Steamboat skier Kenzie Radway’s path to becoming a 15-year-old U.S. Ski team member
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The 7-year-old Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athlete Kenzie Radway stood at the top of her first mogul skiing competition at Breckenridge wondering why it looked so easy.
As a skier in the bumps and jumps program with the club, she was used to jumping cliffs with the 8- and 9-year-old boys at Steamboat Resort, or training on the steep and icy moguls carved out on Howelsen Hill. Now she was at her first competition, looking at a seemingly flat slope of moguls.
“One jump and you basically make it from the top to the bottom. You’re going to do well,” Radway said. “I got there and I was like, ‘Dad, is this the course? It’s easy.'”
Radway won that competition, and now she’s a NorAm Tour champion eight years later.
At 15 years old, Radway was competing against former Olympians or World Cup skiers. She even competed in her first-ever World Cup this year in Lake Placid, New York, on Jan. 17 to 18, taking home a top-30 finish at 29th.
Unlike the level mogul path set for Radway years ago, she took the hardest route to win the NorAm tour, only competing in three of its four competitions. She placed second in singles and first in dual moguls at the first NorAm stop on Jan. 30 to Feb. 3 in Stratton Mountain, Vermont, missing the competition in Val Saint-Come Ski Resort in Canada the week after.
Radway worked her bottom air, or second jump, on the mogul course. She started the season with a back tuck, but wanted to master the back lay, which is a backflip where she lies perfectly straight in the air. After taking 120 jumps that week, she nailed the NorAm in Steamboat to take second in singles and first in duals Feb. 20 to 24, then second in singles and third in duals at Apex Mountain, British Columbia, to capture the title.
“She’s still young. She’s only 15. The idea behind it was to give her rest and give her training at home,” Johnson said. “That was a big reason she didn’t go to Val Saint-Come was to work on that new trick. It gave her time to train the back lay that she hadn’t competed much at all this year until that point.”
“Standing up there, you’re in a hard position because there were all these older athletes, and some of them had been to the Olympics or had been working for this their whole lives, too,” Radway said. “Being younger, it was kind of awkward.”
Life off the snow
At 9 years old, Radway carpooled with 2018 Steamboat Olympian Jaelin Kauf to training at the water ramps.
While the two trained in separate groups, Radway kept her eyes on 16-year-old Kauf, who was on a rising path to success.
Kauf said the younger levels of mogul skiing are dominated by male athletes, but as she got older and more competitive, she’d find more women in the sport.
Kauf believes it’s important for Radway to have a female mentor in the sport, exchanging congratulatory texts after competitions and offering advice when needed.
Being an elite competitor at 15 comes with its hardships. Radway spent her freshman year at Steamboat Springs High School, then enrolled in eight online classes through Laurel Springs School this past fall. She hoped to knock out credits before returning back to public school her senior year.
The loneliness outside a normal classroom wore on Radway and made her question skiing. Kauf also loved the social aspect of school, which is why she spent her years in public school.
“I didn’t get to the level that Kenzie’s at until my senior year of high school and the year after,” Kauf said. “I think it’s important to have a good balance between any sport, especially at that age. High school is a really fun time and big growing point for kids, and I think that my best advice would be to enjoy it all as much as you can while you’re there.”
Getting back on snow helped. Radway earned her spot on the NorAm tour and got to be a part of the U.S. Ski Team at the World Cup in Lake Placid.
The thrill of success has fueled Radway from the beginning, but her happiness increased from switching to the Steamboat Mountain School the following semester. She was in a classroom again, but able to miss weeks at a time for competition without falling behind.
Speeding to the top
Radway’s ambition is driven by a love for being strapped in skis.
The summer workouts of water ramps, trampolines and gym work are monotonous.
But Radway has always loved speeding down a mountain, which is why she also trains with the U16 Alpine group with the SSWSC. It’s great cross-training for mogul skiers to Alpine ski, and all of them start off Alpine skiing to learn how to properly turn. Radway training with competitive Alpine skiers is next-level dedication according to Johnson.
As a result, speed has always been Radway’s strength on moguls.
“She’s moving at such a high pace, it gives her the ability to get her comfortable in turning body positions at a high rate of speed,” Johnson said. “It gets scary at some point because it’s hard to hit a mogul at a high rate.”
In mogul skiing, no run is perfect, and each attempt is equally as terrifying. Radway describes a race as, “making it through a horror movie.”
But last week, Radway’s movie didn’t have a happy ending. On a rainy day at Waterville Valley Resort in New Hampshire at the National Championships, she took a spill.
Radway came into a jump thinking she needed more speed, so she took advantage of salted, slushy jumps and flew through the air farther than expected. She landed near the top of the softer landing spot, her body positioned sitting backseat as she hit the first mogul. Her knees dove in and she heard a pop.
“I had to look at my leg and see if it was on straight.”
Radway completely tore her ACL and partially tore her meniscus.
“When it initially happened, I took her down to ski patrol. I drove her to the hospital in New Hampshire, and she was crying,” Johnson said. “The first thing that came out of her mouth was, ‘I’m gonna be stronger than ever through this process.’
“It shows who she is,” Johnson continued. “Even when it’s happening right there, when she was in tears, she is positive.”
Sitting in Olympian Hall following her doctor’s appointment, Radway glanced down at the two large pieces of plastic strapped to the sides of her leg with tears in her eyes.
She feels guilty for being upset after the season she’s had, and because she looks at the world around her, knowing there are worse things to be upset about. Knee tears are common in mogul skiing. Former SSWSC skier Avital Shimko won the NorAm tour last year before tearing hers before this season. Shimko hopes she can be an understanding ear Radway can call throughout recovery.
“The hardest thing for me is people were like, ‘Oh you’re going to come back better.’ It sucks, to be honest. You love your sport,” Shimko said. “She always looked up to me when she was younger because she saw the age difference as being tremendous, but now that we’re almost on the same team, she knows what she’s capable of.”
Radway will still be on the U.S. Ski Team this year despite her injury, but she won’t be competing in any World Cups. Whether or not she can save her World Cup starts for the following season is in question.
“It makes it feel like I did so much hard work to get here and, as soon as I get all of this success, it feels like it’s been taken away,” Radway said. “I’m mostly focusing on recovering and coming back so much stronger and ready to ski, and say, ‘I’m back. You thought I was gone, but I’m back.'”
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