It's always tough being the new guy, showing up at a foreign place where the rest of the crew already knows one another. At least that's the way I felt when Josh Berman invited me to Alpine Meadows, California, last winter to shoot with the Level 1 crew. The film they created, called "Eye Trip," is premiering tonight at a theater in Denver. And there's a kid in that film, Parker White, who you should know. I met him by chance.
When I got to Alpine last winter, I thought I had stumbled upon a suburban version of Diddy's "Making The Band" -- everyone was cranking hip hop and draped in tall tees. But there was this one kid -- unabashed, genuinely friendly and inquisitive -- who rolled up to me a few minutes after I arrived. He was a short hobbit boy and looked almost too young to be there, like he'd wrangled a fake ID and snuck into the bar. "Hey, my name is Parker, what's yours?" he asked.
The next morning, Berman had us up early to shoot a kicker. As the crew went though its paces, there was one kid who had a bit more style on the jump than the others. Since everyone was decked out in hoodies and facemasks I couldn't recognize anyone. I hit cinematographer Kyle Decker on the radio. "Who is the little ninja in the Ronald McDonald suit?" I asked. Decker replied, "Oh, that's Parker."
This was my introduction to Parker White, a 19-year-old phenom who won the 2010 Gatorade Free Flow Tour stop in Mammoth and went on to the finals at Mount Snow, his home mountain.
Parker and his partner in crime Chris Logan continued to impress all weekend and then took their game faces to Sun Valley, Idaho, to hit a jump for the record books. I've shot some large jumps in my time -- Chad's Gap, Mary Ellen Gap, Pyramid Gap and a few Travis Rice favorites in Jackson Hole -- but this thing was legitimately the biggest jump I'd ever seen. Consequences were life or death, but Parker looked as if he'd been dropped off at Disneyland with a free pass to ride the amusement park as long as he wanted.
As the session came to a close, the sunset and clouds started to turn psychedelic. Beads of sweat formed on my brow. I'm not one to claim "cover shot" but the light, composition and feature were all perfect. The only thing missing: a skier to hit it with style. I plead my case with the dreaded "one more time" request. Parker replied with the magic words. "Yeah, Stan, I'll hit it a few more times for you." I couldn't help but think it: This kid is a shred android from another planet.
He nailed the shot a few attempts later with a switch 5 Japan. The photo I took of Parker ended up being the DVD cover of "Eye Trip." "It's the biggest thing that has ever happened to me," Parker says about his cover shot. "I got an email from Berman labeled Top Secret. It had the photo attached and the words, 'Congratulations, buddy!'"
Recently, I met with Parker over coffee in Park City. He'd just returned from coaching at Windells. He ended up living in a kid's tent all summer, the Jr. Scout Dome Tent. "I didn't really look at the size when I bought it, I just grabbed the cheapest one I could find at Wal-Mart," he says, laughing. "It wasn't so bad, a little cramped at times but I still managed to have a few babes over, so that was my second biggest accomplishment this year." Returning to his first, I ask him about that jump in Sun Valley. "Man, that jump was massive," Parker says. "It was a good crew and it was cool to be there because in the 70s, Sun Valley was the place to be, but they kind of lost their scene and everyone grew up. I think with a good park it could get back to that."
"You weren't even alive in the 70s," I say.
"Yeah, but we met these loc dogs around Apple's restaurant and they were telling us some of the good ol' days stories," he says. "You know? Hot girls in one-piece outfits and all night ragers. Kind of like those old Lange posters, so I got the idea."
Parker grew up skiing at Bromley, Vermont, and when he was 16, he convinced his parents to let him go to school the first semester, then take classes online the second semester so he could go to Mammoth to ski. "I'm not going to lie," Parker says. "Living with a bunch of 22- and 23-year-olds wasn't the best for getting assignments done. I was always getting behind."
Since he went pro at 15, he's focused on slopestyle. I ask him what he thinks of all the triples going down lately, by the likes of Sammy Carlson and Bobby Brown. "I always put style first. Rotations are cool to do but they shouldn't be the complete focus. That said, triples are pretty sick and really nuts," Parker says. "Still there's so much to be figured out with double flips. So many different axes, triple flips will eventually go that way too but it's just being conscious of style and tweaks. Making things look good without being an aerialist."
I'm beginning to reassess my thoughts. Maybe this kid isn't an android. He's just a funny 19-year-old who likes skiing, girls and adventures. Parker tells me he's thinking about getting into the backcountry. "I look at it like this, the park is like a canvas," he says. "You practice the art but being out on a real mountain is like experiencing the painting. I want to get out there. Explore."