For teenage daredevil Jones, the ski’s the limit

Date04 January 2021
Published date04 January 2021
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
"I had butterflies in my stomach - looking over the edge was intimidating," Kai said last month, still in ski boots following a lightning dash down the slopes of the Jackson Hole resort near his home. "But you close your eyes and envision the approach you've planned. You open your eyes and hope for the best, but you know it's going to work out because you've put in the time to study it."

Airborne for three seconds, Kai nailed the jump, landing in a splash of snow that temporarily enveloped his 4-foot-plus frame. As cameras rolled, he emerged from the powdery plume to carve deft, buttery turns in the ultra-steep landscape beneath the famed rocky precipice.

Sliding to a stop, he called his mother, Shelly. "I just stomped it, Mom," he yelped.

"I congratulated him," Shelly Jones said later. "I wasn't going to say, 'Oh my God, you shouldn't be doing that.' We're a ski family."

The footage was turned into Kai's action movie debut, which found its way to YouTube, quickly attracting more than 3 million views. A winter sports prodigy - undaunted in expanses of perilous out-of-bounds terrain - was born. A few months later Kai, who began skiing when he was two, won the International Freeskiers Association's North American championship for skiers younger than 12. As sponsorship deals with Red Bull and Atomic skis rolled in, Kai turned pro, becoming a pre-teen celebrity who routinely stops for autographs and rubs elbows with adults in the pantheon of big mountain ski personalities - even though he still plays with Lego.

"Being famous is cool, for sure," Kai says with a laugh, sitting on a high-back barstool chair that leaves his feet dangling well above the floor. "But you have to be humble and a good mentor."

Mesmeric skills

Kai's incandescent career arc in the ski community, while atypical, is nonetheless familiar. Time and technology have quickened the pace exponentially. Since at least the 1970s, pro adventure skiers and snowboarders have earned their renown and made their money by performing in visual media. But the films that featured their derring-do and were produced only a few times a year. That meant it could take years to develop a marquee name or lasting status in a world that prizes near-vertical, high-speed descents through or above snow-covered couloirs and fearsome stony bluffs.

Moreover, film production was costly, with temperamental cameras and clunky equipment that had to be dragged up windswept mountains. The evolution of the genre, however, has...

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