USA Second in Ruka Team Aerials
The U.S. Freestyle Aerial Team ended their four weeks in Ruka, Finland, on a high note, capturing second place in the Team Aerials FIS World Cup on Saturday. Winter Vinecki, Chris Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld represented the U.S., beating out seven nations for their podium spot.
Rain early in the day made for some high speeds and had athletes starting further down the in-run for the one-jump World Cup event that kicked off a full day of competition. Vinecki claimed the top American spot with a fifth place finish. Kaila Kuhn was right on her heels in sixth. On the men’s side, athletes were throwing down near-perfect jumps to land on the top of the podium. Lillis earned a 12th place for the best finish of the American men. Schoenefeld came in 14th.
“It was super exciting to end on a high note here in Finland, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs getting in the rhythm of things,” said Vinecki. “It was good to get a good jump to my feet in the singles event. I was super excited to be in the Team event, it was only my second one. [We were so close] to the top of the podium there. This gave us a bit of a confidence boost for the rest of the season.”
Australia went 1-2 in the single-jump World Cup with Danielle Scott claiming first and Laura Peel coming in second. China’s Mengtao Xu rounded out the podium in third. Russia’s Maxim Burov continued his dominance on the men’s side with another win, and Switzerland went 2-3 with Noe Roth and Pirmin Werner, respectively.
Karenna Elliott finished 15th, Ashley Caldwell 17th, Megan Nick 21st and Dani Loeb 31st. Eric Loughran finished 19, Quinn 35th and Derek Kreuger 40th.
In the Team event Vinecki laid down a Double-Full Full in both rounds, and pulled off an impressive save in the second finals round. She came in a little hot but managed to keep it to her feet. “I was able to save it, I was very determined not to fall, especially with it being a team event. I said to myself ‘I am going to land this’ and did,” she said.
Lillis stomped both of his Double-Full Full Fulls in the team event. Coming off of a crash in training two weeks ago, Lillis was thrilled to be back out on the triple. “It was just a pretty big step forward for me personally,” he said. “I had a pretty traumatic crash that caused me to pull out of the events [last week]. Getting back out there jumping at high caliber felt good.”
Although Lillis holds a bronze medal for the Team event in World Championships from 2021, this marked his first World Cup Team competition. He was excited to get that experience, and to do so with one of his best friends. “It was a lot of fun. [We have been] looking to put this together for a while. It was a lot of fun to jump with Justin, he’s one of my best friends. All of us, Justin, Winter and I, we had a good chemistry and vibe on the hill.”
Schoenefeld acted as anchor and came through with his Double-Full Full Fulls, clinching the podium spot for Team USA in the second finals round. “It was great being in the team event and finding success today.”
Aerials may be an individual sport, but it takes a village for any aerial skier to land on the podium, especially during a Team event. “We have some amazing coaches to help us get here: Vlad, JC and Bergy. It’s a team effort for sure,” said Vinecki.
Team China won Saturday’s Team event and Team Ukraine came in third.
The team travels back to the U.S. Sunday for a rest period and the chance to see the sun again “I’m going to start [this break] by hopefully seeing some daylight,” quipped Schoenefeld. “I’ll continue going to the gym and bouncing on the trampolines, lifting weights, and free skiing as well.”
“I’m looking forward to spending some time with my family and getting a bit of a mental break,” said Vinecki. “It’s been a long four weeks. I’m going to give my body a little bit of rest, and be fresh and ready to go. Once we leave again it will be non stop until after the Olympics.”
Lillis says he’ll be taking time to heal, “I’m definitely still on the mend, I’m not 100% yet. I’m looking forward to competing in Nationals in Bristol in my hometown. I think we (as a team) feel we have a lot more that we need to accomplish. So the whole team is looking forward to the next time we get strap in and compete.”
Aerials will compete next at U.S. National Championships scheduled for Dec. 31 at Bristol Mountain, N.Y.