4-year-old prodigy can rip on any hill | AspenTimes.com

4-year-old prodigy can rip on any hill

Aspen Times writer
Four-year-old skiing phenom Bridger Gile hams it up after taking a run through the gates on Silver Bell at Aspen Mountain Saturday afternoon April 10, 2004. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

By Steve Benson

Aspen Times Staff Writer

Now that the ski mountains are shut down for the season, Bridger Gile is looking forward to spending some leisure time on the golf course.

After all, it’s not easy being a national champion, local celebrity and rising ski-film star – especially if you’re only 4 years old.

This season, Gile won the NASTAR championship for his age group, became the youngest person to ever hike and ski Highland Bowl from the summit, was filmed by a Warren Miller crew and skied with local professional extreme skier Chris Davenport.

He became famous in the process.

Standing at the bottom of “The Couch” Saturday morning, I was telling a friend about a supposed ski prodigy I was going to meet later in the day when a stranger turned to me and said, “Are you talking about Bridger?”

I had no idea just how big this little kid was.

When we met Saturday afternoon, I discovered that wherever Bridger goes, so does the rest of the mountain. What started as a group of four – Bridger, his mom, Lisa Gonzales-Gile, myself and a photographer – quickly turned into a growing posse of skiers and riders.

“He’s funny because he’s just like this regular kid until you see him ski, then it’s like he’s Superman,” Gonzales-Gile said. “It’s cool how people respond to him, they just follow us – we’ll get stopped 10 to 15 times [a day].

“People come up and say, ‘Let me get an autograph.’ It’s hilarious.”

Gonzales-Gile, who skied with Bridger about four days a week throughout the season, isn’t exaggerating.

Skiing underneath the Ajax Express lift, passengers yell “Bridgerrrrrr” as he bounces through the bumps – his long hair flying out the back of his helmet. Others stop on the hill just to say hi.

When I asked local ripper Vince Lahey, who’s skied with and taught youths in the valley for years, if he’d ever seen any 4-year-olds ski like Bridger, he didn’t hesitate.

“No,” Lahey said. “He’s my hero.”

It’s truly amazing to watch him ski – he actually carves. Things like weight distribution and hand positioning, which take most people years to even comprehend, have come naturally to Bridger. His mom said that ice skating, which Bridger’s been doing since he was 2, may have contributed to his rapid progression.

“It’s a good thing for understanding balance and edges,” she said.

Or maybe it’s in his genes.

His dad, Rob Gile, has won the men’s 40-and-over division of the town race series each of the past two years. And his mom is an endurance-athlete junky who can be found competing in – and winning – just about every running race in the valley.

But his mom thinks it’s just Bridger’s desire to do what everyone else is doing.

“Kids are such visual mimics, they want to do what you do,” Gonzales-Gile said. “We’ve taken him to ski races, and that’s what he sees, he thinks that’s how you do it.”

Bridger started skiing when he was 2, and like most kids that age, he wasn’t using poles. But Bridger didn’t like that, since his parents and the older kids were skiing with poles.

“So we cut down some little kid ones,” his mom laughed.

But as good of a skier Bridger is, and as much fame as it’s brought to his young life, he keeps it all in perspective.

“It’s just fun,” he said.

In fact, skiing isn’t even his favorite sport.

“Soccer’s my favorite, and golf,” he said.

Of course, he could just be tired after a season that saw him log 80-plus days on the slopes, and his attention has merely shifted to the greens, and the waves. Did I mention he surfs, too?

And next ski season may be Bridger’s last chance to hit close to 100 days, at least for a while – it will be his final year at the ski-friendly Wildwood School, which he attends twice a week. After that, he’ll be in school five days a week.

Gonzales-Gile said a member of the Warren Miller crew put it best – “Going to kindergarten sure is going to cut into his ski-bum lifestyle.”

Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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