Some kids are born to slide on snow. Others are raised that way. Here’s how three kids started turning heads.
You know Mikaela Shiffrin’s story by now: How her father, Jeff Shiffrin, a former collegiate ski racer, had her skip the snowplow and go right to carving turns, skis parallel and on edge. Her mom, Eileen, another college ski racer, bought her a unicycle so she could work on balance. That was just the start.
And you may have heard of Kai Jones who was featured in the 2018 Teton Gravity Research film “Far Out” when he was just 11. Now, 15, Kai hucks some big air in the latest TGR release, “Stoke the Fire.” It didn’t hurt that Kai’s father, pro skier Todd Jones (who grew up skiing in Stowe, Vt.), is one of TGR’s founders and his backyard stomping ground is Jackson Hole, Wyo.
But that’s not always the trajectory, especially if your parents are not big skiers or you don’t go to a ski academy.
Take freeride phenom Luke Miele, 15: he’s been a weekend skier, commuting to Mad River Glen from Wellesley, Mass. He happens to be friends with Kai Jones, whom he’s been competing against for 5 years, and beating.
Or 7-year-old ski racer Cambria McCarthy: Her parents only started learning to ski in Pennsylvania four years ago, when she did. She’s only finished second once in a race.
Or snowboarder Harley “Lil Homie” Ruffle, age 4. His parents don’t snowboard but he’s already getting shout-outs from pros such as OIympic gold medalist Red Gerard and X Games gold medalist Zeb Powell on Instagram. Yes, this 4-year-old already has an Instagram page with more than 2,500 followers and sponsors.
What sets these three apart from the thousands of other kids who show talent? Well, maybe nothing except the level of passion and dedication they bring to their sports. It’s inspiring.
[For video of these three in action see vtskiandride.com/launching-kids/]
Freeskier Luke Miele, Age 15
In early February 2020, just before the pandemic put competitions on hold, Luke Miele stood near the top of Grand Targhee, Wyo., ready to take his first run in the International Freeriders & Snowboarders Association (IFSA) Grand Targhee Nationals. The 37 other competitors in the 12- to 14-year-old age group were all from the West, specifically such playgrounds of knife-edge ridgelines and pillow-covered boulders as Alta, Jackson Hole, Big Sky, and Alyeska.
Miele, at the time a 14-year-old from Wellesley, Mass., was representing his home mountain, Mad River Glen, in the freeskiing competition. On his first run, he dropped a 20-foot cliff, arced down the fall line, cut left into some tight trees, then burst out of them to drop another cliff. Then, he dropped into a straight line, funneling through a narrow chute between more trees. His run edged out Zenin Quinn from the Palisades Tahoe and Kai Jones to earn the highest score. On Luke’s second run, he placed second but the combined scores earned him the national championship title for his age group.
Luke’s proudest moment was at another IFSA event at Snowbird, Utah. “What I like most is skiing a line that others don’t and getting really creative. In Snowbird I was looking at this line at Silver Fox and thinking where I could get some airs,” he said. Using skills he learned negotiating rocks and trees in Vermont, Luke won that event and, in fact, has won every one of the eight IFSA events he’s entered the last two years. In 2020, his season-long video edit also took first place in TGR’s Grom Comp.
If you ask Luke how he got so good he’ll tell you it was just from following his friends and parents around Mad River Glen. When he was 6, his family started renting a house in Moretown and then, five years ago, bought their ski house in Fayston. During Covid, Luke was home schooled and the family spent most of the winter there. “I got to ski every single day from December to March and then in 2021 I did that again,” he says. At the Fayston house, Luke and his friends built a kicker so they could perfect their jumps and strung up lights. “I’d ski all day at Mad River Glen and then come home and we’d practice jumps there at night,” he says. He did his first backflip behind the house at age 11.
Luke was never formally in “ski school” but when he was 10 he was finally old enough to join the Mad River Glen Freeski Team where he worked with coaches such as José Darius and Hans von Briesen. That program has turned out an impressive legacy of talent, such as pro skiers Ryan Hawks, Lars and Silas Chickering-Ayers, Brooks Curran, Dylan Dipentima, Tim McClellan and others.
“The goal of our program is to train future coaches who can then teach and inspire the next generation,” says Ry Young who has grown the Mad River Freeski Team from 8 to nearly 80 over two decades. “What makes these kids so good is they ski with, learn from and follow the kids who went before them,” he says.
In 2011, Mad River Glen skiers Lars and Silas Chickering-Ayers took gold and silver at the World Extreme Championships in Crested Butte, Colo. and both brothers have coached Luke. “He’s a really strong, consistent skier,” says Silas who was with Luke in Grand Targhee for the 2020 championships. “And he’s not someone who gets super competitive. He’s just a really nice kid,” he says.
“Mad River Glen may not have a terrain park, which seems to be how so many kids train these days, but kids there learn how to do tricks off the natural terrain or build kickers themselves. There’s just a lot of energy and excitement and enthusiasm in that program,” says Silas.
In the past two years, Mad River Glen skier Natalie Slade has placed fourth in the IFSA World Junior Championships and Sophia Bisbee placed fifth at the 2021 Freeride Junior World Championship in Verbier.
Luke counts fellow IFSA World Tour competitor and MRG skiers Owen Deale among his posse and when he heads out to Jackson Hole, he’s often skiing with Kai Jones and his dad, Todd.
“A lot of skiers out West ski well in the big wide-open bowls but growing up skiing the ice and tight trees makes me a stronger skier,” Luke says. “My goal this season is to qualify for World Championships in Austria. I’m finally old enough but I have to be the top-ranked skier in the East.”
His other goal? Help his parents improve. “All my friends whom I ski with, we’re trying to get our dads to do 360s. My dad says he has done a few when I’m not skiing with him, but I don’t know if I believe him. But our parents are pretty good: they keep trying.” —L.L.
Ski Racer Cambria McCarthy, Age 7
When Killian McCarthy posted a video of his daughter Cambria, “Cammie,” age 5, laying her skis on edge and carving slalom turns, he had no idea it would go viral. “Two years later, it’s gotten like a million views,” says Cammie’s mother, Alisha Becker, shaking her head. “I’m not much of a skier so I didn’t really know how good she was,” she said.
In fact, neither parent skied; Killian snowboarded and Alisha was learning to ski. “We just thought skiing would be a fun thing to do outdoors as a family,” Alisha remembers. Blue Mountain was near their home in Pennsylvania. So, on a February day in 2017 when Cammie was 3 and a half, they rented gear from the local Army & Navy store and put Cammie in a lesson. “It was fun. I really liked my instructor, Sharon,” says Cammie, flashing what is now her trademark smile.
The next stop was a family trip to Vermont and Okemo Mountain Resort. Okemo’s ski program Snow Stars allowed Cammie in early because she could already stop and turn. “After that week, she was making parallel turns and starting to edge her skis a little and actually trying to angulate. We were blown away. At that time, I was still skiing in a pizza wedge and crying,” Alisha says with a laugh. “She did not learn it from us.”
At age 4, Cammie got her first pair of Lange RSJ50 ski boots. She was now getting her skis on both edges. She started participating in the local race program a year early and ended up winning her first race against kids who were older.
Cammie also started watching race videos. “She had the TV clicker one day and was browsing through channels and saw a ski race going on. After that, she became obsessed with watching ski racing,” Alisha remembers. When the kids in her ski program started making race bibs one day, Cammie wanted a replica of Mikaela Shiffrin’s Olympic race bib. Her mom helped her make it and it read “Salt Lake City, 2030.” “I was so surprised because all of the other kids wanted unicorns and flowers,” says Alisha.
That Thanksgiving, the family headed to Killington so Cammie could watch Shiffrin and the world’s top technical racers race the Homelight World Cup. “It was really exciting to see them all racing down Superstar,” says Cammie, who can now ski that expert trail top to bottom, non-stop. After the race, she stood around for more than two hours in the cold and eventually got a chance to meet Shiffrin. “It was amazing,” says Cammie.
That meeting decided two things for the family: they were going to move to Vermont and enroll Cammie in a ski academy. After looking at Green Mountain Valley School and a few other places, they decided on Killington Mountain School and found a house in Rutland. “People kept saying we should live in Killington, but we loved Rutland – it has all the things our town in Pennsylvania had,” says Alisha.
The couple own a beauty products line and a business doing hair and makeup for weddings and events. “Most of our business is in the summer, so we had the flexibility to be up here,” says Alisha. Cammie’s older brother Robbie is also at KMS now and her baby sister Willa may be on skis soon.
“I think one thing that helped Cammie is we had her doing gymnastics from a really early age,” says Killian. “That built up her core strength and taught her balance.” While her parents were not skiers, Killian had played football in college (and his father played for the New York Giants) and Alisha was a cheerleader.
“The main thing is we haven’t pushed her: she just loves it,” says Alisha. Cammie skied 164 days in 2020. “She went to Mt. Hood, Ore., last summer for three weeks for a ski camp and she only called home three times,” says Alisha. As for her results? Ask Cammie what race she’s most proud of and she says this: “It’s the time I came in second, because I was racing against girls who were much older.”
That was the only time she’s not finished in first. —L.L.
Snowboarder Harley Ruffle, Age 4
Early season riding at Killington is not easy. Negotiating the two trails of mostly man-made snow on Rime and Reason, takes real skill, especially after they have been punished both by the weather and hundreds of hard core skiers and snowboarders. Beginners are wise to wait for more terrain to open. But for Harley Ruffle, age 4, known on social media as @lilhomie802, it’s the chance he’s been waiting for to get back on his board and he’s out there as soon as the snow flies.
“I like getting huge air and I like all my homies,” Harley says when asked what his favorite thing is about snowboarding. In a video his mom uploaded to Instagram on Nov. 3, Harley quips: “The mountain opens on Friday. Get your shred on.”
“Kid’s nuts,” Harley’s mom Jill Ruffle says with a laugh and a shrug. “Last year, I told him the park was just for big kids, but this year there was no stopping him.”
The Ruffles live in Killington, spreading out between a condo and a specially equipped shred van they worked on all summer. Gary Ruffle, a skier and skateboarder, grew up splitting his time between Long Island, N.Y. and Middletown Springs, Vt., while Jill, whose first love is surfing, called the New Jersey shore home. These days, Gary works as a chef and Jill, who was formerly in public relations, focuses on Harley and her two other kids, with a side gig working with a local football league.
For the past three winters, they’ve been committed to staying as close to the mountain as possible, hoping to keep Harley occupied. During the 2019/20 season Lil Homie made the 100 day club, riding 100 days that season at Killington.
It’s a good thing, because when he can’t snowboard, Harley is literally bouncing off the walls. During the summer, the Ruffles spend a lot of time at places such as the trampolines at Elevate Movement Collective in Stowe and the Darkside skatepark in Killington. That helps, but it’s only when Harley is strapped into his tiny Rome snowboard that it seems he’s truly happy.
Harley is big for 4, but he still needs help getting on and off the North Ridge quad, which is not detachable and can catch even full-sized riders off guard. Jill and Gary take turns shuttling Harley up to the snow depending on the day and rely on a cast of “big homies” to help keep Harley safe and moving. He has no trouble when momentum is on his side, but on the flats, sometimes he needs a push. As of press time, Harley weighed in at 42 pounds.
Standing 3’3” tall, Harley can be easily spotted thanks to his long blond locks and bright green alien helmet with two antennae sticking up. From afar, he looks like he could easily be 8 years old, but up close his round cheeks and bright blue eyes make it slightly easier to guess his real age.
The locals at Killington all know him well and shouts of “Lil Homie!” can be heard repeatedly from the chairlift as the tiny shredder not just successfully, but skillfully, navigates the challenging terrain. He also stops to wave at people and “sightsee,” as Jill calls it, some of the adorable moments that remind you just how young he is. When he does open his mouth, he spouts out snowboard jargon learned from riders more than four times his age. “You’re a Jerry!” is one of Harley’s favorite sayings.
There’s no sense getting offended though, and seeing him snowboard in person is even more impressive than watching the videos on Instagram. Harley has real board control and his own unique style. He often turns quickly, spotting a mogul and catching air, as his personal film crew (mostly just his mom and friends holding iPhones) captures footage for his rabid social media fans. He’s also not scared of park features, even after an altercation with a box last season required emergency dental surgery. Harley was back to lapping the Killington Peace Park the same day.
On Instagram, @lilhomie802 has already amassed over 2,500 followers since the very first post on Aug. 13, 2019, which is a photo of him as a short-haired toddler, rocking Vans and standing on his brand-new skateboard at Darkside Snowboard shop. Now, on any given day his DM’s are filled with shout-outs from pro snowboarders such as Red Gerard, Zeb Powell and Joey Okesson, who send him video messages from wherever they happen to be riding that day. “You rule, homie!” is a common refrain. “I am amazed how big he sends it!” says Powell.
Harley has been invited to ride out west by “basically everyone,” Jill says, and he recently picked up a clothing sponsor, Shred Dog, which sends him boxes of gear that most pros would envy.
Harley’s skills improve by the day, and this year, he’s on track to log his third 100-plus-day season. “It’s been pretty incredible watching Harley progress. I have some photos of it, but I still remember the first day we put him on a board and sent him down the little snow there was in the Dark Park. I think he was two at the time,” Darkside general manager Tucker Zink says.
“The following winter, Gary and Jill begged us to ‘give him lessons’ because neither of them snowboarded,” Zink continues. “He wasn’t talking at the time, so I had a hard time picturing him taking instruction. I’ll give his parents all the credit — they brought him to the mountain. Every. Single. Day.”
Harley is the youngest of Jill’s four kids, and she fondly refers to herself as an “aggressive sports mom.” All her children are very athletic and highly accomplished in their sports of choice — namely soccer, lacrosse and horseback riding — but Harley is her first winter sports kid. Her permissive and encouraging style, along with her background in surfing, have definitely helped his skills. But as Zink points out, the number one factor to his success is simply how much time he spends on snow.
“Even if it was just to putt around in the start park, he was on his board constantly. And that’s why he rips! He started young, built the muscle memory, and got to watch all his homies rip around him. Monkey see, monkey do,” Zink laughs. “He also has no fear, and maybe that’s just a lack of experience, but he does just go for it most of the time!”
This season, Harley said he has one specific goal. “I like the parks because I do crazy tricks and I want to do a flip this season!” he says. —Brooke Geery