By Jason Bacaj MANAGING EDITOR
Editor’s note: The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame is inducting the classes of 2021 and 2022 at Big Sky Resort on March 24 and 25. To commemorate the event, EBS published a special section with profiles of each inductee. Grab a copy on the shelves to read more about the athletes who have shaped the winter sports that help make Big Sky a world-class community.
If you’ve watched any freeskiing event in recent years, you’ve witnessed Kent Kreitler’s influence. Grabs, off-axis spins and landing backwards—all are elements that the Sun Valley resident pioneered in sport’s formative days in the 1990s.
Kreitler was both a successful competitor and a big mountain skier whose career started with photoshoots and early extreme contests that later landed him roles filming.
The freeski pioneer’s trajectory began with a family move to Sun Valley when he was 10, where he got hooked on skiing. He discovered his passion for big mountains when to the Colorado University in Boulder. While there, Kreitler roomed with the legendary Shane McConkey and Michael Jaquet, founder of Freeze Magazine. The trio led Boulder to become the brief epicenter of freeskiing as Kreitler and McConkey pushed one another to go bigger, and Jaquet documented their growth.
Kreitler is recognized as the first skier to style tricks with grabs, and the first to land off-axis 360s and 720s, now a mainstay in all contemporary skiing, including the Olympics.
Kreitler broke out in 1993 when he won the U.S. Extreme Skiing Championships at Crested Butte, Colo., a seminal event with then rare television coverage that launched freeskiing into prominence. Kreitler became its first big star, moving to Tahoe and launching his film career. During that career, he pioneered big mountain zones around Valdez and Cordova in Alaska and bagging numerous first descents along the way.
“Heli time was a lot cheaper back then,” Kreitler told EBS. “We weren’t on huge budgets, but we’d make it work and we’d go out and just explore, man. It was fun.”
On film, Kreitler was one of the rare athletes who worked with multiple production companies, starring in films by Nick Nixon, Warren Miller, Teton Gravity Research and Matchstick Productions.
He was also an early ski design innovator of both twin-tip and fat skis. In particular he helped created the K2 Poacher—the first fat-waisted twin-tip park ski. Plus, Kreitler had four separate pro-model skis from K2 and Blizzard, a Spyder clothing line and a signature goggle from Zeal Optics after a long career with Smith.
After 15 years of professionally sending it and pushing freeskiing to progress, Kreitler felt burned out.
“A lot of what I did was quite dangerous,” Kreitler said. “I just kind of aged out of it to where I just didn’t want to be putting myself in those risks all the time.”
Sponsorship dollars dwindled, younger athletes were coming to the fore, and he wanted to sample what else life had. He moved to San Francisco to live in a city, did a yoga teaching course, rehabbed his body, bought property in Panama and started surfing. Within a few years, Kreitler was recharged and ready to jump back into ski town life.
“We are so lucky to live in these mountain town communities, but it’s good to check out for a while,” he said.
He lives in Sun Valley now, skiing powder most winter days and watching the sport continue to progress through the likes of fellow Idaho resident “Crazy” Karl Fostvedt, who won the first-ever Kings and Queens of Corbet’s competition in Jackson Hole in 2018.
“I’m still fanatical about skiing,” Kreitler said. “I just want to ski pow. And this season, there’s so much shoulder country off of the ski area… I don’t know if it’s possible for anyone to come close to skiing as much pow as a couple of my friends and I do.”