Kyle Kelley will look at an average railing that runs along a set of stairs and see nothing but possibilities.
He envisions tricks like the Cab 270 frontboard tail grab that earned the 18-year-old Lake In The Hills resident a gold medal for the top trick in a team competition in late January’s Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo.
For Kelley, an accomplishment he describes as “not super crazy, but along the lines of a big deal” is the latest step toward what the former Huntley High School student hopes leads to a professional snowboarding career.
Kelley found acclaim at previous X Games, when he finished second and third, and at last year’s Snowboard National Championships, where he finished second in the Rail Jam event and 10th in the half pipe.
“You can never stop being creative and once you throw that into a contest perspective, it makes it that much better because you’re not doing what everyone else is doing,” Kelley said in a phone interview Wednesday from Colorado. “You’re doing something that no one else did. It’s that creative aspect in my mind that deserves higher respect than the moves everyone else is doing.”
Much of Kelley’s inspiration for tricks comes from watching snowboarding videos. He’ll see what other rail riders are doing and combine that with his skill set, resulting in tricks like his gold medal performance in Aspen, when he pulled off the feat the first time he ever attempted it.
Kelley is comfortable in more traditional snowboarding competitions, but gains more enjoyment on the rails, perfecting tricks he first picked up at Raging Buffalo Snowboard and Ski Park off Route 31 in Algonquin. While his trick repertoire may be a conglomeration of things he’s seen others do, rail riding allows Kelley to put his own spin on what he loves to do.
Despite the extreme nature of her son’s chosen path, Sherri Kelley doesn’t worry about what could happen in a competitive environment in which 25-year-old Caleb Moore died after crashing his snowmobile following a backflip during a freestyle event at the X Games.
“Kyle has always been very passionate about his snowboarding and so we’ve always wanted to support him any way we could,” she said Wednesday. “He’s been doing it since he was 5 and he’s always put 120 percent into it – it’s just what he loves to do.”
That support carried over to Kelley’s decision to leave high school last year after his competition and training schedule in Colorado kept him away for up to a month at a time. Kelley now takes classes through the American School of Correspondence.
On Saturday, Kelley will compete in the TransWorld Trans Am at Keystone, an event that sends the winner onto the finals next month in Park City, Utah. Later in the day, he’ll take part in a local Rail Jam competition in Evergreen, which pays the top finisher $500.
In addition to competing, Kelley will spent much of his time this year on filming projects, working in more urban settings rather than limiting himself to Colorado’s park systems. Pulling off tricks on big-city rails is an avenue many of his fellow snowboarders haven’t yet tapped into – again allowing the creative side to flourish.
But it also allows Kelley to enjoy a snowboarding life he characterizes as freeing – one he doesn’t see changing anytime soon.
“I’m away from everything – I’m surrounded by mountains and snow and a lot of good friends,” Kelley said. “I do have a lot of good friends back at home, but they’re all still in school – but when I come out here, I’ve got my group of friends and it’s basically waking up every morning, knowing we’re going to go snowboarding and knowing it’s going to be a fun day.
“There’s really no stress involved with it. You go through your daily routine, you go snowboarding and then you do it all over the next day.”