Steamboat Living: BASE jumping enthusiast Kerry Lofy discusses love for skiing, teaching and Steamboat
November 22, 2012
It was a bad place to slip. Standing at the edge of the Eiger's 4,000-foot vertical face in Switzerland in late August, Steamboat Springs local Kerry Lofy readied his gear for his first wing-suit BASE jump and launched off the lip. But he stumbled at takeoff, sending him into a tumbling, free falling front flip.
"I kind of messed up," says Lofy, safely back in Steamboat and gnawing on a Dolomite sandwich at Backcountry Provisions. "But I stayed calm and knew where I was in the air. Then I opened up the suit and flew away."
That his first wing-suit BASE jump came off the Eiger should say something about Steamboat's most adrenaline-addled local. So what if a typically minutelong flight was shortened to 45 seconds by his blunder or that wing-suit BASE jumping is one of the most dangerous sports on the planet. Lofy's in it for the long haul — or until they haul him away on a stretcher.
"It's a totally different ball game over in Europe," he says. "It's very humbling. I learned a lot over there."
It's humbling because it's dangerous. On Lofy's first day there, a fellow wing-suit jumper died. Unofficial reports tally the number of BASE jumping deaths throughout the past 30 years at 194, 48 of those involving wing-suits — including his friend Shane McConkey, who died during a wing-suit ski BASE jump. Lofy dismisses the danger, saying it's all part of the game and what you're comfortable with. "You can go die in a car accident or get cancer," he says. "With this, at least you're in control of your own fate."
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With his mentor "JVH" at his side in the BASE-jumping mecca of Switzerland's Lauterbrunnen Valley, where you can tram up to fly down, Lofy completed 20 successful wing-suit flights in his two-week stint across the Atlantic. Not that he can tell you about all of them. "The first couple, I can't remember too well," he says. "I was a little shaken."
The ones he can remember are what make life worth living. "It's the coolest feeling in the world," he says. "You forget about everything else and just live in the moment. It's like skiing when you don't think about anything and just float. When you come back and all you can do is think about doing it again."
He's been thinking about wing-suiting for a long time. That's why he's completed more than 300 skydives during the past four years — all so he could BASE jump, a stepping stone to wing-suiting. He started BASE jumping after 50 skydives and wing-suiting after 100 skydives.
His first BASE jump came in 2010 off Idaho's Perrine Bridge, romping grounds of renowned BASE jumper Miles Daisher, and he now has 175 cheek-puffing plunges under his belt. He made his first wing-suit jump out of a plane last summer, soaring from 12,000 to 3,000 feet in 1.5 minutes before pulling his chute. Switzerland was the next natural progression to wing-suit BASE jumping.
He's not done, either. All this is simply prepping him for ski BASE jumping. Last year, he had six planned, all scrapped because of weather. He has to travel to popular sites — including Squaw Valley, Calif., Salt Lake City and Jackson Hole, Wyo. — but he's also scouting locally. "The Flat Tops have potential," he says, "and so do a couple of other places around here."
Lofy's zest for life is written on his sleeve — in this case, the sleeve of a blue hoodie — and in every other characteristic about him. His blue eyes belie friendliness and mischievousness, the latter augmented by a mop of blond dreadlocks, a few beaded at the end, that haven't been brushed in years. They match a beard and mustache that you can imagine get pressed firmly to his face on his flights. Goofy-looking, white, prescription Oakley Jupiter sunglasses match a white city of Steamboat visor.
You can tell that for him, appearances don't seem to matter much. He looks extremely comfortable in his own skin — comfortable enough to jump out of airplanes dressed-up like a super hero, go on dates in a tuxedo T-shirt, take a date (and a candle) to a candlelight dinner at McDonald's and pull marshmallows out of his coat to roast in the fireplace at Hazie's atop the gondola.
His antics are contagious, as evidenced by his more than 2,000 Facebook friends and popularity around town. He knows just about everyone who comes into Backcountry Provisions, all of them asking him what's up. As usual, he has plenty to tell them.
But it hasn't all been smooth sailing in Steamboat. Recently, it's been as turbulent as his leap off the Eiger.
Lofy, 25, moved to Steamboat in 2005 from Wisconsin to ski race for Colorado Mountain College. After two years, he began competing on the big mountain circuit, notching the Sickbird award in Snowbird, Utah, and finishing in the top five at an event in Taos, N.M. The results helped him earn sponsorship from the likes of Nordica Skis, Point 6 and Honey Stinger, which continue today.
In 2008, he began coaching racing part time for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and established its big mountain program in 2009, teaching kids the ins and outs of big mountain skiing while taking them to regional competitions. He brought his big mountain program to Winter Park, as well.
Perhaps one of the best freeride skiers on the mountain, he hucked off 100-foot Hell's Wall in Fish Creek in 2009. "I'd been wanting to do it for years," he says. "It snowed about 7 feet that week, and the conditions were perfect." While he now admits that such a stunt was stupid ("I'm not as stupid as I look or act sometimes," he says), the crater-creating huck helped cement his stripes as a big mountain coach as well as his penchant for flight.
The kids loved him, often clambering to his classes for his wacky wardrobe, energy and fun-loving antics. "His enthusiasm for skiing is pretty hard to match around here," admits local Aryeh Copa, one of the only people in town who might have more. "His energy and drive are pretty limitless."
He'll throw a shoulder roll midrun, play follow the leader, and stick a pole-flip or two all in the name of keeping skiing fun. One day, he showed up to coach with half of his beard shaved off because his girlfriend didn't like it. "I told her to stand on the clean-shaven side," he says.
When he gets bored, you might find him on a monoski, skating on ski blades or dressing up in ski garb no one else would be caught dead in, from eye-burning neon to one-piece suits from the '70s. "I don't do it for the attention," he says. "It's more for my own entertainment."
But all this came crashing down, just as he nearly did in Switzerland, when someone posted a photo on Facebook of him BASE jumping in what appeared to be his birthday suit. Someone else (who he wishes to remain anonymous, pending potential legal action) wrote a letter about the photo to the Winter Sports Club, and the club fired him. While club officials declined to comment on the matter, citing the potential litigation, Lofy says he was told his antics set a bad example for the kids.
Lofy feels he got shafted and that the small town rumor mill blew things out of proportion. "I wasn't even naked," he says. "It was one of those mankinis, like in 'Borat.' I could have taken the post off, but I never even thought about it."
He doesn't harbor bad feelings toward the club. "I like the sports club and realize how important they are to the community," he says. "The suit is directed at the person who wrote the letter. What she did isn't right, and I don't want it happening to someone else. I don't care about the money. It's just that it had falsehoods. People who know me know none of it is true."
Many people in town, including parents and students, remain supportive. "He's a great coach," says 17-year-old Jake Sivinski, who moved here from Seattle and now is in his second year in Lofy's big mountain camp. "He has a lot of energy, which is way different than what I'm used to. I always had calm, low-energy coaches before. Kerry pumps you up and makes you push your limits."
Parents also seem supportive. "Our son loves him and what he represents as a coach and a person," says Cheryl Trosky, of Santa Barbara, Calif. Trosky's son Josh, a 16-year-old student at The Lowell Whiteman School, is in his second year under Lofy. "He's a great instructor with great competitive experience and a great role model for young teenagers."
As an example, she points to Lofy's "crystal clean" lifestyle (if not hairstyle), which includes no drinking or drugs and even shunning Red Bull, which sponsors many big mountain events. Josh, a former aficionado of the energy drink, "threw his away" when he found out Lofy didn't like it. Trosky adds that when Josh — a seven-year member of Mammoth Mountain's Alpine team — was nervous at the top of a competition course, Lofy talked him through it.
That's not to say he's not a bit unorthodox. Twelve-year local Katie White has put three of her four kids under Lofy's tutelage, including J4 racing and his big mountain camp. "I've seen all sides of him," she says. "His biggest attribute is that kids love him, largely because he's a big kid himself. He knows how to make kids have fun."
As for his occasional sophomoric transgressions, White chalks them up to flamboyancy. "He's a smart guy who comes off a lot crazier than he is," she says. "But he loves that image. He likes getting attention." Case in point: When the USA Pro Cycling Challenge came to town in 2011, he showed up at the top of Rabbit Ears Pass in his ski boots and skis and jump-turned down a dirt hill in a purple one-piece. Another time, on the way back from coaching an event in Taos, he stopped to let his kids ski Great Sand Dunes National Park.
If his coaching demeanor seems a tad flighty — like his BASE jumping exploits — he's firmly grounded in what he's doing. In fact, he couldn't have stumbled upon a more natural career. "He's always been great at every sport he's tried," his mom, Colleen, says, "and he's always loved helping people out."
The second oldest of nine kids ages 1 to 27, Lofy grew up in Lake Geneva, Wis., learning to ski at Big Michigan's Powderhorn Mountain, where his parents still work on ski patrol. When he was 1 year old, his mom says, he insisted — almost to the point of having a tantrum — on hiking up the slope on his own to ski down.
"He's a natural athlete," she says. "Whatever he did he excelled at. Even though we're all athletic, he's probably The One in the family."
A lot of that owes itself to his father, Keith, a K-8 physical education teacher who played semipro football and got called to tryouts for pro baseball. "My dad definitely pushed sports pretty hard," Lofy says. "We're a pretty athletic family."
While he did well in all sports, including track, gymnastics, swimming and hockey, he took to soccer and skiing the most, playing forward on the high school soccer team and captaining his ski and track teams.
But while his parents supported his conventional athletic pursuits, they didn't necessarily condone his less mainstream ones. "My parents were never really supportive of my extreme lifestyle," he says. After switching gears from racing to freestyle, he paid his own way to compete in slope-style and big air in the U.S. Open from 2004 to 2006 and the X Games in 2005.
He says his adolescence was all about fun, a mantra he follows today. "I was the crazy, ADD kid," he says. "I never really got into trouble, did all sports, did well in school and got along with everybody. I guess you could say I was the athlete, funny guy — enjoying life, I guess."
That attitude got him elected homecoming king, and he always looked out for others — a trait that remains evident. "He always supported the underdog," his mom says. She remembers one time on the basketball team when he purposefully fed the ball to a teammate with a cognitive disability to shoot the game-winning shot, and he was the first to hoist him on his shoulders after the ball went in.
Another time, a lone member of his school's gay population asked him to prom, and he went just to support the cause, to the point of dressing in drag. The move got him kicked out of prom and the upcoming track finals, "but it personifies who he is," she says. "He did it just to support someone." Don't ask about the time he brought an inflatable doll to a school dance.
Colleen, who works as a guidance counselor and teacher, admits she "hasn't done much guidance with Kerry." Instead, she let him find his own way, which landed him in Steamboat and on top of the Eiger with a wing-suit. "He was always adventure prone," she says. "We always knew he'd end up doing something in the outdoors. It was pretty predictable. Was it what we wanted? Well, no. But that's his path, and it's right for him."
As he does when BASE jumping, Lofy is doing whatever he can to stay afloat after getting let go from the Winter Sports Club. He's juggling three jobs — including trail work for the city and positions at Old Town Hot Springs and in the Mac lab at CMC — to help make ends meet and pay off his mobile home in town.
But the call of coaching is too strong to ignore. Two years ago, he started his own big mountain team called Colorado Freeriders, complete with kids from other resorts. This year, he's starting a Rocky Mountain All Star team and has four Steep and Deep camps already lined up with as many as 15 kids each in Jackson, Squaw and Alta, Utah. He plans to have pro skier friends join in as guest speakers and coaches.
With four knee surgeries slowing down his own competitive aspirations (though he does plan to compete again in Taos this year), he's having even more fun giving back to a sport that has given so much to him. "I don't see much of a career hucking myself any more," he says. "I'm getting older and wiser. I don't bounce back as quick as I used to. But I love sharing what I know with other kids and helping them achieve their goals and dreams."
This spring, he'll achieve his goal of joining the first four-year graduating class from CMC's Steamboat campus with four associate degrees. After that, the world is as wide open as his wing-suit.
While he loves Steamboat for its community and outdoor amenities, for his latest passion, he admits there might be better spots to hang his dreadlocks-covering hat. But still, something keeps bringing him back to the Yampa Valley. "I moved away twice in the past seven years, but I always come back," he says. "I have a home here, and it's a great community, so we'll just have to wait and see."
No matter where he lands, one thing's for sure: Wherever the winds take him, chances are his skis, wing-suit and BASE jump kit as well as his desire to help and teach others won't be far behind. Neither will his lust for life and living it on his own terms.
"All of those are my tickets to freedom," he says. "For me, without them, regular life can get kind of boring."
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