At the European stop of the International Freeskiing Film Festival (IF3) in France this fall, an Estonian skier named Kelly Sildaru won best upcoming freeskier for her video part in PVS's 2010 film Punch Line. But here's the surprising part about Sildaru's win: She's just nine years old.
At the Polish Freeskiing Open last year, Sildaru got second in big air and third in rails. Not among the juniors; among the women. Her list of sponsors is impressive even for a pro twice her age: K2 Skis, Spy Optics, Nike 6.0, Level, Maoam, Alexela, Viking Line and Dalbello.
Since IF3, video edits of Sildaru sliding rails with skills practically comparable to girls currently competing at the Winter X Games have gone viral on the internet. "Did I just watch a 9 year old girl do a lazyboy 360?" wrote one user on newschoolers.com. "She is already X Games potential, in my opinion," wrote another. "That girl is destined for greatness," wrote a user on TGR's forum.
Sildaru, who lives in Tallinn, Estonia, started skiing at age two, with help from her parents. "It was random, we saw small ski boots for a very good price," says Kelly's dad, Tõnis. "That was the beginning. She was two years old when she tried, for the first time, to stand on skis. At the beginning she wasn't able to ski down the mountain by herself. By the time she was three, it was her first time in the big mountains, in Hintertux, and that's where she learned to ski by herself." By age five, Sildaru was practicing small jumps and boxes.
Now, at age nine, she skis at a small hill in Estonia called Nõmme, which has one jump and a few rails, and she goes to Finland to ski on the weekends. Her favorite trick? "I would like to say a backflip but it involves too much adrenaline," the nine-year-old said recently, "so I am going to say a 360 mute." This season, she says she's working on smoother 720s and 540s.
Sildaru says she was surprised by her win at IF3 Europe. "I had no idea what I was winning at first -- I don't understand French and I didn't know I was nominated for anything," Sildaru said. "So, it was a big surprise. I'm very pleased and honored."
Would she like to compete at the X Games someday? "It's hard to say," she says. "I take it step by step. It would be great to participate in the X Games, but the girls are very good and the jumps are so big."
She says she looks up to pro skiers Virginie Faivre and Ane Enderud. "They are so sweet and killers at the same time," she says. "They ski very well. I would like to be as good as they are one day."