a dual citizen for a long time so it was just changing my competitive license over. You can only change that once in your life so you’ll never see me competing under another flag. This is my passion and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do you spend much time in Jamaica?
Yes, my brother still lives up in the hills from Negril, in Westmoreland. He has two kids and I spend about a month-and-a-half to two months out of the year there.

As someone born and raised in America, has the experience of forming a Jamaican ski team brought you closer to your roots?
Absolutely. My mom went to Jamaica after college and met my dad. She lived there for 10 years. I grew up with her explaining about the people and the land and how much she fell in love with it and how much it changed her life. The whole experience has brought it all right home.

Do you follow Jamaican music at all?
Absolutely. My favorite artist is Damian Marley. Him and Nas are coming up to Vancouver to play a concert and it looks like, after our event, we’re going to have a Damian and Nas party with the Jamaican Ski Team.

I see you’re doing some things with your sponsors to bring a little Jamaican flavor to Canada for the Olympics.
Yeah, Damian’s playing the two concerts, our clothing sponsor Spyder‘s going to be there giving out Jamaican flags and bringing the Jamaican vibe. At the end of the day, it’s all about bringing the love back to the island, and improving the lifestyle of people on the island.

You have some things set up that you are raising for money for?
That’s the end goal. Damian Marley and I are going to work closely together and hopefully I have some success so in the future we can roll it big in the wintertime with the sports. With the big attraction that he brings, combined with the events and fundraisers I’m doing, we’re going to use that to go back to Jamaica and improve schools. Jamaica’s No. 1 source of income is tourism, so the more people we can bring to the island the better.

Do you listen to music as part of your regimen?
I listen to music in the car ride over [to the mountain]. A lot of people ski with music but for me it’s important to have the wind in my ears. That’s a good way of judging speed. I always listen to “Jamrock” real loud before a big race, real loud. I got a 2,400 watt amp in my 1994 Astrovan so I get “Jamrock” going in there.

Have you met Usain or any of the Jamaican bobsledders?
I haven’t spoken to Usain. I spent some time with the current Jamaican bobsled team when I was down there this summer. Unfortunately they didn’t qualify this year. Some of the original bobsled team members are still around so I’ve spoken to them.

Do you get to eat much Jamaican food out where you live in Lake Tahoe?
Not as much as I would like. But we did have our Jamaican Olympics send-off party this weekend catered by a Jamaican restaurant. It was nice to get some rice and peas and some good jerk chicken.

Alright man, I know you’re on your way up to Vancouver, so good luck.
There’s one more thing: I’m taking a pair of skis and showing how far a dream can take you.

Is that your slogan?
That’s my thing. I’ve always said that from the time I was really young. I think people can take anything and, as long as they put their mind to it, they can go as far as they want.