Credit: Blake Jorgenson/Red Bull Content Pool
He's been called the future of skiing for several years, and it's still trueWhistler, B.C. // Age: 19
He landed his first sponsors at the age of 11 and was Red Bull’s youngest-ever sponsored athlete at 13. But it wasn’t until the 2009 release of the Matchstick Productions film In Deep—which opens with a 16-year-old Pettit stepping out of a helicopter to drop what looks like an unskiable pillow line, throwing flips off Alaskan cliffs, and declaring a 720-degree spin “super mellow”—that the skiing public woke up to the teen’s potential. Pettit has won or made the podium in every big-mountain ski event he’s entered in the last two years, but a large part of his appeal is that, more than any other pro skier, he always looks like he’s truly having fun. “Sean has been called ‘the future of skiing’ for about seven or eight years, and it’s still true,” says Matchstick’s Mike Hans. And at 19, Pettit’s just getting started.
You moved to Whistler when you were six. How much time did you spend in ski school growing up?
We did one year of a program and hated it. After that we never did any more. My brother and I would ride around by ourselves or with a posse of friends. We skied every weekend. And my mom would take us out of school on powder days.
Are there benefits to being self-taught?
I think skiing in your own way is better than someone else telling you how to do it. When I first skied powder, I didn’t know how. It took me a while to feel it out—I think it’s like how kids can soak up a language.
What skiers did you look up to as a kid?
I didn’t. Before I got sponsored I didn’t know a single pro skier. I didn’t even know you could get paid to ski—I didn’t follow skiing at all. When I entered my first competition and was skiing with [American free-skiing star] Tanner Hall, I didn’t even know who he was.
How has big-mountain skiing progressed since you first became a pro?
It used to be you were just getting to the bottom of a line. It didn’t matter how you did it. Now style and speed are important. And there are lots of big airs with tricks involved. Everything needs to be so perfect.
How do you stay current in a sport that’s changing that fast?
I just know that I have to keep making it look good. I’m trying new tricks every year. But I don’t have to keep up with what the guys are doing in the park and half-pipe. I’ve found what works for me—the backcountry and powder. I’m just having fun.
Me and a group of friends, 10 pro skiers from B.C., are forming a crew and making our own ski movie. It’s called The Kids; we’re all under 25. We want to try and make a different style of ski movie. We want people to laugh and make it enjoyable to watch, so when they’re done, they want to watch it again.