Aerials Rings in 2021 with Three Competitions; Caldwell, Lillis Crowned National Champions
The U.S. Aerials Freestyle Ski Team rang in 2021 with three competitions to cap off a domestic training block at Official Training Site Utah Olympic Park (UOP). The team took advantage of two NorAms on Jan. 5-6 before the U.S. Aerials Freestyle National Championships on Jan. 9. Although it is unusual for the team to compete in NorAms, it is important for athletes to get as much under their skis during a season that has been anything but ordinary. Athletes enjoyed a world-class jump site and several classic, beautiful Utah bluebird days to prepare for the remainder of their season.
"We ran a very successful training camp at the UOP these past few weeks," said Head Coach Vladimir (Vad) Lebedev. "We've been training since Dec. 15 and the team has been performing well. The goal for us was to train and compete as much as possible ahead of the next leg of our World Cup tour. Seems like we're ready."
Due to high wind, Tuesday’s NorAm did not run in its entirety and the men were unable to compete off of the triple. Quinn Dehlinger was the sole National Team athlete to compete and the qualification rounds’ results were used as final results. Megan Smallhouse claimed the top spot for the women, Kaila Kuhn placed second and Park City Ski & Snowboard’s Tasia Tanner took third. On the men’s side, Park City Ski & Snowboard’s Derek Kreuger won, Dehlinger came in second and Park City Ski & Snowboard’s Nick Novak rounded out the podium in third.
Wednesday provided perfect conditions and against a deep blue sky, America’s top and up and coming aerial skiers laid down some amazing tricks for a stunning second day of competition. Ashley Caldwell, Chris Lillis and Eric Loughran opted not to compete to save their bodies for Saturday’s main event. Megan Nick took the win for the women, Kuhn earned another second place and Smallhouse took third. On the men’s side, Justin Schoenefeld won the event, Dehlinger came in second for the second-straight day, and Kreuger came in third.
Saturday was another stunning Utah day and the team was in excellent spirits to close out their domestic preparation period. Caldwell claimed her fifth U.S. National title. “It feels great to win another Nationals,” she said. “I’ve been struggling with a knee injury so to come out today and put all of my jumps to my feet is really awesome. It’s good motivation going into the next couple of World Cups.”
Park City Ski & Snowboard’s Karenna Elliott claimed second and Kuhn picked up a third-place.
On the men’s side, Lillis reigned the day and claimed the top spot with a beautiful double full full full off of the triple. This is Lillis’ second National title. “[It is] definitely a confidence booster going forward,” he said. “I had a little bit of a rough event [in Ruka] to start the competition season. But I definitely expect big things out of myself going into these next World Cups. I know any one of us [on the team] can put down a sweet jump. It was definitely fun to land on the top of the podium”
Last year’s National Champion Eric Loughran took second and Schoenefeld rounded out the podium in third.
Junior National Championships ran parallel to the event. On the women’s side, Kuhn claimed victory (her fourth podium in as many competitions), Tanner came in second, and Smallouse in third. On the men’s side, Kreuger won, Park City Ski & Snowboard’s Connor Curran came in second, and Dehlinger in third.
The Aerials Team has just enough time to wash their clothes and pack their bags before they board a plane Sunday morning for three weeks on the road. The team will compete in back to back World Cup competitions, including a double event weekend Jan. 16-17 featuring the season’s first Mixed Team Aerials World Cup.