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Kasper Treadway with his dad Dave at the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, B.C., on Dec. 31, 2015. (Dave Best for The Globe and Mail)
Kasper Treadway with his dad Dave at the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, B.C., on Dec. 31, 2015. (Dave Best for The Globe and Mail)

Freeskiing’s next great generation gets an early start Add to ...

Kasper Treadway is on the verge of becoming a professional freeskier. He jumps, banks sidewalls, whips around trees, weaves through moguls. Today, he’s jacked to do a backflip.

“I like to snowboard, ski and boogie-board,” Kasper says, eating a muffin in Kicking Horse Mountain Resort’s day lodge. “I got a snowboard from Santa.”

Kasper is two years old. And he has one more thing to do before going skiing.

“I have to go pee,” he announces. The kid, like all pro skiers, is potty-trained. He holds his dad’s hand as he trundles down the stairs in the lodge to do his business.

For now, Kasper is known as Dave and Tessa Treadway’s kid. Those two are big-time pros: They ski for a living; they’re the faces of brands. Dave’s last ski adventure movie was 2013’s Let’s Go Get Small; Tessa, who has pulled back from freeskiing competitions, was pregnant with Kasper when she was on a billboard in Vancouver, advertising Whistler Blackcomb; and both have been featured in ski magazines around the world.

But Dave and Tessa will soon be known as Kasper’s parents. The parents posted a clip of Kasper skiing about two months ago, and it has had 106,000 hits. Some strangers now recognize Kasper, but not his pedigree, on the slopes. Rossignol, one of Dave’s and Tessa’s sponsors, sent Kasper skis before he could walk. Powder magazine, the ski industry’s top publication, ran a shot of the 13-kilogram ripper at Whistler in last December’s issue. His parents’ heads were cropped out of the frame.

The black-and-white photo captures two things: The beginning of Kasper’s mainstream fame and a marketing move that will extend his parents’ skiing careers.

Professional skiing is a competitive job centred on skill and image: The best ski faster, jump higher, rotate more, tackle bigger mountains, collect more followers on Instagram and tell great tales. Corporate sponsors pay their athletes salaries and provide them with gear. The payoff is product placement: Recreational skiers see pros such as Dave wearing Gordini gloves and Tessa sporting Giro goggles in magazine spreads, movies and lift lines, and want to emulate them. But it can be a short career; it is risky, physically demanding and fiercely competitive – young stars are always challenging their elders for spots on the payroll.

Kasper, however, gives Dave and Tessa an edge over their contemporaries. Seen together on the mountain, they embody a marketing niche in the ski industry: the skiing family. The Treadways are proof that adults do not have to give up their ski vacations once they reproduce.

Marketing executives want to show that despite the occasional lift-line tantrum and chalet diaper-change, family skiing is both possible and fun. So Kasper will keep his parents relevant – and therefore paid to ski – while their knees age and as they trade big-mountain lines for family time.

And Kasper will be landing big tricks in real life, rather than just in his imagination, long before the family schtick gets old. All this toddler wants to do is fly. “I’ll do a 180,” he says, planning his day. “A backflip.”

Kasper wears black ski boots, a blue snowsuit and a green helmet. He jumps up and down between his parents on the bench inside a gondola at Kicking Horse, near Golden, B.C. “Hey, that’s sun,” he says when they rise above the cloud line. Tessa gives him Smarties. Kasper shares with other people in the gondola. He asks an adult if she can do ski tricks, too. No, she says. “It’s okay,” Kasper replies. “I can teach you.”

Barely started into his first run, he skis over a half-metre drop. He bypasses the groomed stretch beside Crystal Bowl, beelining for the soft bumps. He makes solid S turns down the gentle, ungroomed slope. Tessa skis with him between her legs only when he loses momentum going up knolls. Kasper heads for the trees. He knows where the jumps are. Tessa cheers. “Go Kasper goooo!”

He wipes out.

Kasper, on the chairlift to another peak, tells his parents he didn’t get much air on the last jump, so he’s going for more this time. The little guy comes in with more speed, bends his knees, and pops up near the top of the bump. He catches a few centimetres of air – enough to see the shadows of his skis on the snow. He keeps going.

Tessa and Dave take turns carrying Kasper down steep pitches and depositing him in the woods. They prefer that he ski in moguls and trees because the obstacles force him to turn. “Hey, hey, hey! Slow down,” Tessa says when Kasper gets going too fast in the trees between Euphoria and Bubbly – two black-diamond runs at Kicking Horse. It is a suggestion, not a scolding.

Kasper, who walked at 10 months and started skiing at 16 months, darts into his favourite run. He calls it the Dirt Bike Run. It isn’t a run. It is a path through the bushes. Kasper banks corners, zips over rollers and tries to jump everything. He racks up 1,500 vertical metres before nap time.

Zoya Lynch is a professional ski photographer, former pro skier and one of Tessa’s friends. She spent 72 hours taking pictures of the Treadways in Whistler for a photo contest in January. “Kasper represents pure joy as a skier,” she says. “It is really hard to shoot him because he doesn’t stop. And as soon as you try to stop him, the fun times are over. He’ll have a meltdown.”

“He goes so fast. He just goes straight. He hits every jump. He has absolutely no fear,” Lynch adds. “It is passion in the purest, tiniest form.”

Tessa and Dave Treadway are not stereotypical big-mountain skiers. They sport white crucifixes on their helmets. They talk about faith in interviews with ski magazines. They co-founded a chapter of Young Life, a Christian outreach group for teens, in Pemberton, B.C., north of Whistler, around 2009. They lead outings ranging from skiing to wakeboarding as part of their quest to “show kids you can be Christian and not boring,” Tessa, 29, says.

Now they live in an 18-foot camper with a toddler so they can stick together as they travel around the mountains for work. Tessa, however, hopes they are out of the camper by the arrival of their second child, expected in June. (Kasper, who tried to ski down stairs before he learned to ski on snow, wants a brother and thinks his name should be Mowgli.)

Tessa misses hot baths after skiing, but living in the RV means Kasper does not miss Dave when his dad would otherwise be away shooting movies. That, and it’s good for business.

“The main image that I see with parents who are professional athletes … is them saying ‘I have to go away from my family, and that’s too bad and that sucks,’” Dave, 31, says. “We’ve made a conscious decision that the statement or image that we’re portraying is … playing together as a family. The image for others is that it’s cool to do that. It’s fun. You can shift your focus and still have a great time playing in the mountains.”

The rebranding is working: Destination British Columbia, an organization that promotes tourism in B.C., paid Dave, Tessa, and Kasper to be in a photo shoot earlier this winter at Big White, a ski resort outside Kelowna.

Meanwhile, Rossignol, the global sporting goods company based in France that sponsors the Treadways, is revamping its own image. It wants to appear more family-friendly and rooted in communities. So it’s shifting away from extreme skiing shots in its catalogues to emphasize skiing as a family, according to Chris Horan, the company’s general manager in Canada.

The Treadways, as brand ambassadors, check all the boxes: They are fixtures at Whistler, volunteer with youth groups, remain top-tier skiers and taught Kasper to slide on snow when his feet were so small that they would slip out of his boots. Rossignol avoids sponsoring young kids, but Kasper and his parents get a pass as they move in the same philosophical direction when it comes to playing as a family.

“They are relevant to our brand,” Horan said. “We would certainly support that family in their initiative … They are a big part of our history and hopefully a big part of our future.”

Peak Performance, a Swedish company that makes high-end sports apparel, also sponsors Dave and Tessa. Amber Nero, the company’s country manager in Canada, says Kasper will keep the Treadways and others who follow their path in the game.

“They don’t have to retire,” she says. “They somewhat stay in the spotlight … because everyone is so curious [about Kasper] and interested in looking at them and their kids doing it together. So they are still being highlighted.”

Indeed, in the picture of Kasper in Powder magazine, his parents’ Peak Performance snowsuits are in focus as they stand behind him and his Giro helmet.

Kasper has skied and snowboarded about 50 days already this year, and put in about 40 last year, Tessa says. He wears diapers while skiing because sometimes he conks out on chairlifts or in the middle of runs. Tessa has turned down work since he arrived: “Breastfeeding,” she says, jokingly, can make it tricky. “And being a mom is my priority.” Dave has shied away from some ski opportunities, too, she says.

The tyke already trumps his parents when it comes to casual skiers. Tessa hears the whispers.

“Dave and Kasper were walking together [at Whistler in January] and I heard people say: ‘Hey, that’s that little Kasper Treadway.’ And they didn’t mention anything about Dave Treadway,” Tessa says. “There were people on the ski hill asking: ‘Hey, is that the little kid who just had a video? Is he only two years old?’ [They were] wanting to know all about him, and not at all interested in who I was. It was pretty awesome. I’m stoked.

“And Kasper doesn’t have a clue.”

Kasper’s genetic ties to skiing extend beyond mom and dad. Dave grew up around Kenora, Ont., and his two older brothers – Dan and Daryl – have also cashed in on their ski skills as Whistler fixtures. (Dave and Daryl appear together in a two-page spread in the December issue of Powder). Dave left Kenora for Fernie, B.C., then went to Chamonix in France, and eventually landed in Whistler. Tessa is from Quebec’s Eastern Townships, where her parents ran a ski school at Glen Mountain on the side. Her parents are now institutions at Kicking Horse – they moved to Golden one winter to ski and never left. So Kasper’s parents both started chasing their professional ski dreams when they were teenagers.

Tessa and Dave worry Kasper will do what they do: make a living at a sport that has killed some of their friends. Kasper is already known in the ski industry by virtue of his parents, and his skills are developing quickly. If he wants, Kasper will have little difficulty becoming a pro skier in his own right. His parents know this, but they are not rooting for him to choose skiing for a career.

“I hope he loves skiing, so we can do this as a family, but no, I think we both hope [he chooses a safer career],” Tessa says while Kasper sleeps through lunch at the top of Kicking Horse. “We just both know the life – especially as big-mountain skiers – there’s so much death, risk.”

Kasper wakes from his nap, whines and eats fries, dipping them in mayo and ketchup. He’s ready to go again and skis another 1,260 vertical metres in the afternoon, although with more rides from mom and dad this time. Then he snowboards on the bunny hill.

For now, Kasper does not care about magazines or how sponsorships work. He is back in Kicking Horse’s day lodge, licking a metal rail in the cafeteria.

“I like yams,” he says when he comes back to the table. He says he does not want to be a pro skier when he grows up. He wants to be a monster.

“Roar, roar, monster,” Kasper says. “I want to be a fireman. And I want to have a fire truck.”

He settles on being a monster. He scrunches up his face. “You don’t have to be scared of them,” he says. “Sometimes they are scary. Sometimes they are not.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Peak Performance as a Swiss company.

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