© Red Bull
GIRL ON: Kristi LeskinenDec 08 2006 / Los Angeles, CA
How Kristi has become one of the best freeskiers in the world is a mystery though, especially considering she grew up in Uniontown, PA where the mountains were only a little bigger than the mogul fields she competed in. In 1999 if you had asked Kristi if she thought skiing was her future, she would have have said wakeboarding was more her thing because at the time it was. Whether it was drive or competitive nature wakeboarding seemed to be her golden sport.
“At that event all of my ski heroes were there. JF Cusson, JP Auclair, Jonny, I saw what they were doing and right then I knew that was it.” She gave up wakeboarding and moved to Mammoth the next winter. Now six years later she holds medals from the X Games, the Gravity Games and the Freeskiing Championships. She’s appeared in a number of Poor Boyz Productions films including this year’s “Ski Porn.” But most importantly she’s become one of the cool chicks who will go down in history as someone who launched the freeskiing revolution.
Lat34 caught up with the princess of the park and found out a little bit about her life on snow.
Lat34: How many years have you been skiing?
Kristi: Twenty years. Wow, it doesn’t seem like that long. I started as a mogul skier, but only because I loved jump. I loved pulling 360s and no other girls were doing them where I was from. I always skied with the boys and so that helped me be really aggressive. I think growing up always skiing with guys you are naive because you don’t see the difference between men and women. They are just your friends and that pushed me harder.
Lat34: When did you start competing?
KL: When I was sixteen I started competing on a national level. I liked it at first. I have always been a competitive person and I swam. Played soccer and basketball, track and field and wakeboarding. There was a time when I had to decide between ski and wakeboarding though and I was about to quit skiing.
Lat34: What happened?
KL: That winter I met all of my idols in the ski industry and I had worked harder and been in skiing longer I realized so I made that my focus.
Lat34: At the same time what was happening in skiing?
KL: The whole evolution in skis at the time was cool because suddenly you could land backwards and do more tricks because the equipment was moving forward. I decided to follow that path instead of moguls. I realized that moguls was an excuse for me to be in skiing. When I first got into skiing moguls that was the only discipline that had an organization and schools and that didn’t exist for freeriding then. Now schools have freeide programs but they didn’t when I was there, so I picked moguls so I could go to a ski school.
Lat34: So it was that first event that go you?
KL: The US Open of Freeskiing. I was 19 and with my mom. I was about to quit skiing and then I met these guys at the event and seeing them make a career out of freeskiing was what helped me focus and decide that I was a skier. Having pros see me at this event and tell me I needed to stick with skiing was flattering. There were no other girls there so I won by default but it was clear to those guys that I should be out there skiing to show girls they could hit jumps too.
Lat34: How has the sport changed since you have been in it?
KL: The tricks have gotten harder and the possibilities are endless now.
Lat34: Is it more scary?
KL: Totally. There is a limit in the sport. You can only jump so big. I have seen my friends get seriously injured so I think to a certain degree to where we can go. Right now we are in a place where we have reached the limit as to what is possible. A lot of the stuff is becoming stunts so I try to focus now on being more technical and having really good style.
Lat34: Tell me about your scariest experience ever skiing?
KL: When I hit my head last year in Lake Tahoe. I was on a jump and I came short on a rotation and hit my head but wasn’t knocked out. The guys were like, ‘You’re fine. You weren’t knocked out.’ I went to the side of the jump and I sat out for a while and the guys made fun of me. They didn’t think I was hurt. By the time I got to my car I told them, ‘I don’t think I should be driving.’ I then went to the hospital and as it turned out I had a brain hemorrhage and then I couldn’t walk on my own by the time I got there. It was really scary for me and because I think what if I hadn’t had the sense to know I needed to go to the hospital? I was conscious through the whole thing until the end. Then I passed out. You think if it’s bad when you hit your head you will be really knocked out. It’s scary knowing something is really wrong with you, but you don’t know what it is or how bad it will get.
Lat34: This happened to your friend CR this last year too didn’t it?
KL: That was terrifying. I went to see him in the hospital and to see what happened to him after hitting his head and being in that position only months earlier. I was like wow, it’s such a fine line between what happened to me and him. It really hit home. What happened to him could happen to any of us. I am a huge helmet advocate. I wear one every day. CR used to make fun of me for wearing one but now he wears one all the time.
Lat34: So does this mean you don’t push it any more?
KL: I get scared all the time but this year I came to the realization to never do anything that other people are pushing you on. People say to me, ‘why aren’t you pushing yourself harder?’ It’s not like soccer or basketball where you can push yourself. You need to really weigh the risk. You do it for yourself or you don’t do it all.