2019-2020 Freestyle Ski Team Season Highlights
The U.S. Freestyle Team’s 2019-2020 competitive season spanned three continents over four months and athletes stepped it up to earn 13 World Cup podiums. During a season with no World Championships or Olympic Winter Games and several new staff members to integrate, 2019-2020 was all about building: athletes built on their run progression and the teams built on their overall team culture, the results of which are a promising look ahead to the future of American freestyle skiing.
“This season we had personal bests and some outstanding performances, but we left some results on the snow,” said U.S. Ski & Snowboard Head Moguls Coach Matt Gnoza. “Looking ahead, we're not going to just move forward, we are going to assess our performances, look at the data, have the hard conversations with the team and figure out what we need to do in order to win week in and week out. As a team we know what we are capable of, like the podium performances in dual moguls at Deer Valley and Krasnoyarsk, Russia. Individually we are competitive most weeks on the World Cup, but we want to be the dominant team. Now that the season is over, everyone will take some downtime to reflect and plan. We will work as a team to hold each other accountable until we become the best team in the world.”
After a cancelled FIS Moguls Open in Sweden and a difficult World Cup opener in Finland, the Moguls Team found success at the dual moguls World Cup in Thaiwoo, China, in December when Jaelin Kauf and Hannah Soar claimed second and third, respectively. Thaiwoo marked Hannah’s first career podium, and kicked off what can only be described as a breakout season for the 20-year-old skier. Hannah qualified for every World Cup finals round, except for one, and appeared in six super finals, throwing different run packages in many. Her methodical approach to figuring out the right combination of speed and degree of difficulty earned her two podiums, and when all was said and done, she was ranked fifth in the world.
Jaelin—the fastest-woman-in-the-world—took 2019-2020 as an opportunity to progress her run and brought two new tricks to snow: a cork 7 and a back mute. The level of competition in the women’s moguls field was the best it had ever been and continuing to up the DD is imperative for staying on top. Jaelin finished the season ranked third overall, adding four World Cup podiums to her collection: second place in dual moguls in Thaiwoo, third place in dual moguls in Deer Valley, a win in dual moguls in Kazakhstan, and a third-place in dual moguls in Krasnoyarsk.
Tess Johnson also used 2019-2020 to push her skiing, bringing a 360 mute grab to competition. Although Tess did not land on the podium this season, she proved her might when she beat until-then-undefeated France’s Perrine Laffont in an epic duel on the Champion course in dual moguls at Deer Valley. Tess’ fearless skiing that night enabled three American women to compete in the quarterfinal round and clinch two podiums. Tess ended her season ranked 10th in the world. With three American women finishing ranked in the top 10, they remain the top women’s moguls team in the world.
On the men’s side, veteran Brad Wilson kicked off his World Cup season in Tremblant, Canada, after taking some extra time to rekindle his passion for the sport. He fought in every contest he entered and finally found the podium in what would be the last World Cup of the season—a third-place in duals in Krasnoyarsk.
2019-2020 saw some fresh faces enter the scene. Rookies Kai Owens, Nick Page and Alex Lewis all made their World Cup debuts. Additionally, two new coaches joined the staff: Joe Discoe and Riley Campbell.
At only 15-years-old, Kai showed great promise in adding to the depth of the women’s team. She skied in two finals rounds, the first two World Cups of her career (and the first two World Cups she ever attended) and finished the season in 24th. Nick and Alex both skied full tours and finished their seasons in 28th and 34th, respectively. Learning the ins and outs of particular courses is part of finding success on the moguls FIS World Cup tour, each course is different and each place presents unique cultural challenges. Having these young athletes ski on tour this year will be invaluable in building the Moguls Team up for success on the road to the 20220 Beijing Olympic Winter Games.
As with other sports, the Moguls’ competition season ended abruptly due to COVID-19. Athletes were in Sweden training for their final two World Cups when the European travel restrictions were announced. The team took immediate action to return to the United States. Unfortunately, virus concerns meant cancelling the U.S. Moguls National Championships at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows in California as well. Squaw will play host next season, and it should shape up to be an epic ending for the team in a place with so much freestyle history.
The Aerials Team’s season was short and sweet, as they opted to forgo the first World Cups held in China in favor of getting in more training time. Anticipation built to an all-time high for the American aerial skiers as they set to debut their World Cup season on home snow at Deer Valley on Feb. 7th. Every athlete was itching to get on the competition circuit after training at the Utah Olympic Park since November.
The 2019-2020 season marked the end of the Todd Ossian era, with new Head Coach Vladimir (Vlad) Lebedev taking the reins of the Aerials Team following Ossian’s retirement. Vlad instilled a consistent focus on training in the prep period that translated into a six World Cup podium season. Houston Deck joined the crew as the team's new athletic development coach. JC Andre joined the Aerials staff midway through the season and immediately gelled with athletes as their top-course coach.
“This season was a good first step of our plan going into the 2022 Beijing Olympics,” said Vlad. “We had new staff members coming on board and several athletes found the podium, including two World Cup wins. Looking ahead, we can’t wait to get back to training at the Utah Olympic Park—when it’s safe to do so—and working on upping our DD so that we are strong heading into the 2020-2021 season. Our focus will be a successful 2021 World Championships.”
Megan Nick earned her career-first World Cup podium at Deer Valley with a second-place after landing a trick she recently brought to snow, a double full full. Three women skied in that super final round, including Megan. Winter Vinecki finished the night just off of the podium in fourth—a career-best to date. Kaila Kuhn made her super finals debut and ended in fifth, a career-best she matched later in Kazakhstan.
The day after the Deer Valley event, the Aerials Team flew to Moscow for their five-week tour of back-to-back competitions. Although no Americans found the podium in Moscow, new team member Megan Smallhouse made her first finals and earned a career-best in ninth place.
The season-defining moment for Aerials came in Minsk, Belarus, when Justin Schoenfeld stomped his double full full full and broke the drought on American aerials wins since Kiley McKinnon’s on Jan. 6, 2018. Not only was this Justin’s first win, it was his first World Cup podium, and marked the first American men’s Aerials win since Chris Lillis won in Minsk in 2016. Chris joined Justin on the podium in Minsk in third place.
The team carried the momentum from Minsk to their inaugural World Cup in Kazakhstan. Chris claimed the win with a near-perfect double full full full and Megan earned her second career podium with another second-place finish. Quinn Dehlinger made his first finals appearance in just his fifth World Cup start, ending the event with a career-best 11th place.
In their final World Cup competition of the season, athletes faced some harsh Siberian conditions in Krasnoyarsk. The state-of-the-art venue was a welcome change from some of the less-than-ideal conditions elsewhere on tour (mainly due to warm temperatures). It was in Russia that veteran Ashley Caldwell finally found the podium with a third-place finish. Four Americans finished 2019-2020 ranked in the FIS top-15: Megan Nick (4), Winter Vinecki (10), Chris Lillis (6) and Justin Schoenefeld (10).
Aerials ended their season at their National Championships in Bristol Mountain, N.Y. Following the guidance from local health authorities, Bristol was able to hold the event spectator-free in compliance with the state’s COVID-19 gathering restrictions during that time. The greater Rochester community was amped to show their support as the event was sold-out to over 2,000 people. However, the health and safety of the athletes, workers and fans come first. Although spectator-free, the event provided a nice capstone for the team, and veterans Eric Loughran and Ashley were crowned 2020 Aerials Champions—a welcome boost to their season’s end.
There is no offseason for the athletes of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, but this prep season will look different than usual as athletes work their programs from home until it is safe to come together as a group. All will look forward to training together at their summer home, the Utah Olympic Park, and getting back to chasing snow when possible.
Relive all of this season's best Freestyle moments with the videos below!