It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Kent Kreitler
January 6, 2006
If you can catch up with Kent Kreitler when he’s got something other than skis on his feet – which is really the only way most of us ever could catch up to him – he doesn’t strike you as a man in possession of super powers, just your typical Tahoe guy with a laid-back attitude. But then watch any of the dozens of ski movie sequences he’s starred in over the years and you’ll think differently.A Squaw Valley resident since moving here from Boulder, Colo. in 1993, Kreitler grew up skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho. College at the University of Colorado at Boulder found him rooming with another freeskiing icon turned Squaw Valley resident, Shane McConkey. And though he majored in film studies and thought about a career as a filmmaker, fate (and his sponsors) seemed to think he belonged in front of the camera, on two skis, in some of the sickest terrain imaginable from the Tahoe backcountry to Alaska and around the world.The action had the chance to sit down with Kreitler in his Squaw Valley home to talk about skiing, living in Tahoe, and what might be next for the man who’s made his name skiing some of the craziest lines out there.action: You’ve lived that entire time in Squaw Valley. This must really feel like home to you now.Kreitler: Yeah, the Valley has become a better place to be all the time with the new infrastructure that Intrawest brought in. A lot of people used to live in Tahoe City, but now it seems that more people are moving to Truckee based on being able to find a place to rent or buy there. So it’s nice to be here. I feel really lucky because there aren’t a lot of people who are 35 who own a place in Squaw. It’s mostly people who were here ahead of us, and people our age are buying in Truckee because it’s pretty expensive out here [in Squaw].action: So I assume you’ve been skiing all your life having grown up in Sun Valley. Is that what made you want to go to Boulder for college?Kreitler: Yeah, I wanted to be somewhere I could ski… And my sister went there too.Boulder was pretty pivotal in me doing what I am doing now because Spyder and Volant were both there and I was doing this kind of skiing in college with Shane [McConkey] a little bit.action: Is that how you started out getting paid to ski?Kreitler: Well, I grew up ski racing, and when I was 16 this photographer in Sun Valley, who was a family friend, needed to shoot some kids. And that was when I really first started posing for pictures.And then circumstances worked out so that a guy from Volant was in Sun Valley and he was a friend of my friends’. And we stayed in touch, he gave me some skis, and I was breaking Volant skis before they went to market. So those guys kind of used me to try to break new skis before they went to market.And [their office] happened to be next door to Spyder in Boulder. And one day this guy called me and asked if I could go do a photo shoot for a catalogue with Spyder. So that was how the relationship with Spyder began…All this stuff kind of came out of my intentions and my belief system. I was definitely leaning towards what I am doing now, so I think those things kind of appeared to me because I was so passionate about skiing.action: Was there a point where you realized you could make a career out of skiing, versus just doing it because you love it?Kreitler: Well, when I saw [Scott] Schmidt and [Glen] Plake and Trevor Peterson, those guys were making a living out of it, and that was when I was thinking maybe I could do that too. But it was more of a fun thing to do on the side.I guess the drive just comes out of doing it. There was never a time when I said “Hey, I can make a living doing this.” I just wanted to make it work so I could keep doing it. So I kept working on making better deals and building the sport along with that.action: What did you study at CU?Kreitler: I was a film studies major.
action: That’s appropriate I guess, considering all the films you’ve been in since then. Is making movies a direction you see yourself going in the future when you’re done skiing in them?Kreitler: I did see myself going in that direction until I did the executive production on my biography movie [“Reverence: The Kent Kreitler Story”] – it was tons of work and I got tons of headaches. The extreme sports film market are a lot of guys with a lot of passion, [who are] generally barely making it.I feel like I had that desire, but I put all my artistic energy into my skiing, and I feel like it’s been a lot of work to make things happen with that. And I can’t imagine starting over in a new career that also works in that same artistic realm.So now I’m working my way into doing some real estate developing. That’s something that, at this stage, is more tangible for me as far as creating financial security for myself.action: That’s something we all need.Kreitler: Especially here, you know. I want to live at the base of the ski area, which is extremely expensive. So I just started looking at my options and I was thinking that the skiing still comes pretty good, but not only are there other things to do in life, but I need to think ahead a little bit too.action: Getting back to your skiing. You mentioned that you injured your knee the season before last, can you tell me about what you’ve been up to lately?Kreitler: I didn’t do much for a lot of last season – most of the season I focused on getting healthy and strong and just not putting too much pressure on myself.action: How did you hurt the knee?Kreitler: I dislocated my right knee, and my leg was actually hanging off sideways I dislocated it so bad. It was major. I had every ligament and tendon in my right knee reattached. The only things I didn’t break were the artery and the skin. So that was a lot of work. Last year I spent most of the year skiing. I went to France and did some photo shoots with Hank DeVre, and I kind of focused my whole year on getting well enough to go to Alaska in the spring. So when I went to Alaska, I skied fairly cautiously and ended up uncorking on a few runs, but generally speaking I was more cautious than I have been in the past.action: Is it hard to hold back like that?Kreitler: Yeah, it’s hard, but we had great snow, we had some fantastic skiing and, at that stage of my life, I just wanted to not be stupid and make the right decision. So it wasn’t hard. I think it would have been hard if I would have let myself feel pressured into being somewhere that I wasn’t ready for, but I never did. I always just focused on where I was and not pushing it – I just stayed within my comfort level.It’s tricky though. It’s tricky being an athlete because you’re expected to perform year after year. Sponsors don’t necessarily like to sit it out through an injury, and I had some sponsorship changes that actually worked out for the better in the long run.People feel like they’re putting a lot of money into you to be sitting around injured, so it’s hard to not put pressure on yourself. But at the same time it’s really important not to. Put pressure on yourself to get better as quickly as you can, but not to jeopardize yourself.So my year went great. It was the first year that I didn’t put too much pressure on myself. I think that’s part of being mature and being at this stage of the game too, it’s not feeling like you have to go and prove yourself every day. But at the same time, I’m feeling really good this year and I’m pretty fired up.action: When you speak of putting pressure on yourself, what does that translate into on the hill? Are you skiing a line that otherwise you might not? Or going out in conditions that you think are sketchy? Or just working too much and doing too many trips?Kreitler: Well, I think a part of being in extreme sports is being able to pressure yourself to do things that haven’t been done before or to go really big on an air, because there’s a strong probability that you can stick it. Say you have a 95-percent chance of sticking it and going really huge, and a five-percent chance of blowing up. In the past when I’ve been all healthy, I’ve always trained and kept myself in shape, and I haven’t really minded that risk of taking a hit here and there. So you have to put that pressure on yourself to do it and, whatever the result is, to accept the result.
I guess that’s not the healthiest mentality all the time.action: Does coming back from such a major knee injury change any of your attitude toward that?Kreitler: Yeah, it does. What I have on my side at this stage is that I have so much experience that I really know what I’m capable of, and I know I can do a lot of things safely that will still be things that most people won’t do. I’m just more comfortable because I’ve had the experience of being in say the Alaskan environment so much. But at the same time, yeah, you know, I’m not willing to take risks as much as I used to because there are so many more things I want to do with my life.I guess that part of us that’s willing to take those risks is part of why humans evolve. Though when you go through an injury as big as the one I had two years ago, I don’t feel like I need to evolve my skiing anymore. I feel like there are other areas of my life that need some work.action: Speaking of evolution, in your eyes, how has skiing evolved, especially in the big-mountain arena, during the time that you’ve been involved?Kreitler: It’s still kind of the same guys who are the real big-mountain skiers. There has been a movement toward people doing more tricks and stuff out there, but are they really incorporating those tricks into the kinds of lines that [Jeremy] Nobis and myself and Gordy Pfeifer and McConkey and other people have been doing? No, not really. They’re kind of incorporating those tricks into much simpler lines.So, that’s where the general perception of evolution is, and it’s pretty damn cool what people are doing. And it is evolution, even if it’s not as gnarly of terrain. But I think the best thing about big-mountain skiing is that it’s always different.And the difference between freestyle and big-mountain is that in freestyle, you’re judged on how perfectly you execute a trick. In big-mountain skiing, you’re judged on how perfectly you pull off all the stuff that happens in a line that isn’t even planned. So it’s about responding to all the things you can’t plan. That’s why I think it’s always fun for people. I guess that’s just skiing too.action: Is that why the guys who are still at the top of the heap in terms of riding big lines in Alaska and other places are some of the older skiers out there? Do you need 10 years of experience up there to get to that level?Kreitler: Well, the kids could be right there, but their interest is more in tricks. But honestly, while there are some new guys for sure, the reason why we’re still around is because there aren’t a ton of guys doing it as well, I guess. I mean I don’t see it. And I think I’m being honest in saying that and not arrogant. And it’s because their [the younger pro skiers] focus isn’t on it. You know, I’d love to see someone like CR [Johnson] focus his energy more on big-mountain. But the whole thing that’s cool is tricks, so those guys are putting so much energy into that, and they’re so amazing at doing that. So it’s nice being us, because we’re all in our mid-30s and there aren’t a lot of people who are trying to nip at our heals.action: So what’s it like living here in Squaw Valley with all the other professional freeskiers around? Does living here make you a better skier?Kreitler: The mountain provides so many lift-accessed areas for us to train and ski. You see where skiing is still really strong, and it’s the big-mountain areas – it’s Jackson Hole, it’s Squaw, Alpine Meadows… Squaw just offers so much terrain that’s accessible for us that it helps us be good at what we do. There aren’t a lot of mountains that have six different chairlifts or more where you can get off and go drop a 40-footer and then ski some crazy little line.action: So what is your training like?Kreitler: The skiing part of it is just going out and skiing. And then for park skiing, it involves going in the park and practicing. But part of why I’m 35 and still hanging in there pretty well is just being athletic and cross-training and watching my diet and everything that’s associated with keeping our bodies healthy. And also going through the necessary steps to recover from injury.action: Other than the knee two years ago, have you had any other major injuries?
Kreitler: Just my ACL in my left knee, and then everything in the right knee two years ago.[Kreitler shows off the gnarly scars running the length of his right knee on both sides where surgeons cut him open to reattach everything. He also brings out an x-ray of his knee after the injury.]action: Oh my god! That’s crazy. What caused the knee injury?Kreitler: I landed on a rock up in Alaska. Just didn’t know where I was going and made a really stupid call and I ended up like that [referring to the x-ray] at the bottom of a cliff. It was terrible, I was cartwheeling and I could feel my leg just flapping and my ski was hitting me in the head. It was definitely a very heavy experience.That was a big deal and a huge thing to recover from.action: How long did it take you to get back?Kreitler: Pretty much until now to really get back. But it all goes in stages – six months from now I’ll be even better.action: Did you ever consider just calling it a career and rehabbing the knee for everyday activities but not getting back into pushing the limits on skis anymore?Kreitler: No, because you can’t have that mentality. Because any kind of healing is so psychological that I think in order to fully recover you always have to see yourself in perfect form. So I never questioned it.But, I don’t want to do it again.action: How does it feel to have a movie [“Reverence: The Kent Kreitler story”] made about you and your skiing?Kreitler: It feels good to have the movie done. There are a lot of different interpretations about how things go within this sport, so the movie was fun because it let me and the guys who made it kind of put our whole truth into film form. And having the film also gives some closure to that chapter in my ski life.There’s a new generation now, so there really is a new chapter going on, even though the older guys are still active. So I think the timing on the film was appropriate. Yeah, we could have waited and I could have given it a couple more years, but the timing worked out great and it’s just nice to have something like that. I worked so hard achieving things within the sport and, in all the videos and stuff that we do, there’s so little time dedicated to getting to know the person. So the other neat thing about the film is that it gave me an opportunity to actually express myself and get known a little bit. action: So what do you do during the off-seasons?Kreitler: Every off-season has been different. Some years I’ve screwed off more, other years I’ve been rehabbing a knee injury. The film [“Reverence”] took a ton of time the summer before this last one. And then this summer I got into studying real estate and development.I’d actually like to get into green building, so I’m learning as much as I can about green building right now. I’m also learning about where to borrow money from and how to borrow it.But every year is different. And trainingwise, things change too. I’ve always been kind of a gym rat because I love just putting on my headphones and working out. Sometimes I’ve gotten into yoga a lot – I hardly ever do yoga anymore, but I’ve gone through summers where I would go three days per week.
I tend to be kind of a workaholic, so I don’t take a lot of time off.action: Does it take a workaholic mentality to make it big in the ski world? Do all the top skiers approach skiing that way?Kreitler: I think so. “Workaholic” kind of has a negative connotation, but really you’re just passionate about life I guess. There are exceptions – some people have amazing natural talents and they can kind of ride that wave. But what happens after that?action: It seems like living up here and skiing at Squaw or Alpine or any number of other places around this area, there are all sorts of people who seem almost good enough to ski in the movies. What do you think separates those of you who are actually out there making a living skiing versus those who are just really good recreational skiers?Kreitler: Well there are a lot of people who are very talented. And the other thing is, once someone does something, it’s much easier to learn from watching that example. Like right now in park skiing, there are 15-year-old kids who do 900s off of every jump. I remember when there were two people doing 900s and it was just amazing.So, I’d say the biggest difference is when you go into a really big scenario like Alaska, that’s where you tend to see [the difference].And it’s not always if you can do it, it’s how you do it.But the bottom line is there are a lot of great skiers here. And it’s really hard to even get first tracks on a line, no matter who you are.That’s how things evolve I guess: A couple people do something and then a lot of people start doing it.It makes it a lot harder to find powder on a powder day.action: Yeah? So does being Kent Kreitler get you any special privileges with Ski Patrol or do the liftees let you cut in line for KT-22?Kreitler: No, you just get to know them better as you get older. I think a lot of the ski patrol here [at Squaw] guide up in Alaska too, but they have to do their job here and you have to listen to the ski patrol.So I don’t get any special privileges and I have to show up early for the KT line if I want to go get a line off the Fingers. Because God knows there’s going to be 30 other people going for them. I hear stories of when [Scott] Schmidt was here and those guys would do the Fingers or the Palisades a couple of days after a storm. There would be powder sitting on them for three days and they’d go “Oh, let’s go do that line.” That doesn’t happen anymore.That’s why I like having Alaska, because that’s where I still get to have the advantage. If you’re in Alaska and you’re up there with a group and a helicopter, there’s still a lot of things to do. Although now you’re trying to figure out where the other film crews are going because you know that another film crew might get to something before you do.I’m glad I got to experience things before there were too many people doing them, but I’m also glad that there are so many people enjoying all this stuff at the same time.action: So what are your goals for this year and looking forward?Kreitler: I feel really good. I feel like I’d like to put together at least one solid big-mountain segment, and I feel like I’m probably going to be doing some freestyle again, although I feel more prone to crashing in freestyle. So I’m going to be easing into that, or saving it for days with really deep snow. Last year I didn’t jump at all. This year I’m going to be jumping and doing all that.And the other thing I’m doing this year is starting to do some work with kids and I’m guiding my first two client groups up in Alaska. Because eventually, probably in three or four years, I’ll retire from doing films, and I want to still have something going on in the ski industry. I want to do some guiding and take clients primarily heli-skiing. So I’m feeling out how I can start organizing some trips where I can stay involved in skiing, go on some great trips, and make some of my living off that.But I think I want to keep filming and doing media stuff for this year, next year and the next year. I’m kind of giving it three years. And then after that I’m going to be 38 and, except for doing some print magazine stuff, I’m going to kind of phase out but also try to stay involved.That’s the master plan.