Former Sounders’ star Keller hits the slopes

  • Sat Mar 31st, 2012 8:53pm
  • Sports

By John Boyle Herald Writer

EDELWEISS CHAIR, ALPENTAL — You want Kasey Keller, long-time goalkeeper and beginning snowboarder, to tell you about his newest athletic endeavor. To explain how, after a 20-year professional soccer career he decided that, rather than take it easy in retirement, he would, at the age of 42, start hurling himself down mountains.

But right now Keller is too excited for such trivial matters as a back story. This is, after all, the rarest of days in the Pacific Northwest — a sunny powder day. So while answering questions, Keller keeps interrupting himself to point out the line they ripped the other day, or to show you the powder stash you’re about to hit on this run.

And you’ll have to excuse Keller if, even in his 40s, he approaches a day on the slopes with a level of enthusiasm usually reserved for teenagers. He has, after all, been waiting a while for this.

As teenager he was already too dedicated to soccer for other distractions, and as a professional athlete, risky sports like snowboarding were strictly verboten. Yet all his life, Keller has been surrounded by snow sports enthusiasts, including his wife, Kristin, and their twins, Cameron and Chloe. Keller owns a house at a ski resort in Idaho, and for years he could only watch as his wife and kids enjoyed the slopes. Now he gets to join them, and the sport gives him something rare that every parent looks for — a way to bond with teenagers.

“It’s just been something that I’ve been wanting to do for so long,” said Keller, who retired from soccer in November after three seasons with the Seattle Sounders. “And finally having the opportunity has been tremendous.”

Most athletes who are lucky enough to have enjoyed long, lucrative careers ease themselves into retirement. It’s a time to relax, to let their bodies and minds rest after a grueling career. If they’re going to take up a new sport, it might be something along the lines of golf.

Well on this morning at Alpental, it very quickly became abundantly clear that Keller is not your typical retired athlete. He is only a few months removed from a career that saw him become one of the best American soccer players in history, but he’s hardly kicking his feet up and taking it easy. Sure, Keller’s feet sometimes end up elevated, the result of him tumbling down the hill, but with 40 or so days on the snow already, retirement has been anything but relaxing.

“You never know once you start, are you going to enjoy it or not, and as the learning curve has gotten better and better, I’ve just enjoyed it more and more,” Keller said. “Being able to hook up with some guys who know what they’re doing and have them take me under their wing has made it even more enjoyable.”

One of the guys who has taken Keller under his wing is former professional rider Marcel Dolak, who a mutual friend connected with Keller earlier this winter. On this day, Dolak leads Keller down steep runs, takes him into Alpental’s backcountry and guides him off of jumps, including one they call the widow maker. Keller, who has been doing this for all of three months, never hesitates to follow Dolak down some of the mountain’s gnarliest terrain.

Though there are surely no official rankings measuring such things, Keller has to be one of the best 40-something beginning snowboarders on the planet.

“I have never been able to take someone who is in the first year into the back country and have them progress the way Kasey has,” said Dolak, a realtor for John L. Scott. “He’s a natural at everything he does, and he definitely amazes me every time we go out.

“The first day or two it was like, ‘Oh gosh, I wish I was going a little bit faster today.’ But after those first two days, he grasped it so fast. It was just like going up and riding with anyone else I ride with.”

Keller, of course, is far from your typical 42-year-old beginner. He is a world-class athlete who, as he points out, made a 20-year career out of falling to the ground, a skill that comes in very handy when learning how to snowboard. And while we’re on the topic of falling, let’s just get this out of the way real quick. Yes, Keller does swear on the mountain, too, admittedly more than he’d like, but it’s not nearly as loud, nor is it directed in any one person’s direction, as it often was when a defender left a man unmarked in front of Keller’s goal.

The physical demands of playing goalie also make the spills in his new sport less jarring, which is why Keller approaches the sport without the level of fear that limits most adult beginners. When the conditions are right, such as on this day, Keller throws himself off jumps without a second thought, and with encouragement from Dolak, mixes in some tricks. Keller hasn’t quite mastered a 360-degree spin yet — and as it turns out, it’s very, very hard to land a 270-degree rotation — but he’s getting there.

The jury may still be out on whether or not you can teach an old dog new tricks, but apparently you can teach an old goalkeeper how to do a 180.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.