Skiing didn’t come naturally for Nicky Keefer. “I was the slowest to progress in my group of friends,” says the 23-year-old. “I was always behind everyone. My friends had better style and better tricks.”
What Keefer did have was a work ethic, and it proved stronger than most of his peers.
Now, he’s sponsored by the likes of Atomic, Saga Outerwear and Dragon Alliance. He won Best Style and Best Overall Edit at Nine Knights in 2012 and Best Overall honors at Nine Knights last year. He’s appeared in a slew of films and now boasts a core following who appreciates his nose and tail pressing abilities; his smooth, slow spins; and his signature tail grab.
His tricks are so different, so unique and always on point,” says Tom Wallisch, who met Keefer seven years ago when the then 15-year-old skied and coached for AXIS Freeride team in Park City. “He’ll focus on a nose press to 270 out of a certain rail, call it a ‘swoopty’ and do it for three years until he’s perfected it—until it’s so technically precise and completely unique.”
“If you told me 10 years ago he’d be where he is today, I never would have believed you,” says Keefer’s longtime friend Rich Frogh, who grew up with him in Huntsville, Utah. “He was the goofiest kid and so awkward on his skis. But he’s got a drive.”
Frogh says Keefer was so determined to earn the respect of his fellow campers at Mt. Hood one summer that he vied for “most manly” title by standing barefoot in the snow on the Trillium Lake airstrip, dragging a huge dead tree through the woods for 45 minutes and eating Huckleberry Inn hash browns until he puked.
“He was really talented and a little dorky, a little odd,” says Wallisch. Throughout the years he’s come into his own. His friends never guessed he’d be the first one in the crew to get married (he wed Swedish snowboarder Maja Löfvenmark last summer) or that he’d study Buddhism and astrophysics. “He’s got a reputation for getting into emotionally and psychologically deep conversations at 2:00 a.m. after the bars close,” adds Wallisch.
Keefer’s shelves are lined with books on self-realization, consciousness and awareness. After stumbling across a lecture by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku called the The Universe in a Nutshell in 2012, Keefer took an interest in physics. Since then, he’s read as much as he can on the subject, taken a Kahn Academy conceptual physics course online and changed his major to physics. This summer at Windells—his fourth summer coaching—he led science and philosophy discussions with campers, sharing ideas like “How to Follow Your Bliss.”
“Most of us don’t realize how easy it actually is to just be happy,” says Keefer. “Optimism is a self-amplifying feedback loop that snowball affects your life and in turn ripple affects the lives of those around you. I have three ingredients for happiness: Do something you love and continue to progress at it, create genuine relationships and share what you love with others—or simply do something nice for someone else.”
On snow, Keefer’s unique personality shines through, which is exactly how he defines his style. “I try to think outside the box,” he says. “I try to show others there are many ways to do any one trick. Double corks aren’t everything.” Keefer says every trick—even smaller rotations and straight airs—deserve respect.
Early in his ski career, Keefer realized blunt grabs were harder than a typical mute, safety or Japan, and he decided to perfect that aspect of his skiing. “It’s a sort of blind and small area to snag, so I think that adds to the power of blunts,” says Keefer. “Also, Candide [Thovex] uses the power of blunt in his skiing. Enough said.”
Keefer cites Thovex and Mike Hornbeck as his two main influences. “Candide’s the best and has been the best as far back as I can remember,” says Keefer. “He can flourish in the park, the pipe, the streets and big-mountain. You put Candide in any aspect of skiing, and he will do something aesthetically pleasing to the eyes.”
Keefer appreciates Hornbeck for his personality on and off the hill. “He refreshingly refuses to follow the norm and continues to surprise the snow community with what’s possible on skis,” says Keefer. “He maximizes his full capability on skis including noses, tails, presses and butters.”
Keefer has been competing in slopestyle events for a few years but hasn’t had many solid results. He knows his skiing is better suited to film, but he still likes to compete. “It’s good to put yourself in those kind of situations—when you struggle the most, you grow the most.”
He went through the AFP judging certification last season to learn more about what happens behind the scenes. Keefer questions the steno system, the short form judges use to document runs. “Our runs happen so fast, it seems hard to properly document,” says Keefer. “There are definitely subtleties that get missed and sometimes that’s frustrating. There has to be a better way—maybe more judges or more replays.”
Looking to the future, Keefer says we haven’t seen the full potential of rail skiing. “We do tricks like rollerbladers, only using the eight inches underfoot,” he says. “When you start flexing the ski and using the noses and tails and incorporate the whole ski into your trick, it’s a lot more pleasing to the eyes.”
Beyond skiing, Keefer is setting his sights high. Aiming for a PhD in physics, he wants to do nothing less than discover new planets.
“I love skiing and all, and will continue to do it as long as I can, but I know that I can do more with this mind of mine than just grab blunt.”
Home: Salt Lake City, UT
Sponsors: Atomic, Saga Outerwear, Dragon Alliance, Outdoor Technology, Bern Unlimited, Absolut Park, Treefort Lifestyles
Film credits: So Far So Hood_4BI9, Gunnie Season_4BI9, Begging for Change_4BI9, Keep Looking_4BI9, Burn_4BI9