Words: Ethan Stone
Atomic recently announced a new park ski, the Infamous, and a style-focused team headed up by Jossi Wells to support it. The only North American native on the Infamous squad is Nicky Keefer, a fast-rising skier from Huntsville, Utah, whose progressive air style turned heads last season.
I caught up with Nicky to chat about style, competitions, and his reading list, but he ended up taking me down the rabbit hole into an exploration of consciousness. Meatboy is a unique skier by anyone's standards, but a park skier who's also a deep thinker? That's truly a bird of a different feather.
What does being a "style skier" mean to you?
It means that I'm a human being with emotion, and I show that emotion in everything that I do. It bothers me to see people not use the creativity and imagination that we all have, because we get to have that and we don't always appreciate it.
Although you have a heavy focus on style, you'll also toss the occasional double flip. Where is the line between style and technicality?
If pure style is one side of the pendulum, and technicality and number of rotations is the other side, then I try to find that middle swing. Double flips can be cool, and I'm not close-minded to the idea of doing more rotations on a bigger jump. But I make sure to take what's important in smaller rotations--the emphasis on the grab, style and composure--and bring it with to the other side of the pendulum.
Are you film-only or do you also compete?
I compete as well. Unfortunately none of the bigger contests have gone well yet. At the Grand Prix at Mammoth last year, I blew it on the first rail but was able to forget about it right away and be present on what was next. It's so easy to be like "Ahhhh, I screwed up," and just give up. That used to happen to me a lot. It was only after I started learning more about the consciousness side of things, about why I ski well sometimes, and not at other times, that I'm feeling more confident and ready for contests this year.
But I still like filming so much more. Did you see that article by Clayton Vila? What he and Parker [White] were saying was so on point about how skateboarding was able to progress the way it did. All the pros in skateboarding filmed and they were able to show what they wanted through a video, instead of what they were given in a contest or an arena.
How do these ideas fit into the brave new world of Olympic Freeskiing?
Recently I did some freeski soul-searching and looked at a lot of different definitions of our sport. They say that we're closer to snowboarding than traditional skiing, and I honestly believe that. We're trying to jump off things and slide across things and look at things completely differently from someone who just wants to go down the hill.
I think if we're going to go down that path then we should go all the way and really hop on that creativity program instead of just doing it one way like a robot. That's the 'black and white,' but we broke away from that and now there's a lot of gray area.
We need a judging system that's appropriate, and it's not there. Just watching this last Dew Tour I was really frustrated. I've been trying to think of some better ways, because I'm actually a certified AFP judge. I did the certification last year to get an idea of how it all works. It was a cool experience, but I probably talked more than I should have.
Do you think about all this stuff while you're skiing?
No, not at all. Skiing is that personal time for me, and I get a lot of happiness out of it. I watched this documentary on the three points of acquiring happiness. The first one is finding a hobby and trying to get better at it, which is skiing for me. The second point is creating and valuing relationships with people who like the same thing that you do, and the third point is that if you want to feel fulfilled at all, you need to do things for others without seeking anything in return.
How do these kinds of conversations go over with your ski buddies?
[Tom] Wallisch is someone I can talk to about this stuff, probably because he's so sick of me talking about trying to do presses and stuff that it's good when we can talk about something besides trying to nollie on skis.
How did you get the nickname Meatboy?
Originally Dale Talkington was calling me 'Keefbox.' Then one day I tried to get the other guys to call me that, and that was my undoing. I told Tom and Steve, "Dale's calling me Keefbox, you should call me that," and they were like "Whatever, we're calling you Meatbox!" So it blew up from there and ended up being Meatstick, Meatboy, Meatman, whatever else you can do with meat.
Which skiers do you look to for inspiration?
Definitely Candide [Thovex]. He's always getting after it for himself, and he doesn't turn his head away from any aspect of skiing.
You obviously like to read. What's your favorite subject?
Well, a lot of people call it self-help, but I think calling it that undermines it. I like to call it self-realization or self-actualization. It's about understanding your own mind and why it is the way it is.
How much harder is it to get recognition for a skier who's not on the main competition circuit?
That's the dilemma. It's just so bad for skiers like Hornbeck and others who are making legitimate change, but don't get recognized for it because they're not on top of a podium. They value their skiing more than anything else, so they have to just go and get it for themselves. Hopefully the Olympics will give us all more exposure and grow the sport that much more, but I hope it doesn't push us in the wrong direction. We don't want to go back to the black and white--we want to stay gray.