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For the week of Apr. 12 through Apr. 18, 2000

Kent Kreitler: A new kind of big mountain skier

Daredevil adventure skier, model from Sun Valley


By JODY ZARKOS
Express Staff Writer

Kent Kreitler makes a living by daring death.

Kreitler, a product of the Sun Valley Ski Team and Community School graduate, is arguably one of the hottest adventure skiers in the world.

He is well-known throughout the industry as a calculating risk-taker who is willing—and has the guts and heart—to do anything.

Childhood friend Hank Minor said, "He is actually one the biggest names in skiing right now for big mountain skiing, but he has a lot of soul."

 

The early years

Kreitler moved to the Wood River Valley from New Jersey in 1980 when he was 10. The family consisted of Kent, his older sister Kim, then 12, and parents, Dick and Donna.

Largely unschooled in skiing, although the Kreitler family skied at East Coast resorts Vernon Valley and Great Gorge, Kent had the will and desire. He grew up with ski posters all over his room.

It didn’t take him long to learn to ski well.

Minor, currently a coach with the Sun Valley Ski Team who came up through the local skiing ranks with Kreitler, said, "Kent didn’t even know how to ski.

"I remember taking him up on Baldy his first time. He was so natural it was sick. He was up and skiing as fast as everyone within a month or two months. It didn’t take him anytime at all."

"I was schoolin’ Hank right off the bat," Kreitler retorted.

Both were members of the fledgling Hailey Ski Team from 1980 to 1983, then switched to Sun Valley as they got older and started racing.

 

Racing career

The Sun Valley Ski Team was full of promising racers in the mid-eighties, including Picabo Street, Reggie Crist, Skip Merrick and Laura Flood.

Sun Valley coach Pat Savaria recalls, "Kent had a lot of natural ability. Racing, he wasn’t as fast as some of the other guys like Reggie, but free skiing he was right there. I just remember him having talent, but we never got all we thought we could out of him racing-wise."

Perhaps the lure of untracked expanses held more allure than running gates.

"I remember showing up to race in Utah and having it be a powder day," Kreitler said. "I told Brad Martin if he made it down the course to straddle the last gate so we could go free ski after the first run."

Minor concurred, "Kent started getting more and more into free skiing. He just found more love for it and he was damn good at it."

Minor said the team was at Jackson Hole in 1985 when he realized Kreitler might not fit into the racing mold anymore.

"It was me, Kent, Merrick, Pat Czismazia and Brad Martin," said Minor. "The downhill race was canceled. All the guys had their 220’s on. We jumped under the rope and went skiing out of bounds.

"We were going 50 mph or so in powder. Kent just disappeared. We hucked ‘em sideways and crawled up to 60 foot cliff he had accidentally gone off. He landed on a rock spire which was covered with six feet of snow and his ski was stuck on top of it. He was down below about 20 or 30 feet and had to hike back up.

"I think that is where he got his roots. That is where he first saw God."

 

Early influences

Kreitler counts the late Lane Parrish, Scott Schmidt and Steve McKinney as the people he looked up to when he started skiing, as well as Pete Patterson and ski team coaches Savaria and Jeff Enos.

"Lane was one of my biggest heroes. He was our guide on a raft trip when I was 10. Schmidt came after him," Kreitler said.

"They were people who broke away from racing and freestyle. They seemed pretty exploitative. Like they were soul searching in a way. I have a respect for people out on the edge. I was drawn in that direction."

 

College in Colorado

Graduating from The Community School in 1989 despite "blowing off school every sunny day and powder day," Kreitler was accepted at the Univ. of Colorado-Boulder.

He roomed with Ketchum friends D.J. Hodge and Michael Jaquet, and Shane McConkey. The foursome frequented the surrounding ski areas, especially Vail.

Family friend Dave Stoecklein recalled, "Kent was an okay skier when he went away to college. I couldn’t believe it when he came back. I thought he was going to kill me he skied so fast. There must have been a lot of cute girls there he wanted to impress."

 

Early career

Stoecklein, a world-renowned photographer, put Kreitler on a path which eventually paid off in spades.

Kreitler began modeling for the Ketchum-based lensman when he was 12 years old.

"He was a really cute kid," Stoecklein said. "It didn’t take him too long to realize he could make money at modeling."

In-between modeling gigs and school, Kreitler began competing and cleaning up in what he terms "fringe events."

"I did a Challenge Terrain Race in Utah and won that. The Jimmie Heuga. We won it in Sun Valley and got to go to the finals. I started doing well," Kreitler said.

He added, "At one of the races I met a guy from Volant Skis, Tim Patterson. He ended up calling me in Boulder to go on a photo shoot for a catalogue. It was the same stuff I had done with Stoecklein and I got sucked back into film and photos."

Meanwhile, in 1993, Kreitler competed in and won the second annual U.S. Extreme Skiing Championships at Crested Butte, Colorado.

"It was radical," he said.
It pulled me in."

The event marked the first time Kreitler met Doug Coombs, Dean Cummings. Dean Conway, and Jim Zell.

All would help pioneer extreme skiing and remain friends of Kreitler’s to this day.

 

Wandering

College restricted Kreitler.

"I felt really repressed in school. I couldn’t deal with being in a class anymore," he said.

Kreitler hopped in his Vanagon and checked out different ski resorts. He went to Jackson Hole, Telluride and what turned out to be his home—Squaw Valley, Ca.

"I discovered a different breed of skier. I grew up around guys who were super strong and went fast all around the mountain. But Sun Valley isn’t big mountain type of terrain. Basically you have to hit a cat track if you want any air," Kreitler said.

"These guys were just wide open."

Jaquet recalls, "It’s kind of funny, but we didn’t know what was happening. The year Kent and Shane left school was the year the free skiing movement started. They started getting into the scene and then they became the two most publicized guys."

 

Tracking to the top

Kreitler settled in Squaw Valley in 1995 with a group of hard core skiers, including McConkey, Dean Conway, Shane Anderson, Chuck Patterson and Robb Gaffney.

The group was bent on breaking the conventional boundaries and ideas.

"Squaw is like a huge terrain park. It got me into jumping. The mountain has tons of challenging cruise-type lines and air. I just got more and more solid. I felt like I was on the progressive end of a new movement," Kreitler said.

In the finest ski bum fashion his first digs consisted of a closet in a friend’s bedroom.

"It was cool. I had a bed in there. I had posters on the wall," he said.

To earn money, Kreitler began spending more time in front of the camera pulling off more and more daring feats.

Recognition and respect was slow in coming, however.

Kreitler recalled, "It was frustrating for a long time. I always hung out with snowboarders and their industry was teeing off. It was geared to the right things. I watched my friends pull in six-figure checks. No one gave a s--- about the ski industry. It was falling off the backside."

What helped changed the shape of the extreme ski industry was a maverick named Greg Stump.

"Stump was the guy who came out and challenged people’s perceptions," Kreitler remarked. "Because Stump’s work came out of Squaw, it definitely influenced my decision to move here."

 

Working hard

Kreitler embodies the maxim, "do what you love and the money will follow."

In his early days at Squaw Valley he lived on $7,000 a year, earned by ski modeling, photo incentives and participating in extreme contests.

Kreitler said, "I always had a really strong work ethic. My parents would never help me. My Dad worked really hard for his money. It didn’t really take much for me to go on.

"My philosophy is if you work hard at what you love and keep your karma good things will work out.

"Of course, I think you do something for love of it. But eventually you want validation and paychecks. You want to be respected for it."

While some might think jumping off cliffs and straightlining 5,000 foot vertical peaks before your morning coffee is sheer lunacy, Kreitler has a different mindset.

"The fear comes beforehand when you’re just thinking about it. But when you’re actually skiing you can’t factor it in. Definitely, I look back and see how on edge it was. But I feel lucky to be in those mountains and doing first ascents. I feel like I’m doing what I was born to do," he said.

 

Moving up

In 1996, Kreitler signed long-term contracts with Spyder and Smith Sport Optics.

K2 also came on board as Kent became a legitimate and respected player in the industry. The "big time" included an agent at the firm Pro Motion.

"You need someone who can talk up," Kreitler explained.

Tag Kleiner, Promotions Manager at Smith remarked, "Kent is part of our "A" team. He’s one of our top five guys. He is really influential to a worldwide extent. He’s got a little bit of hometown flair for us. He also at the top of the game as far as freeskiing goes."

In 1997 Freeze Magazine, published by college roommate Jaquet, named Kreitler one of the 12 most influential free skiers in the world.

"We called it the Dirty Dozen," Jaquet said. "It was about the 12 people we felt were launching the free skiing movement. If free skiing has a signature person, it is Kent."

"I was stoked," Kreitler said.

 

A busy schedule

Between filming in exotic locales and making personal appearances, fitting in a normal life doesn’t quite compute.

The month of March typified a normal slice of Kreitler’s life.

He said, "I’m leaving Squaw to go to (Adam) Heaney’s bachelor party in Mexico. Then I’m flying to Chamonix, France to do a big mountain extreme contest. I’ll be there for 10 days. Then I’m going to Las Vegas for a trade show. I’ll be at Snow Summit for three days for a terrain park gathering.

"Then I’m going to Mammoth (Mountain, Calif.) to film and do a story for Freeze magazine. We’re taking my RV for that one. On the 16th I’m going to Japan for the Japanese X Games. Then I’m off to Alaska to do a ski film."

"It’s kind of a crazy month."

 

Rewards for a pacesetter

If freeskiing is at the forefront of a new spin on alpine skiing, Kreitler is helping to lead the charge.

Jaquet said, "Kent is one of the strongest skiers around. He pioneered fast all-mountain lines when he first filmed in Alaska. When you watch film now and see kids throwing down these 5,000 foot almost vertical lines—well, Kent was doing that four years ago."

Kreitler summed up, "There’s a lot going on right now. Freeskiing has given a great new focus to the ski industry. Everything is really good. It takes a lot of energy, but I love it.

"I think I will always have a place in the ski industry. I’ve been sort of heavily involved in the formation of this discipline and I feel like I’m a part of it. I think it’s just going to get better."

 

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Copyright 2000 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.