Moguls' Double Feature in Japan
Moguls returns to World Cup competition this week with a double feature: singles on Saturday and duals on Sunday. After a brief break in competition following a successful 2020 Intermountain Healthcare Freestyle International at Deer Valley Resort, athletes are stoked to get back in the start gates in one of their favorite tour venues: Tazawako, Japan.
The U.S. athletes welcome the opportunity to embrace Japanese culture during their week in the country. With an onsen on-site at their lodging and delicious, plentiful food, fighting through jet lag is that much easier. Rooms even feature tatami mat flooring, which some athletes choose to sleep on as is traditional in Japanese culture.
“Tazawako is my favorite stop for so many reasons but one of the main ones is the weird and delicious food,” notes Jesse Andringa. “For example, [Coach] Riley and I, as soon as we landed in Tokyo, got ourselves some dried cherrywood smoked mussels. And of course, the steamed buns are to die for.”
Located in the Akita Prefecture, Tazawako is known for its February snowfall. However, unseasonably warm temperatures and a lack of precipitation have made for interesting course conditions. On Thursday athletes were only given one inspection and thirty minutes of training time, no jumping was allowed. “The biggest concern on course is getting enough snow into the landing so that they match the jumps,” explained Head Moguls Coach Matt Gnoza. “Right now they are very flat and limited. There are about 50-60 volunteers shoveling snow onto the course from the surrounding trees. We expect to jump today (Friday), and are starting a little later, to provide more time to move snow.”
The Team concentrated on skiing the middle section of the course and used Thursday as an opportunity to return to a focus on basics. What snow there was, skied well Matt noted.
“The first day of training was interesting since the snow conditions didn’t allow us to jump, but there’s always been adversity here on the training days in the past, so I’m not concerned,” said Tess Johnson. “It’s going to be a rad week, and I’m already having a ton of fun!”
Managing drop time in the landings will be the key to success on the Tazawako course this week as athletes will have more time in the air between contact with the snow. Although the smaller landing pads may prove favorable for the women, who don’t jump as far down as the men. “They are going to land right at the bottom [of the landing] and will be able to initiate that first turn [off the top air] really well,” explained Matt.
Leading the American women's #PowHERhouse is Jaelin Kauf, who is coming off of a third-place dual moguls finish at Deer Valley. During the weeklong break Jaelin trained a back mute grab, which she may bring to competition this week. “[That jump] will make her faster through the middle section [coming off of] that top air,” said Matt. Bringing this new trick to snow will double Jaelin’s goal of bringing one new trick to snow this year as she has already successfully competed a cork 7.
Hannah Soar will continue to build off of the success she has enjoyed this season with two World Cup podiums, the first two of what she hopes will be many during her career. Hannah has about 18 different run combinations she can pull from and has the potential for the highest DD package of the women with a back full to cork 7. Matt suspects she’ll run with her back tuck to cork 7 this week.
Tess Johnson proved to 8,500 hometown fans what she’s made of when she upset France’s until-then undefeated Perrine Laffont during the semi-final round of dual moguls competition at Deer Valley Resort. Tazawako is where Tess earned her first World Cup victory in 2018, and after a refreshing week at home is looking to pounce. “The past week at home was fantastic,” she said. “With some light training and an epic powder day, it was the perfect scenario to recover, reset and prepare for these next five weeks on the road. I absolutely love Japan, so I’m stoked to be back here in a contest bib. I’ve had some great success here in the past, the people here are welcoming and kind, and I’m a big sushi girl.”
Kai Owens rounds out the women’s roster. The youngest of the Americans, this will be Kai’s fifth and sixth World Cup starts as she looks to break back into finals.
On the men’s side, Matt notes that Jesse is skiing strong and athletically and is carrying well through the fall line. “I have learned a lot these past couple weeks,” Jesse reflects. “I realized I don't need to ski balls to the wall every run to still be in that top ten. I am really going to put my confidence and my consistency to the test and put down clean run after clean run.”
New Team members Alex Lewis and Nick Page will look to continue to collect World Cup points and break into the final rounds. Nick made his first World Cup finals appearance in front of his hometown crowd at Deer Valley. Alex is looking to up his DD and he may throw a cork 10 to cork 7.
Veteran members Brad Wilson and Emerson Smith are also set to start. Brad has enjoyed a lot of success in Japan, most recently with a second-place in singles in 2019. This will be his fifth and sixth World Cup starts of the season as he works to climb back into the top ten. 2018 Olympian Emerson made his return from injury to World Cup competition at Deer Valley. Tazawako marks his third and fourth starts this season. “It’s good to have him back in there and continuing to charge forward,” said Matt.
Kalman Heims, who had a breakout performance in Dual Moguls at Deer Valley, finishing the night in 12th, is working on setting himself up for success through the jumps.
With Japan 14-17 hours ahead of the United States, fans at home can catch all of the moguls action Friday and Saturday nights.
HOW TO WATCH
All times EST
Sunday, Feb. 23
12:30 a.m - Men and women’s dual moguls, Lake Tazawako, JPN - Olympic Channel