Gile proves once again it’s his world
An autograph from Daron Rahlves simply wouldn’t do.Moments after Aspen’s Bridger Gile received a signature from one of his idols while eating near Beaver Creek in November, he felt compelled to return the favor. Bridger pulled out a sheet of paper and proceeded to draw a bull, mimicking the logo that emblazons the front of Rahlves’ helmet. After completing the drawing, Bridger wrote down three words:”Go Fast Daron.”Rahlves went on to win the following day’s downhill on the Birds of Prey course. To no one’s surprise, Bridger has heeded his own words ever since. The 6-year-old skiing phenomenon, who has graced the big screen and is attracting national attention, won last weekend’s NASTAR Nationals at Steamboat Springs. He topped a field of 41 competitors to take home his second national championship in the last three years.
Aspen was well represented, with Scott Strickland finishing first among 40- 44-year-olds and Dave Durrance taking home third place in the 60-64 division.”How many kindergartners can say they’ve been a national champion, a forerunner twice in the X Games and been in two Warren Miller movies?” said Bridger’s mom, Lisa. “He has a real level of comfort that some people just have.”Bridger won his first national title at the age of 4 in Park City, Utah, in 2004. This year, in an event that drew nearly 1,338 competitors between the ages of 3 and 86 from across the country and even the globe, he was once again on top of the podium, flashing his carefree smile to the cameras.Bridger was sitting in an unfamiliar second position after the first two races Friday. His mother advised him to simply go out and do his best Saturday. They talked about teams in the NCAA tournament that overcame seemingly insurmountable deficits. Bridger was more than receptive.”He [completed] two unbelievably fast races,” Lisa said. “We didn’t know the results, but when we were walking over to the NASTAR room, he said to me, ‘Mom, I just never gave up.’ “He was inspired. You can learn a life lesson from winning or losing, and it’s cool that he picked up on that.”Bridger has a knack for picking up things that humble others five, even 10 times his age. He was on skis at age 2, and turning heads on the valley’s slopes not long after.
At age 4, Bridger was the youngest person to ever ski the Highland Bowl. Now, he carries his own skis to the top, Lisa said. He spent all of Tuesday in the Buttermilk park, his mom following close behind. His life and the sport have been intertwined from the beginning. Bridger’s good with numbers, Lisa said, because the two play counting games on chairlift rides. His walls are covered with posters of Rahlves and Bode Miller. He may be the only kid on the planet with autographs of Rahlves and Miller, as well as Tanner Hall and Jon Olsson, on his helmet. Bridger has been in Warren Miller’s “Impact” as well as this year’s “Higher Ground,” sharing the big screen with ski pioneer Klaus Obermeyer and local athletes such as Peter and Michael Olenick. He currently leads the kids overall standings in the Aspen Times Town Race Series. He consistently beats his mother in head-to-head races although, she joked, it’s not because of her lack of effort.”[Bridger’s] not doing it to be noticed, [he] does it because he likes the way it feels to go fast,” Lisa said. “He’s just a regular kid.”Many have taken notice of this “regular kid,” who, among other things, enjoys singing, painting, hockey, golf, gymnastics and biking. It’s not every day that the Oprah Winfrey show calls to inquire about a 6-year-old, but it happened Tuesday. Despite all the accolades and the constant wave of attention that follows him with every turn of his Atomics, Bridger has managed to stay humble, Lisa said. Most likely it’s because he is too young to grasp the weight of his accomplishments. Also, it’s the result of concerted effort by his parents to make sure his head and long hair don’t grow too big for his helmet.”We reinforce that you should always be thankful for your gifts that you have, and even though you’re good at what you do, that doesn’t make you better than anyone else,” Lisa said. “He has a natural talent and real level of comfort, and you just try to support him and let it grow.”
Lisa and husband, Rob, have done their part to surround Bridger with support and positive role models. He’s been a spectator at the X Games ever since his days in a stroller. He’s been to World Cup ski races and the World Track and Field Championships. Last summer, Bridger went abroad to see Lance Armstrong pedal in the Tour de France. “A lot of kids are visual learners and mimic what they see,” Lisa said. “We always give him the tools to go out and succeed.”We’re so lucky to live here. Somebody with the same amount of talent may live in Rifle and never have a chance to be expressed. There are a lot of good athletes here, and it’s so cool for him to be surrounded by that.”As for Bridger’s future, Lisa said it’s up in the air. Maybe he’s the next Rahlves, and his posters will hang on walls across the country. Maybe he’s the second coming of Phil Mahre, who posed for a photo alongside Bridger and former U.S. Ski Team members A.J. Kitt and Doug Lewis in the starting gate at Steamboat. It’s hard to fathom that Bridger, one of Aspen’s most recognizable figures, doesn’t turn 7 until October.The comparisons and the expectations will come soon enough. For now, Bridger, Lisa and Rob are enjoying the good snow, the fast-paced journey and the possibilities. “Maybe he’ll wind up being a French horn player,” Lisa said. “I can’t wait to see how all the chapters unfold.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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Aspen’s Cassidy Jarrell was bumped up to the U.S. freeski A team for this coming winter season, which remains in limbo as coronavirus cases rise across the country.