Kentucky boys on Colorado slopes
How do a pair of young Kentucky boys go from skiing whenever time allows at an Indiana snow park to training 100 days a year at a skiing Mecca like Aspen, Colo., and dreaming of the Olympics?
It helps if your parents are a little snow crazy.
“I just loved it. I thought it was a great, fun sport,” said Jeremy Hamm, a part-time Lexington and Fleming County resident who’s now a ski instructor in Aspen during the snow season. “It’s a great family sport. It’s something you can do with your wife and your kids, your aunt, your uncle, your grandma and your grandpa even.”
Hamm didn’t begin skiing regularly himself until he was about 30, but he had his son Jack on skis at 3 years old and Luke learning to stand on them when he was 18 months.
Now, 14 and 11, Jack and Luke regularly compete in competitions for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and have been racking up top 10s in their divisions.
Jack will be looking to make the national Junior Olympic team this weekend at a competition in Crested Butte, Colo. It’s his second year of eligibility for the qualifying event. He’ll run in the slalom, giant slalom and super-G.
“There’s something about it,” Jack said about skiing. “It’s very unique. It’s definitely an extreme sport and there’s a sense of, like, tranquility that goes with it where you just kind of feel free.”
While far from his Kentucky home, Jack always sports a Kentucky Wildcats hat on the slopes and the medal stand.
“I definitely bleed blue,” Jack said. “I would wear a UK race suit if there was one.”
When asked what his aspirations are, Jack pragmatically considers being a ski instructor or a coach, but he admits becoming a world class skier is the ultimate goal.
Luke hopes to make the international circuit and U.S. national team, as well, but his big goal, right now, is to get a top-five finish in the upcoming U12 championship races.
How it all began
Growing up in an Air Force family, Jeremy Hamm spent much of his childhood in Florida and other locales, but they’d always take an extended winter vacation with his father’s family in Fleming County. And Hamm would always root for it to snow.
“Every time it snowed we’d get in the tractor and get some sleds out or get a truck and we would get a bonfire,” Hamm said. After the family moved to Kentucky permanently when he was 12, “we’d cut wood in the summer just to have it when it did snow even though that wasn’t very often.”
Hamm and his wife, Amy, had a landscaping business in Lexington and they farmed. It wasn’t until the children came along that skiing became a bit of an obsession.
They’d try to get to Perfect North Slopes in Lawrenceburg, Ind., as often as they could — maybe 10 times one year, maybe 20 the next. Perfect North has become famous in each of the last two Olympics as the home of two-time Olympic slopestyle medalist Nick Goepper who just took silver in his event last week in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Lexington already has one three-time Olympian to its credit. Tamara McKinney raced in the 1980, 1984 and 1988 Olympics. She didn’t medal there, but she won four World Cup series titles in a career spanning 10 years, including the overall World Cup title in 1983. She and Lindsey Vonn are the only American women to accomplish that feat.
It was important to Hamm that his sons learn the proper ski technique. But skiing lessons can get pretty expensive, pretty quickly, never mind the lift tickets. Looking into it, Hamm found that the racing club was the most affordable way to get both the training and the time on the slopes.
Soon, Hamm began earning his own certifications and went from patron to employee at Perfect North. Being in the racing club also meant local and national competitions for the boys.
“The boys wanted to win,” Hamm said. “And I thought they might win. And the coaches were like, ‘Hey, they’ve got a shot. Let’s go do this.’ And they actually excelled at it because of the time we put into it. We skied a lot.”
The boys’ success in regional competitions gained entry into national events, including one in Aspen. Because those events came at the end of the snow season, rates for lodging, which would normally be out of the Hamms’ range, were affordable, Jeremy Hamm said.
It didn’t take long in Aspen for the Hamms to get completely hooked.
“We just fell in love with this place,” Hamm said. “The coaches were cool and the locals were just super nice and laid back. It was a combination of learning the right technique and getting lots of days on the snow.”
The big leap
The Hamms made the leap to move to Aspen for ski season a couple of years ago. Jeremy Hamm earned his Level 2 certification and works as a ski instructor at one of the resorts during the season. Amy Hamm recently got promoted as a ticketing supervisor for the same company, but her job is more year-round. Jeremy Hamm is also working toward a real estate license.
“As the boys’ ski racing progressed and their dreams became bigger, moving seemed like the natural thing to do,” Amy Hamm said. “Aspen, Colo., has a reputation for being a playground for the rich and famous, and that is true. But for the locals in Aspen, there is a real sense of community. We all love Kentucky and consider Kentucky home, but now we are also creating a home in Colorado.”
The boys were home-schooled as skiing became more serious, but, now, in Colorado, they’re able to take part in the state’s online public school program.
Skiing is not an inexpensive sport, even for youth. And trying to become a ski racer brings a lot of needs, including club tuition, tournaments, travel and equipment.
The tuition for their club alone is about $4,000 each. Thankfully, scholarships cover about half of that. The Hamms raised the rest through donations, including a large, organized “Duck Derby” that awards part of its funds raised to duck sellers like Jack and Luke.
The Hamms race on used equipment, either given or sold at discount, and they’ve become sponsored by a local ski “tuner” who makes sure their skis are in optimum shape for each event.
While Jeremy Hamm says it’s sometimes easy to tell who has money and who doesn’t both in competition and in the area, no one in the sport or the community ever makes a big deal out of it. You’re just as likely to see an old rusted out truck as you are to see a luxury SUV, he said.
“The people here are just laid back,” Jeremy Hamm said. “People hike, ride bikes. They’re really active. They make me feel lazy sometimes, and I’m a pretty active guy.”
Jeremy Hamm never went into the sport aiming to make his kids world class skiers. And whatever happens with the boys’ ski careers, the Hamms are living a dream just doing what they’re doing.
“I don’t say, ‘Hey, you’re going to be an Olympian, because they know the path to get there is going to be really hard,” he said. “It’s a lot of work. These other guys are working hard too that they’re skiing against. And they have a lot more financial backing.
“I just tell them to just go outwork everybody. … You’ve got to be a leader with your work ethic.”
And his boys know what they’ve been given an opportunity to do is special, especially for two kids from Kentucky.
“I should be playing football in high school or something, but no, I’m skiing at one of the best ski resorts in the world in Aspen,” Jack said. “It’s awesome.”
Jack and Luke Hamm each depend on donations to help them pay for training and a GoFundMe page is set up for each of them.