Freestyle’s 2020-21 Season
Despite the added stress of competing amidst a global pandemic, the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team showed their true grit and resilience in achieving banner results. For the first time in recent recorded history (according to records available via FIS), the U.S. was crowned the best freestyle nation, winning both the Aerials and Moguls Nations Cups. Every single American athlete that started in a World Cup contributed to the teams’ success. The achievement speaks to the depth and future of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team.
The U.S. Freestyle Ski Team cautiously headed into the 2020-21 season with 22 elite-level events scheduled, including an Olympic preview with the 2021 World Championships originally scheduled for Zhangjiakou, the site of freestyle’s 2022 Olympic Winter Game venues. The season ended with 14 World Cups and a rescheduled World Championships to Almaty, Kazakhstan.
The women of the moguls team continued their domination as the best women’s team in the world. The #powHERhouse ended the season with four ranked in the top six overall: Hannah Soar (3), Kai Owens (4), Jaelin Kauf (5) and Tess Johnson (6). Their most obvious display came on home snow at the 2021 Intermountain Healthcare Freestyle International when 16-year-old Owens led the first-ever American sweep of World Cup dual moguls at Deer Valley Resort. Soar took second and Johnson took third.
Moguls kicked off their season with a bang with three World Cup events in Scandinavia. In the World Cup Opener in Ruka, Finland, Kauf skied to a second-place finish right off the bat. Owens and Page both made statements with Owens skiing in her first super finals and Page becoming the first American to throw a cork 14 in World Cup competition.
In Idre Fjall, Sweden, Soar and Page shared career firsts with each earning their first singles World Cup podium with a pair of third-place finishes. Kauf earned a second second-place finish in duals and Brad Wilson found the podium in a tied-for-third unprecedented ending to a fogged-out competition.
The World Cup schedule provided a break from competition in January and athletes were able to take advantage of training opportunities stateside before gearing up for the 2021 Intermountain Healthcare Freestyle International at Deer Valley Resort. Due to COVID-19 the event looked and felt different than usual, but the Champion course still made for some serious moguls action. The women’s sweep would only have been sweeter if it had been in front of 8,000 screaming fans (here’s to looking at 2022!).
Several athletes made their first World Championships appearances in Almaty, Kazakhstan: Soar, Owens, Page and Alex Lewis. Having the opportunity to experience their first World Championships alongside veteran teammates like Wilson, Kauf and Johnson was a priceless experience heading into an Olympic year.
Moguls’ World Cup season ended without fanfare with dual moguls World Cup finals cancelled due to fog. However, the podium ceremonies for the Nations Cup, the Grand Prix standings and Rookie of the Year were reasons to celebrate. In addition to having seven American athletes in the top 10 and winning the Nations Cup, the U.S. swept the FIS Rookie of the Year as Page and Owens each earned the honor for 2021. In total six different athletes found the podium a combined eight times in only five World Cup opportunities.
Several familiar faces made their return to the World Cup from injury. Olivia Giaccio got in the start gate in December in Idre Fjall, Sweden, almost a year to date since blowing her knee the previous December in Thaiwoo, China. Avital Carroll, Joel Hedrick and Kenzie Radway all made their return on home snow at Deer Valley in February.
U.S. Freestyle Moguls National Championships were able to go off this season and two days of competition at Snowbird, Utah, was a great way to close out 2020-21. Nessa Dziemian, in her first competition in two years, was crowned Moguls National Champion, sharing the title with Page. Kasey Hogg and Hedrick each dualed their hearts out the next day to earn the Dual Moguls National Championship titles.
On the aerials side, seven athletes found the podium a combined 18 times in only six World Cup and two World Championships opportunities. Five athletes closed out 2020-21 in the top 10 overall: Winter Vinecki (2), Megan Nick (6), Ashley Caldwell (7), Kaila Kuhn (9) and Justin Schoenefeld (8). Some results may have been left on the snow as many athletes were unable to compete in World Cup finals due to COVID-19 protocols.
Aerials’ season started off slow at the World Cup Opener in Ruka in December. However, after a January domestic training camp at Official Training Site Utah Olympic Park, which included U.S. Freestyle Aerials Nationals - Caldwell and Chris Lillis each earned the 2021 title - the team showed up in a big way.
Caldwell kicked off a podium hot streak that would last through World Championships with her second-place finish in the first of three Yaroslavl, Russia, World Cups. Nick stomped a win the following day and shared the podium with teammate Kuhn, who came in third for her first career World Cup podium result. At the team event, Caldwell, Schoenefeld and Eric Loughran earned the first team World Cup podium with a third-place finish.
Success continued in Moscow, Russia, with Vinecki earning her first career World Cup podium with a win and Chris Lillis coming in second place on the mens’ side. The following weekend Nick and Vinecki were back on the podium in Raubichi, Minsk, with first and third places, respectively.
On home snow at the 2021 Intermountain Healthcare Freestyle International at Deer Valley Resort three athletes landed on the podium: Vinecki (2), Kuhn (3) and Schoenefeld (2). The aerials World Cup at Deer Valley marked the first identified Olympic Tryout event for any U.S. Ski & Snowboard athlete.
Aerials closed its season in Almaty, Kazakhstan, with World Championships and World Cup Finals. Caldwell and Lillis both earned World Championships hardware, a pair of silvers, with milestone jumps. Caldwell returned to the triple for the first time in competition in two years and Lillis finally pulled out his quintuple (five twists in three backflips). At the team event, Caldwell, Lillis and Loughran represented the U.S. to earn bronze, and the first U.S. team World Championship medal.
Due to COVID-19 protocols, only two athletes, Dani Loeb and Tasia Tanner, were able to compete at World Cup Finals. However, their results edged out Russia for the Nations Cup honor.
With 2020-21 in the rearview mirror, it feels like nothing short of a miracle that the season actually happened. Because of the incredible efforts of U.S. Ski & Snowboard high performance and medical staff in developing COVID-19 protocols that afforded teams the best chance at training and competing safely, the commitment from all host venues, coordination with FIS, local organizing committees and governments, athletes were still able to have competition opportunities in this important run-up-to-the-Olympics-season.
Kai Owens vs Hannah Soar Big Final | Deer Valley Dual Moguls 2021
Perrine Laffont vs Tess Johnson Quarterfinal | Deer Valley Dual Moguls 2021
Kai Owens | 2021 Rookie of the Year
Nick Page | 2021 Freestyle Rookie of the Year
Ashley Caldwell 2nd in Yaroslavl Aerials | 2021
USA Third in Mixed Team Aerials | Yaroslavl 2021
Winter Vinecki's First World Cup Win | Moscow Aerials 2021
Megan Nick 1st + Winter Vinecki 3rd | Belarus Freestyle Aerials 2021
Winter Vinecki Deer Valley Gets 2nd Place 2021
Kaila Kuhn Deer Valley Aerials Places 3rd 2021
Justin Schoenefeld Takes Second - 2021 Deer Valley Aerials
Chris Lillis Lands 2nd Place | 2021 Almaty World Champs Aerials
Ashley Caldwell 2nd in 2021 Almaty World Champs Aerials
Team Aerials Bronze | Almaty World Champs 2021