Kye petersen can't wait for his big ski trip to Europe next week. According to the 15-year-old, the snow "sucks" this winter in his hometown of Whistler, B.C. The freeskiing phenom is also looking forward to meeting up with his pals Tanner Hall and C.R. Johnson, two of the biggest names in the freeride skiing world, in Italy's steep backcountry. But what Petersen is most excited about is a planned visit to Chamonix, France. There in the Alps, Kye will speed down big lines and perform huge jumps and spins not far from where his father, Trevor, was doing the exact same thing when he was killed by an avalanche nine years ago. ¬∂ "I think my mom is real stressed out, but I'm so stoked because I've never been there," Kye said on a recent sunny afternoon at the base of Whistler's Blackcomb Mountain.
This is an article from the March 14, 2005 issue
"Hey, Mom, will I get to see the run Dad did?"
"You'll only see the top [of the run] from the tram," says Tanya Petersen, giving her son a wan smile.
"Cool," says the boy.
trevor petersen stood only 5'10", but to those who followed the sport he was the biggest ski icon in British Columbia. Petersen was a driving force in a ski movement that pushed the sport off the slopes and into the backcountry. During the mid-1980s the fab four--Scot Schmidt, Glen Plake, Eric Pehota and Petersen--were among the first to seriously pursue extreme skiing. While Americans Schmidt and Plake tackled mountains in the Lower 48, often heading into the backcountry by helicopter, Canadians Petersen and Pehota embraced ski mountaineering, which involves summiting tall peaks and massifs with ropes, ice axes and crampons and then skiing down vertical faces and off cliffs.
Together, the Canadians ticked off dozens of first descents in the Coast Mountains in British Colombia. Over the years the peaks got bigger, the runs steeper and the weather conditions more stormy. "It's the ultimate paradox. The closer you come to the edge, the more alive you feel. Trev lived for that," says Pehota. "There's nothing like being the first to set foot where no one has gone before. Trevor wanted to be a pioneer and explorer. He always talked about [Ernest] Shackleton and all those hard-core dudes."
Petersen himself was a hard-core dude who was constantly restless for the next adventure. In 1980, at age 19, he left his hometown of New Westminster, B.C., and headed north to Whistler to live the life of an adrenaline junkie. "He was a long-haired, crazy-intense fellow," Pehota says. Petersen climbed during the spring and fall, skied in the winter and boogie-boarded Class V rapids in the summer. Even in more sedate moments, he knew how to live on the edge. At parties he was known to jump off a second-story balcony and run off into the woods or swan-dive off a 15-foot ledge into a pool of shallow water.
His zeal for life brought him to a tragic end in late February 1996. After a three-week stint in Italy doing a photo shoot for Powder magazine and heli-skiing for his sponsors, Petersen decided to spend a few days in Chamonix, the mecca of ski mountaineering, before heading home to Whistler.
"He called me that morning [from France] to vent," says pro skier Johnny Chilton. "He felt like he hadn't done anything during the trip. They'd been shooting him all week. He called it posing for the mags. He hadn't skied anything big. He was psyched to be in Chamonix. He said he was going to ski something that would satisfy his itch."
Later that day, Feb. 26, Petersen took a tram that climbs nearly 9,500 feet from Chamonix to the summit of Aiguille du Midi in the Mont Blanc range. From there Petersen trekked about an hour east to the Cosmique Couloir, a line that he had done four times before.
As Petersen skied down the top of the run into a sharp dogleg, an avalanche was triggered. It struck him as it slid 3,000 feet down the mountain. Authorities suspected that Petersen, who was skiing alone, had headed down the run sometime in the afternoon. Late in the day the sun heats up the slopes, causing the snow to get more dense and increasing the risk of an avalanche. When Petersen did not return to his hotel that evening, friends who were traveling with him did not panic; they assumed that Petersen, a sociable sort, had met up with others in town and was out having fun.
The next afternoon two Swedish skiers came down an exit couloir and saw a figure 50 yards below. There Petersen, 33, sat buried waist-deep in the snow. He was leaning back, and his trademark blond ponytail was blowing in the wind. Not realizing that Petersen had been dead for nearly 24 hours, the skiers asked him if he was O.K. "It was pretty perfect, in a way," says Tanya. "He wasn't all messed up. He was facing Mont Blanc. He was in his territory and sitting there at peace."
whistler is two hours north of Vancouver. The ski town has vibrantly colored chalets, cobblestoned streets lined with lively apr√®s-ski pubs, and locals who are quick to spread gossip. A couple of years after Petersen's death, Tanya, who had two children with Trevor, decided to take Kye and his younger sister, Névé, to Maui for a year to get away from the fishbowl. Kye skateboarded and learned to surf off the shores of Paia. When the family returned to Whistler in 2000, Kye dusted off his skis and headed for the slopes.
He quickly excelled at freeride skiing, a new-school discipline that blends skateboarding and snowboarding tricks. Kye's ability to get huge air off jumps and his scrappy size--at five feet he weighs just 95 pounds--was soon the big buzz in the Blackcomb terrain park. "The first time I saw the little man ski, I was like, 'Holy smokes! This kid can stomp some gnarly stuff,' and he was only 11," says Hall, a four-time X Games gold medalist. "He's really good in the park, but no one his size or age can ski [as well as Kye can] in the big mountains. He's going to be the future of skiing, for sure. By the time he is 20, he's going to be ridiculous."
Kye soon began gracing the pages of ski magazines and getting bits in ski films. Last year Kye debuted in Hall and Eric Iberg's ski flick WSKI106, in which he ran around Whistler with 12-year-old freeskier Sean Pettit (box, page A6). The clip earned the kids Powder's best humor award at the Winter X Games in January. This year Kye has taken more serious roles, filming in Utah and Italy with freeskiing stars Hall, Johnson and Pep Fujas. Later this month Kye will also shoot a ski documentary with Plake in Chamonix and take a heli-ski trip to B.C.'s Bella Coola Valley with backcountry specialist Seth Morrison. While most of his peers are focusing on contests in the park, Kye is following his father's passion by setting his sights on riskier terrain. Throwing tricks in the park, he says, is merely training for what he wants to accomplish in the backcountry.
With his pro career poised for takeoff, Kye has had to juggle the demands on his time. The ninth grader is enrolled in an independent-study program through Whistler Secondary School. Typically, he skis in the mornings and attends classes in the afternoons four days a week. A private tutor visits twice a week, and Fridays are saved for throwing down 720s in Blackcomb Park.
Two days before the anniversary of his father's death, Kye struggles to smoothly land a 540 spin in which he enters the jump backward in the terrain park. The pressure is mounting. After several tries he skies off to the side, throws off his helmet and has a major meltdown. "I can't feel the air. I've never had a bad day all year," he says, yanking at his short blond hair. "I blew it, man! If I stay up here, I'll die!"
Bruce Rowles, a Whistler-based ski photographer, has seen Kye throw tantrums before. Rowles was snapping pictures of Kye that afternoon and tries to calm the raging teen down. "Kye, you're just so worked up. You're your own worst critic," Rowles says. "You've got to know when to walk away. Tomorrow is another day." Kye scrunches up his face and sticks out his tongue. Kye says he's going to explode and decides to ski off to the bottom on his own. On his way down he picks up his green helmet and chucks it a few yards down. "Yeah, man! All right!" a snowboarder screams from the chairlift above. Kye then skis over his helmet before hitting his head with his poles as he speeds off.
Those who know him are unruffled by Kye's histrionics. "[Kye] gets so mad when things aren't going his way. That's so much like his dad. I used to see Trevor ski a crazy line, and he'd get so agro for a few minutes, it was wild to see," says Mike Douglas, a freeride innovator who lives in Whistler. "At the same time, it's people like that who are so determined to do what they want to do that they often do it."
Kye knows that everyone is watching him, waiting for him to become the sport's next star. He knows that he is the son of a ski legend. And he knows that he has a problem with anger. "I get stressed about everything," he says. "[People] don't know my potential. If it's not perfect, I get angry. That's why everyone thinks I'm a freak show. I flip out, and I don't care."
Kye's bad day is coming to an end. At the base of Blackcomb Mountain, he pulls off his ski boots in silence as the song Under Pressure blares from the speaker system. "Pressure pushing down on me, pressing down on you no man ask for," sings David Bowie. "Pray tomorrow takes me higher."
The Grom Generation
Jibbing and jamming at terrain parks and pipes around the globe, these four powder teens are ready for center stage
WHISTLER, B.C., AGE 12
A half-foot shorter (4'7") and three years younger, the kid can match Kye Petersen for big cab 720s in the park and throw down in jam sessions.
PARK CITY, UTAH, AGE 17
The teen rail queen won every competition she entered last season and took third at her first U.S. Freeskiing Open, in January.
ISHIKARI CITY, JAPAN, AGE 16
At the '03 U.S. Open the superpipe star took second to become the event's youngest medalist; he's getting big air in snowboard films.
BELMONT, VT., AGE 18
Favored to win a medal at the Olympics next February, the Winter X darling became, in '02, the first woman snowboarder to stomp a 900.