(Photo Credit: Marcus Caston)
By Lesley LeMasurier
Former World Cup Skier, National Champion, and Rahlves’ Banzai Stop Winner.
Only two athletes hold these multi-titles, one male and one female. Funny thing is, the latter looked up to the former when she was a kid.
For Keely Kelleher, skier Daron Rahlves is the man. “I loved going off jumps pretending to be him when I was a kid,” she reflects. “I tell all the kids I coach now, Just Daron It!”
Just Daron It! is something Kelleher has been doing her entire career. As a young ski racer, Kelleher was on the smaller side of the field. “All my coaches called me birdlegs. I could create these outrageous angles, but I was not fast. I developed so much later than most the girls I was racing against,” Kelleher reflects.
Her first year of FIS racing, Kelleher was a mere 95 lbs and pushing her birdlegs to compete against fully developed phenoms, like fellow 1984’s Julia Mancuso and Lindsey Vonn. Kelleher’s road to the World Cup would require unmatched patience and persistence.
Fortunately for Kelleher, she grew up in Big Sky, Montana, where there was no daycare, but the great outdoors. Her adventures in alternative babysitting took her down steep chutes, long groomers, and eventually, to the junior ski racing circuit. “I was not a J3 standout as far as speed; however, I had a really solid technique built up from freeskiing so much,” Kelleher recalls.
This freeskiing base—acquired on the open mountain, as well as on the Montana waters, where Kelleher excelled as a freestyle kayaker—shaped a solid and daring technique that would eventually take Kelleher to the top of her game.
Just Birdleg It!
In 2003, Kelleher pushed her small frame down foreign mountains, and hit her stride on the speed tracks of the Europa Cup Circuit. She quickly earned her spot on the USST, proving her worth on some of the toughest, gnarliest speed tracks around, taking several top results across Austria and Italy.
During her first season with the US Ski Team, Kelleher broke one of her birdlegs. A wing down, Kelleher was grounded for nearly two seasons, and took another few seasons to fully launch again. In 2009, she scored her first World Cup points. In 2010, she earned the US National SG Title.
Kelleher retired from the US Ski Team in 2010, unable to bear the chronic pain caused by the injury. “I was honestly burnt out on managing the pain all the time on hard ice. My last season I would take 2 runs while all the other girls were taking 10,” she recalls.
The competitive hunger struck during the first season of the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour in 2011.
“I wasn’t ready to be done with competing when ski racing ended so I continue to push myself in skiing. I want to ski terrain that is just as difficult or more difficult than a world cup downhill course,” she says.
Kelleher won her first entry in the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour, taking the Kirkwood stop in 2011.
Since retiring, Kelleher has set her sights on the Banzai Tour, school at Westminster College, and coaching. In the summer of 2011, she founded ‘Keely’s Ski Camp for Girls’. With a group of 22 junior girls ages 12 – 16 and a staff stacked with all-female former Olympians and World Cup athletes, the girls turned Government Camp into Girl’s Camp.
(Coaching Staff: Jess Kelley, Libby Ludlow, Keely Kelleher, Katie Hitchcock, and Tara Hines. Photo: Marcus Caston)
“The aim is to empower girls through ski racing and skiing. The camp motto is ‘Conquering the mountain one girl at a time.’ I see two meanings in it: I want the girls to come away from the camp feeling like they improved—or ‘conquered’—an aspect of their skiing. But the deeper meaning is ‘conquering’ the challenges that ski racing and life throw at them,” says Kelleher.
In addition to her Mt. Hood camp, this spring Kelleher will host a big mountain free ski camp for girls at Snowbird, Utah. The camp will be the first ever of its kind: all mountain, all girls, all time.
Be sure to catch up with Keely Kelleher when the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour kicks off in 2012 at Kirkwood Resort!