Freeskier Kristi Leskinen is a Superstar, Officially
Kristi Leskinen has skied all over the world, throws rodeo 720s, almost went pro in wakeboarding, and has graced the pages of everything from FHM to ESPN the Magazine. And tonight at 8 pm EST, ABC aired the finale her of latest project, The Superstars, a reality show that pairs Hollywood celebrities with professional athletes to take on assorted physical feats. The big news (in case you missed it): Kristi and her partner, Dancing With the Stars‘s Maksim Chmerkovskiy, won the whole thing. (Watch it on Hulu.com.)
The 28-year-old took time out from kayaking and biking along Newport Beach to talk about her recent footrace with Buffalo Bills wide receiver Terrell Owens, her favorite ski spots, and her Olympic aspirations, among other things.
So, Kristi, you’re one of the faces of women’s freestyle skiing these days. How’d you get interested in the sport?
I grew up in Pennsylvania where the mountains are very small and you got bored quickly. I learned to jump at a young age to keep myself entertained. I started skiing at five and started skiing a lot when I was 12. I went to a ski academy in Vermont, and then I moved out to Steamboat Springs after that.
You’ve skied all over the world. Do you have a favorite spot?
Mammoth Mountain is one of my all-time favorite spots. I like Lake Tahoe, a lot, too, because of the accessibility and the weather. Colorado is this huge ski destination, but it’s absolutely freezing all the time. If you want the powder and sunshine combination, you’ve gotta go to Utah or California. I prefer skiing in the states, usually. In Europe, they don’t mark off cliffs and they don’t have the grooming capabilities we do here.
Do you have a favorite event? How about backcountry?
Slopestyle is my favorite in competition, for sure…I do mostly park training and competitions. I’ve done a lot of backcountry skiing, but a few years ago in B.C. I was in an avalanche and that scared me a bit.
Does the recent spate of in-bounds avalanches and tragic deaths in the community, like Shane McConkey, have any effect on you?
Shane was a buddy of mine, but that doesn’t affect me. I’m not exactly going and jumping off huge cliffs and trying to deploy a chute. But I’ve had friends get paralyzed even in the terrain park, so it’s definitely something you think about and consider when you’re trying to decide how big to go. You have to be careful.
Tell us about the ABC The Superstars gig. How’d it come about?
I got a call from the producers at ABC and they told me they were bringing back The Superstars. And I was a huge fan when I was younger. So, when I got the call I was ecstatic. I had to run the 50-meter dash against TO [Terrell Owens]. And, of course, I had to talk a little trash on the starting line. I was telling him I was gonna kick his butt. I didn’t beat him in the dash, but I did beat him in the swim, which was pretty awesome.
How was Maksim Chmerkovskiy, from Dancing With the Stars, as a teammate?
I have to say all the male celebrities were actually quite fit and really athletic. Maks’ strong point was running, that’s where he really boosted the team. I can run, but I really don’t like to…in fact, I’m not a big fan of the gym. I’d rather do activities. I’m riding along Newport Beach right now, I stopped to rent a kayak for an hour, and now I’m on my way to a friend’s house. But, Maks had a lot–he has a lot of superstitions. He couldn’t even tell me all of them, but you step out of the room with your left foot forward, you kiss your bracelet, we had to draw coins to see who went first and I always had to be the one to draw them. You can’t buy your girlfriend or fiancé a watch because then you’re putting a time on something. It was crazy.
What was the best part of the show?
I loved it all. When it came to bowling and archery, I didn’t have a lot of skill. Those you just have to close to your eyes and hope for the best. My family owns a marina in Pennsylvania and I grew up on the water, and the fact that this was based out of Atlantis meant I was well prepared for it. I guess the highlight of the whole show was getting to compete against all these professional athletes. It’s cool to see all of them compete in sports that they’re not used to.
And what do you get for winning?
I guess you just get to become the superstar! I can’t help but think of the Saturday Night Live skit…
How long have you been sponsored by Oakley?
I’ve been with Oakley for ten years. The cool thing about them is that they really listen to the athletes. We had a round table a week ago and got to say what we’re missing and what can we make better. So you really feel like you’re part of the family. The athletics line is the “Active” line and I think it’ll be very successfuI. I don’t think a lot people know that Oakley has patents that make it the most optically correct sunglass in the world. The big thing for me is that they’re getting really into style and fashion. At the same time, you can get some sunglasses that’re better for your eyes and better technically. Sports are always about expression. And Oakley is all about style. So what you wear kinda completes that, it’s part of you.
Any plans for the future?
I actually leave L.A. on Wednesday to go up to Oregon for a little bit of training and then to New Zealand, so I’ll be back in it this winter trying to get some more medals. I’ll be competing in slopestyle and halfpipe, but slopestyle’s where I want to get the medal, for sure.
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