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Miss Runner-Up

If you press her, and by that I mean really interrogate her, Keri Herman still won't admit to it. Either she's completely innocent or she simply can't bring herself to say the words.

For the past two years, Herman, a Breckenridge, Colo.-based skier recently named to the U.S. Women's Ski Slopestyle team, has been the runner-up to Kaya Turski at the Winter X Games and Winter X Games Europe Slopestyle contests. That's four second-place finishes in a row. Four times a bridesmaid, as the saying goes, and never a bride. Who wouldn't feel some kind of frustration from that?

"There must be some rivalry between you two?" I suggest.

"Not at all. She's one of my best friends," Herman says about Turski, a four-time Winter X Ski Slopestyle champion. "'I'm very happy for her and I wish her the best always. I ski my best and I'm happy with what I do. However we end up is great."

"But seriously, you must want to win?" I insist.

We're standing in the lift line at Breckenridge on an early-season Tuesday and Herman -- who's 29 and cloaked in dark, nondescript colors -- is kindly tolerating my inquisition.

"I'd like to be on top -- everyone does," she says. "But I'm just happy to be on the podium with such amazing skiers. It's an honor just to be there."

We get on the lift and I try one more time to see if she'll admit to having even an ounce of bitterness, or if she has big plans for usurping the podium at Winter X Games 2012 in Aspen this January. "I don't like to claim anything -- it's not me," she says, still cheery. "However it ends up, it ends up."

Keri Herman never set out to become a pro skier. She just kind of fell into it.

Raised as an ice hockey player in Minnesota, Herman moved to Colorado to attend the University of Denver, and looking for a sport to fill the void after she stopped playing hockey, she picked up skiing.

Armed with a degree in finance and marketing, she moved from Denver to Breckenridge and started spending lots of time in the park, teaching herself by watching what other skiers were doing. "When I hit my first rail and jump, it was exciting," Herman tells me on the lift. "It was the same rush I got from hockey, chasing the puck down. It was an easy transition."

She says she didn't know anything about professional skiing; she'd never heard of the X Games or skiers getting sponsored. "I met some guys from Spyder and they said, 'We don't have any girls.' And I was like, 'What are you talking about? You'll give me a free jacket?'"

In 2007, she went to the Aspen Open, her first major contest, and competed in women's Slopestyle. Which she won. "Everyone was like 'Who are you?'" Herman says. "And I was like 'I don't know what's going on. How did I just win?'"

If you know Herman, you'll know this all fits into her character: She's modest, unassuming, and she likes to let life run its course naturally. "I don't plan my life in advance, so I always end up somewhere I don't expect," she says. "I go one day at a time. Every path I take it's going to lead me somewhere new and exciting."

There is one thing Herman is planning, though: "I want to go to Russia for sure. That's definitely on my radar," she says about Slopestyle's Olympic debut at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

She's currently one of the top-ranked women on the U.S. Freeskiing team -- and being named to the team has given her a newfound sense of pride in her country, she says. If she does make it to the Olympics, there's a good chance she'll be going up against her friend and apparently-non-rival Kaya Turski, who's from Canada. Not that she's planning that far ahead.

Herman's at the top of the park at Breck now, waiting for her turn to drop in. She says she's just focused on the here and now, which includes this moment and as far as, say, Winter X Games, now just a month away. "I'm always pretty nervous about X Games," Herman says. "It's the biggest contest of the year. If you do well at X Games, you feel good and confident the rest of the season."

I ask her again, relentlessly, if there will be any kind of competitiveness between the women's field at the upcoming Winter X Games. She'll be going up against Turski, of course, but there are other potential threats, too: Australian Anna Segal, Canadian Kim Lamarre, and fellow Americans Devin Logan, Grete Eliassen and Ashley Battersby. Any of them stand a chance at gold.

But Herman doesn't see those women as threats; she sees them as friends. "There are some good girls, some young up-and-comers that are going to be huge contenders," she admits. "But we have a good group right now -- it's not a competitive thing with us. We support each other and want each other to do the best we can."