Up In The Air: Why Kye Petersen’s best years are yet to come

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This article is featured in the Volume 15, December issue of FREESKIER. The magazine doesn’t hit newsstands until November 13, but we thought we’d give you a sneak peek, just ’cause it’s Saturday and we’re feelin’ good. The December issue also features a massive piece on Japan (highlighting trips by Level 1 and Nimbus Independent), our 2013 Competition Preview, mini profiles on Karl Fostvedt and Leo Ahrens, a trip to beautiful Lyngen, Norway and much more. Not a subscriber? Can’t find the nearest newsstand? The issue will also be available via the iTunes Newsstand.

At 22, Kye Petersen is already one of the best skiers of this generation. But here’s the thing: His best years are yet to come.

Words by Megan Michelson

Kye Petersen is busy packing for yet another ski trip. It’s late August, and he’s heading to Bolivia with Sherpas Cinema to film a ski mountaineering expedition, the first major trip of this kind that Petersen has ever done. Their objective is to climb and ski 21,122-foot Illimani, the highest peak in the Cordillera Real range and the second highest in the Bolivian Andes. Illimani, a massive, glaciated crest, towers over the skyline of the Bolivian city of La Paz.

Kye, at home in Whistler, British Columbia, is collecting a pile of gear for the trip: camping stove, ice ax, crampons, sleeping pad, touring skis, backpack and more. He was invited on the trip just two weeks prior, and he’s spent the days since cramming in as much training as he could, climbing peaks and trail running around Whistler.

“This is a wild opportunity, an out-of-this-world ski trip for me,” Kye says. “I’ve traveled a lot, but this is my first time at such high altitude. I’m definitely a bit nervous, but I’m going with a bunch of good people, and I’m just going to take it as it comes.” At 22 years old, Kye is already used to getting thrown into experiences that he may or may not be completely prepared for. But in many ways, that’s when he shines, relying on his natural talent as an athlete and a gutsy determination that’s been passed down through his genes.

Shot by Blake Jorgenson, Trout Lake, BC.

A sponsored freeskier since he was 11, Kye’s star rose once he turned 17, thanks to a standout segment in Teton Gravity Research’s 2007 film, Lost and Found, and a win at the 2009 Red Bull Cold Rush contest. Over the years, he’s appeared in six TGR films and was a featured athlete in Sherpas Cinema’s award-winning 2011 film, All.I.Can. He spent much of last winter filming with the Sherpas around Whistler, Revelstoke and Bella Coola, BC, for their next two-year project, which will premiere in the fall of 2013.

Kye is a true Renaissance skier, exceptional in various disciplines and nearly always at the top of his game. He can session the park with the most elite slopestyle skiers, casually slash a big-mountain line while throwing 360s off 40-foot cliffs, and climb and ski massive peaks alongside veteran mountaineers. “Kye’s style is pretty aggressive,” says Seth Morrison. “The last time I skied with him, it was in Alaska, the way he wanted it. He was skiing in a new place for himself and letting loose.”

Although he’s ducked in and out of the spotlight for over a decade and has often been called one of the most talented skiers of this generation, the truth is, Kye Petersen continues to grow into himself. “I’m still young,” he says. “I have a lot of goals, a lot of things I haven’t had a chance to ski yet. It seems like there’s more than a lifetime of things I want to do. But for some of my objectives, things will start coming together this winter.”

All of which is to say, Kye’s real time—the era when he’ll set the benchmark for the highest, the biggest, the best—hasn’t happened yet. But it’s coming soon.

Trevor Petersen was the kind of skier that everyone looked up to. A humble talent and constant explorer, he and Eric Pehota climbed and skied dozens of first descents around BC’s Coast Range throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Trevor was one of Whistler’s many freeskiing legends.

On February 26, 1996, Trevor, then 34, set out to ski the Exit Couloir in Chamonix, France, a standard route off the Aiguille du Midi for a skier of his caliber. He was skiing the narrow chute alone when an avalanche struck; his body was found two days later. His death left behind his wife, Tanya, his four-year-old daughter, Neve, and his six-year-old son, Kye.

After Trevor’s death, the family uprooted their life in BC and moved to Maui, where Kye got into surfing and skateboarding. They moved back to Whistler when Kye was 10, and he got his first pair of twin-tip skis and started venturing into the park, alongside peers Chris Turpin, Dana Flahr, and Sean and Callum Pettit. Within a year, companies like Oakley were floating Kye gear.

“Way back then, you would never see an 11-year-old ripping the mountain the way Kye did, so it was a no-brainer to sponsor him at that age,” says Greg Strokes, Oakley’s international ski sports marketing manager. “I was super impressed with how he carried himself at such a young age. I felt like I was talking to an 18-year-old. Kye has always been an all-mountain skier. He ripped in the park back then and skied the mountain with such good style and with confidence.”

At age 14, Kye appeared in his first movie, the Poor Boyz Productions film by Eric Iberg and Tanner Hall WSKI 106, alongside a then 12-year-old Sean Pettit. A year later, at 15, he made his first trip to Chamonix with Glen Plake for the documentary The Edge of Never to ski the same couloir where his father had died.

“Around that point, I decided that this is what I wanted to do for a long time,” Kye says. “My life would have been totally different if my dad had been around. There are so many ‘what ifs.’ Maybe I would have done other things. Maybe I wouldn’t be a skier. But I think my dad would be proud of where I am now.”

Shot by Dave Heath_Sherpas, Retallack, BC.

For years, Kye lived in the shadow of his dad’s reputation. A Sports Illustrated profile on a 15-year-old Kye in 2005 was titled “Here Comes the Son.” Now, although he has his father’s genes and the memory of his dad’s legacy, Kye is his own man, an athlete of his own making.

“What makes Kye stand out is his DNA,” says Whistler pro Ian McIntosh. “I see his dad’s drive in him and his skiing is a true reflection of Trevor. It’s rare to see a guy as young as him be so comfortable and skilled in the big-mountain environment, from mountaineering to charging huge faces. Trevor was thought to be one of the best skiers in the world during his time,and Kye is simply a new generation version of his legendary father.”

Last January, after four days of relentless storms, the clouds finally broke on Revelstoke’s Mount Mackenzie. Top skiers from around the world had descended on the sleepy town in eastern British Columbia for the newly merged Freeskiing and Freeride World Tour, the first contest of the winter season. Kye had only competed in one Freeride World Tour stop before, in Chamonix in January 2011, where he placed sixth. But as a wild card invite to Revelstoke, he decided to show up. He’d been skiing hard early season around Whistler and was feeling strong. The first day of the big-mountain contest in Revelstoke’s snow-drenched North Bowl, Kye says he set out to take it easy and see how things went.

He nailed his line, hitting a double-stacked cliff at the top, skiing fast and aggressive through the bowl, and then finishing off with two back-to-back 360s. He got the highest score of the day. The next day, on the steep, out-of-bounds Mac Daddy face, he cleaned his run again—a huge 360; fast, fluid turns; and a massive air at the bottom-earning a high enough score to secure the overall win. “I was surprised when I won,” Kye says. “There were so many rad skiers there, it could have been any of them.”

Kye’s style in big-mountain terrain is assertive and calculated, but it’s also playful. “I love sending it, but I also love trying to get creative and finding little nooks and side hits and transitions,” he says. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always skied everything on the mountain and adapted to that.”

Although his film schedule doesn’t allow him to compete in many big-mountain contests, world tour organizers say he’s a natural. “Kye is one of the few top natural talents I’ve witnessed,” says Nicolas Hale-Woods, the director and founder of the Freeride World Tour. “He makes it all look easy, even when he’s throwing a 360 in an exposed area. He reminds me of Candide Thovex in some ways—he has excellent technique, a freestyle approach to looking at a mountain as a playground and a head that follows. My guess is his progression curve is only beginning.”

As for this winter, Kye is still hatching plans. But he wants to do another trip to Northern BC and get on some big lines around Whistler. “Managing risk is such a giant part of being a good skier,” Kye says. “That takes a lot of experience. I’m always learning more and getting more confident. In the backcountry, it’s not the same as learning a new trick in the park—it’s more of a long road and every day, I learn something else.”

Kye has finished packing his bags for Bolivia, and it’s time to set out on his next adventure. A chapter that’s totally unknown.

“I look up to my dad a lot,” Kye says. “He did it for the love of skiing. That’s why I do it, too.”

*This article originally appeared in the Volume 15 December issue of FREESKIER. Subscribe to the magazine, or get it on the iTunes Newsstand.