Three Americans Podium in Intermountain Healthcare Freestyle International Aerials
The U.S. Aerials Freestyle Ski Team wrapped up the Intermountain Healthcare Freestyle International at Deer Valley in style, earning three podium finishes in the first domestic Olympic tryout event for any U.S. Ski Team athlete on Saturday. Winter Vinecki and Justin Schoenefeld lead the way for the men’s and women’s teams, finishing in second behind Australia’s Danielle Scott and Switzerland’s Noe Roth respectively. The 17-year-old American up-and-comer Kaila Kuhn rounded out the podium for the women in third, while Switzerland’s Pirmin Werner claimed the position on the men’s side.
For both Vinecki and Kuhn, Saturday’s podium was their first on the iconic White Owl course at Deer Valley Resort. After an extremely busy competition schedule in January, the women were able to pull off a strong finish and positive sign as they look toward World Championships in Kazakhstan in March.
This is the third time Vinecki has found the podium this season after never quite squeezing into the top three in previous super finals. It’s also the third time Vinecki has found the podium with the back double-full-full, a trick that she just started building into her repertoire in the summer of 2020, proving to her that all her hard work is starting to pay off.
“This is the second week in a row that I’ve been on the podium with a teammate,” commented Vinecki. “Megan Nick last week in Belarus and Kaila [Kuhn] this week. It’s always fun when you have your teammates up there supporting you and we’re all having a good time and putting some good jumps down. I got a fourth-place last year at this event and so I’m super excited to get on the podium this year.”
For Kuhn, earning a podium at Deer Valley alongside her older teammate and fellow Michigan native meant the world. Bonus, Deer Valley has always been her favorite jump site.
“The conditions got pretty tough today so I’m excited to put my jumps to my feet,” reflected Kuhn. “Being on the podium with Winter, she’s one of my idols on the team so it’s awesome to jump with her and be on the podium.”
Despite not qualifying for the super final, team veteran Ashley Caldwell had a big day, returning to a triple for the first time in two years during a competition. Caldwell was right on the screws when she landed initially but had to throw a punch front to bring it all the way around, which wasn’t enough to break into the top six, despite showing the most difficult trick of the women’s field. Caldwell is known for going big at Deer Valley, and with Saturday being an Olympic tryout, commentators expected her to bring the intensity. Unfortunately, on Saturday, the landing didn’t quite click.
“I’m definitely excited that I did triples for the first time in two years in competition, but I’m also devastated at the same time,” said Caldwell. “Deer Valley is obviously a good event to perform at, it’s an Olympic qualifier event, and I trained really well. So to mess up in competition is not very fun. I’m a little devastated but I’m excited for my teammates.”
Caldwell finished the day in 12th. Tanner Tasia preceded Caldwell in 11th – her World Cup debut – followed by Megan Smallhouse (13), Megan Nick (21), Madison Varmette (22), and Dani Loeb (22).
Schoenefeld represented for the U.S. men, sending a huge back double-full-full-full that nearly earned him the win. But Switzerland’s Roth executed a more difficult trick almost flawlessly, putting him just enough ahead to send Schoenefeld into second – earning him the second podium of his career, and his first podium of the season. Schoenefeld topped the podium in Belarus in 2020 but since has struggled to break into the top three after qualifying for multiple super finals.
“This winter has been pretty challenging,” said Schoenfeld. “I made a couple of super finals and ended up with a fourth and two fifths. I guess I just hadn’t figured it out yet this season on what I really needed to do in super finals, but today I think I knew what was up.”
Teammate Chris Lillis threw a double-full-full-full during the first final, the highest degree of difficulty the men’s competition had seen so far on Saturday. Unfortunately, a sticky landing with a small hand drag was too big of a mistake for him to overcome to break into the super final.
Lillis ended the day in 7th, followed by Eric Loughran (9), Quinn Dehlinger (15), Derek Krueger (24), and Nick Novak (25).
Overall, Head Coach Vladimir Lebedev was satisfied with Saturday’s results. In preparation for World Championships in March (only a month away), Lebedev thinks the number one thing his athletes need to prioritize looking ahead is rest.
“In January we had nine events, which is a lot. We have competed for a month-and-a-half straight, so everyone is tired,” explained Lebedev. “I’m glad the whole team handled the schedule well. I know we are moving in the right direction into the World Championships, but first, the team needs to take a break and rest.”
*Subject to change
All times EST
Sunday, Feb. 7
8:00 p.m., Intermountain Healthcare Freestyle International Dual Moguls World Cup - next-day broadcast, Deer Valley, USA, Broadcast NBCSN
9:30 p.m., Intermountain Healthcare Freestyle International Aerials World Cup - next-day broadcast, Deer Valley, USA, Broadcast NBCSN
Sunday, Feb 21
1:00 p.m., Intermountain Healthcare Freestyle International Moguls World Cup - Deer Valley, USA, NBC Sports
Sunday, March 14
12:00 p.m., Intermountain Healthcare Freestyle International Aerials World Cup - Deer Valley, USA, NBC Sports