2014-05-21 / Sports

King of the mountain

Meet the fastest 9-year-old on skis
By Jim McConnell

Chesterfield’s Lillie King had a successful 2013-14 season on the slopes, winning seven gold medals and one silver for the Wintergreen Resort ski team. Chesterfield’s Lillie King had a successful 2013-14 season on the slopes, winning seven gold medals and one silver for the Wintergreen Resort ski team. If you met Lillie King on the street, you’d probably think she looks just like a typical 9-year-old girl. Put her on skis and take her to the top of a steep, snow-covered mountain, however, and she becomes something else entirely.

Like a switch being flipped in her brain, King enters a competitive zone where her entire focus is on the terrain unfolding beneath her skis and getting to the bottom as quickly as humanly possible.

“Sometimes before I start a race, I get really nervous and I kind of wonder what‘s going to happen,” she said. “But I know it’s going to be fun, so I just go for it.”

Nerves – or outright terror – would be a perfectly normal reaction for a third-grader facing the prospect of navigating an expert-level double black diamond trail.

Double black diamond runs are not for the faint of heart. They are the most challenging trails on any mountain, due to extremely sheer slopes, exposure to wind gusts and the occasional breathtaking vertical drop-off.

Fortunately for King, she has a supreme sense of balance and knows no fear of speed.

King showcased her skills during the Southern Alpine Racing Association’s regional championships at Sugar Mountain, winning both slalom and giant slalom titles in the U10 age division against competitors from Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina.

Competing for the Wintergreen Resort ski team, she won eight gold medals and one silver during the 2013-14 season.

She also placed third in the slalom and fourth in the giant slalom at the NASTAR Nationals, a two-day competition that drew more than 1,500 skiers to Aspen, Colo.

“I can’t keep up with her anymore, either,” her father, Chesterfield orthodontist Dr. John King, admitted. “Maybe 15 years ago when I had better knees … but not now.”

John and Donna King, recreational skiers who have long enjoyed winter vacations at Wintergreen, put their daughter on skis for the first time when she was just 3 years old.

Her group lesson didn’t go very well – mainly because group lessons are offered by glorified baby sitters whose No. 1 priority is keeping children occupied while their parents are skiing.

So they paid for a private lesson and she hasn’t slowed down since.

While most young skiers learn to make turns and slow their descent by aligning their skis in a V-pattern, King was taught at an early age to maintain her speed by keeping her skis parallel and using the edges to carve through the snow.

This more aggressive style of skiing was a perfect fit for King, who started out as a member of Wintergreen’s developmental team two years ago but quickly made an impression on her coaches and teammates.

During an intra-squad competition at the end of the 2011-12 season, the then-7-yearold not only won her age group, she posted a time faster than every other girl younger than 15.

“I said, ‘Wow, that’s pretty amazing,’” John King recalled.

It was the first time he realized that his daughter needed tougher competition than what she could find at Wintergreen.

In each of the past two years, the Kings have made multiple trips out west so Lillie could train with elite-level coaches and compete against some of the top young skiers in the nation.

Because their climates allow skiers to spend roughly half the year on the slopes, Colorado and Utah are hotbeds for producing future members of the U.S. ski team.

Many top youth skiers are enrolled in private academies, where they attend class in the morning and train in the afternoon. One such institution, Vail Academy in Colorado, accepts students as early as the fifth grade.

John King said that the possibility of enrolling Lillie in a private ski academy is on the family’s radar, but insisted it won’t happen until she’s at least in middle school.

Lillie, who turns 10 in August, is in third grade at St. Catherine’s School.

“It would be difficult to have my daughter leave home for six months out of the year, but that’s a decision we’ll make as a family,” he said.

Unlike parents who are able to relocate when it’s time for their children to enter a ski academy, John King doesn’t have the option of simply picking up his established orthodontic practice and moving it to Colorado. That means he’d have to stay behind in Chesterfield while Donna moved out west with Lillie.

“It would probably be harder on me than anyone,” he added.

Such sacrifices aren’t uncommon for parents tasked with nurturing their children’s extraordinary natural gifts.

With frequent travel, equipment and coaching fees, skiing is one of the most expensive sports a youngster can pursue. But the Kings remain committed to doing whatever they can to help Lillie reach her potential.

“I hope I’ll make the Olympics one day,” she said. “That’s my dream.”

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