Aerials Launching From Utah Olympic Park All Summer Long
The aerial skiers of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team are well underway in their summer training program at Official Training Site Utah Olympic Park (UOP). During an off-season that has been anything but “normal,” watching athletes launch and twist themselves into the pool is a welcome sight. Thanks to the efforts of U.S. Ski & Snowboard and UOP staff, specific COVID-19 protocols have been developed and implemented in order to make training possible.
The U.S. Aerials Team was originally scheduled to begin training together at the beginning of May with a two-week bungee and trampoline camp before hitting the water. However, plans pivoted and athletes had to continue to train from home until mid-June when limited, group training became possible. “We were hoping to fit in more prep work before hitting the pools,” explained U.S. Ski & Snowboard Head Aerials Coach Vladimir (Vlad) Lebedev. “Our plan was to work on visualization and preparing for landing impacts. However, due to timing implications of getting camps running meant we just ran straight into the water.”
Not having consistent access to a gym or trampoline created a challenge for athletes getting back into their usual groove on the water ramps. Compressing the return period intensified the process of wiping out the cobwebs from time away from jumping, which was longer than usual.
“We had a later start than we were hoping for, but we have been making steady progress,” said Megan Smallhouse. “The transition out of quarantine and back into training was challenging because we didn’t have access to a gym, or trampoline before we started ramping. Instead of working out with weights, and training on the trampoline before water ramping, our process got cut short, and we went straight into water ramping. It took my body a while to adapt to regular training again, but now I am back on track!”
The excitement of getting back to flying high helped the athletes to push past getting the fundamentals back under their belts so they could grind out working on progression and technique for the rest of the summer.
“As a winter sport athlete, our springtime is usually filled with a lot of downtime after a long competition season, so parts of quarantine didn’t feel too different than a normal Spring,” said 2017 World Champion Ashley Caldwell. “After a while home workouts became a little difficult to get motivated for but I think the team was really well prepared when we did start jumping into the pool at the Utah Olympic Park. I think the long-awaited excitement and anticipation of jumping at the pool made the entire team very motivated. I’ve seen a lot of hard work and progress from the entire team and while other nations began training before us I think we are still on track for a great season.”
Vlad reports that are looking good across the board, some are even further into their progression plans than the same time last summer. Chris Lillis, who finished the 2020 season ranked 6th in the world, is consistently jumping quintuples - yes, that’s FIVE twists in three backflips.
Veterans Eric Loughran and Jon Lillis are putting in the work and Justin Schoenfeld is fine-tuning his quads. Quinn Dehlinger, new to the team last season, is showing great talent and progress, consistently jumping double full full and double full double full, as well as hitting the triple jump.
Megan Nick has joined Ashley in jumping off of the triple, a historically male-dominated jump, pushing the U.S. team’s competitive edge. Winter added a new trick, double full full, to her repertoire. Kaila Kuhn is finding her groove again, as is Madison Varmette, and newest addition to the team, Dani Loeb, is enjoying getting integrated into the team’s processes.
Although the past few months have seen bumps along the road to returning to training, Vlad is grateful to watch the team come together with a renewed commitment to their craft. “We are maximizing our time each day we’re able to train on the water and at the COE,” said Vlad.
The U.S. Aerials Freestyle Ski Team makes the UOP their summer home, and thankfully this summer will be no exception as the focus remains on upping the Team’s overall degree of difficulty and executing consistent, quality jumps.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard sanctioned training camp attendance is optional. U.S. Ski & Snowboard athletes and staff should not feel pressure to travel to train. All sanctioned training camp policies and protocols are subject to change based on local, state, and federal public health orders, updated guidance from the USOPC, or updated U.S. Ski & Snowboard policies.