Featured Image

Skiing’s New Star is 14 Years Old

Kelly Sildaru has been alive for as long as her competitors have been skiing, and she’s beating them all

This interview was first published in the December 2016 (45.4) issue of POWDER. PHOTO: Roman Lachner

Before the 2016 X Games women's slopestyle competition, ESPN's Alyssa Roenigk interviewed a nervous, reserved Kelly Sildaru. The 14-year-old Estonian, who had won the Dew Tour contest one month before, wondered whether she'd be able to clear the big jumps—she weighs less than 100 pounds—and noted shifting weather conditions.

But Sildaru won the event with her first run, which included a 900 mute off the initial jump. "I was blown away," says Roenigk. "There's a preternatural confidence when she's on her skis. The helmet goes on and the goggles go on and there's a little superhero cape."

At 13, the Estonian became the youngest Winter X Games gold medalist. Read more here.

When Sildaru skis, the perpetual awkwardness of being a shy teenager in the international spotlight vanishes. She skis with precision and composure, with an eye for technical runs that appeal to judges and enough maturity to polish tricks diligently under the watchful eyes of her father and coach, Tõnis Sildaru. Last season, after winning North America's two marquee comps, becoming the youngest Winter X Games gold medalist, and earning a top AFP world ranking, she established herself as a new star.

This winter, she plans to compete in halfpipe, joining Devin Logan as the only other dual-event female freeskier. She's also got her eye on the 2018 Olympics. "She's focused and passionate. You can feel that she just loves skiing," says Candide Thovex, Sildaru's Faction teammate. "She's pushing the girls' overall level and helping lead them into a bright future for freestyle skiing." —Clare Menzel

My life is normal for me because I have lived life like this for so many years that I can't imagine anything different. Maybe others think my life is not normal. But I love it how it is. That is the most important.

Estonians are very quiet, rarely show any emotions, don't talk to strangers—everything is not awesome all the time. We say things that we really mean, and don't do small talk.

I like that feeling when you are high in the pipe. It's so nice when you are high; you have so much time, and when someone stands on the edge, and you fly over his head. Pipe is also new for me, so it is interesting to discover it. And I would like to see, can I do it? It is scary, but it's also fun.

Age doesn't matter but weight does. I always have a problem with the speed because I am too light, but I hope I will get more speed in the future.

I can sense the pressure [of representing Estonia as its first Olympic slopestyle/halfpipe skier], but I try to think about it as little as possible. I don't see the point on stressing myself right now when nothing is sure yet and I have other things to focus on.

I have never looked up to someone in the way that I would like to become them. It is impossible to copy someone and I haven't ever wanted to be anyone else other than me.

My little brother, Henry, has become my biggest motivator. He always wants to be better than me—in everything, not just skiing—and I just can't give up without a battle. The satisfaction and spark in his eyes when he is proud of something he has accomplished makes us all happy.

My mom bakes the best cakes in the world. She is so creative and thorough with whatever she works with, and she is very tolerant, also teaching me to be fair and reasonable.

My dad is special because he can be a friend and a coach at the same time. He is like the third kid for our mother. He would never leave me in trouble, but we prank each other all the time. He is chill and lets us experience new things.

I travel a lot. Lately Estonia has become my favorite destination, because it is always so nice to come home.