Kauf, ‘Boat skiers have high hopes
Steamboat Springs — Yes, sometimes it even boggles Jaelin Kauf’s mind.
The 19-year old Steamboat Springs freestyle moguls skiing standout competed in her first U.S. Freestyle National Championships in 2013.
She still remembers the excitement of getting to compete on what was then the biggest stage of her career, the thrill of warming up next to skiers she’d looked up to and the fun of meeting Hannah Kearney, still in the midst of one of the world’s most dominating moguls skiing careers.
“She’s one of the best moguls skiers ever,” Kauf said, “so it was cool.”
The actual skiing wasn’t so cool. Kauf fell in the moguls and finished 36th. Two days later, she was 42nd in the dual moguls.
Neither were noticeably bad performances for a 16-year old getting her first taste of big-time skiing. It’s only the lens of the past four months that makes them stand out.
Now, Kauf is entering the national championships — which continue Friday with moguls events at Steamboat Ski Area — an utterly different skier.
She’s fresh off a Rookie of the Year campaign on the World Cup circuit, a stint that included four finals appearances and one podium finish in the first seven World Cup starts of her career.
Whereas three years ago she may have been “happy to be here,” now, she’s saying “I’m here to win.”
“This year has gone so much better than I ever expected,” she said Thursday. “Every event I go into, I want to do well, but coming into nationals, to be able to say, ‘I can win,’ that’s pretty cool. I did not expect that.”
She’ll get the chance to try for that win when the women’s qualification round starts at 10:15 a.m. on Voo Doo run.
Finals for both the men and women are set to begin at 1 p.m.
Kauf is one of a handful of Steamboat Springs skiers who will hit the snow Friday with high hopes of making a mark in a stacked field of the nation’s best women’s bumps skiers.
She’ll be joined by current U.S. Ski Team members Lane Stoltzner and Sophia Schwartz and aspiring Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club skiers Avital Shimko and Olivia Giaccio.
Aiming for big results
For all, there’s pressure to perform.
That’s something Stoltzner feels acutely.
A year ago, she was vying to make the U.S. team for the first time, and she did.
She moved to Park City, Utah, to train and said she came into the season skiing better than she ever has.
The results, however, weren’t there, a problem in a results-centric business.
“I’ve had a number of events where I came down and thought, ‘That’s the run,’” she said. “I had a fast time, hardly any breaks, good airs, but for the judges, it wasn’t good enough.”
She didn’t crack the top 20 in either of her World Cup starts and ended up seventh overall on the Nor-Am circuit, the step below the World Cup.
She was second on Nor-Am a year ago.
“I’ve tried to remember how I feel after those runs rather than just look at the results,” she said. “I have come a long way in the last year. My skiing hasn’t been regressing, by any means.”
This week — with Friday’s moguls competition and Sunday’s dual moguls event — is a chance to change all that, to ensure she gets another chance to compete with the U.S. Team next season.
“There are so many people competing to be in the U.S. team jacket I’m in right now,” she said. “I need to ski fast and go big. As long as I ski fast and stand up, I shouldn’t have any problems showing everyone what I’ve worked on.”
Schwartz is also hoping to use the weekend to show what she can do.
She had her breakthrough in 2014, but struggled as it all seemed to fall apart last year. She went from consistently landing in the top-10 at World Cup events to fighting to crack the top 20.
This season wasn’t about getting back to dominating on the World Cup. It was about rebuilding her skiing.
“You have to trust the process,” she said. “I’ve been working a lot on my fundamentals, making sure to get on the outside ski and taking some steps back to work on fundamentals.”
She didn’t show particularly well in her World Cup starts, crashing in one and finishing 17th and 21st in the others. Still, she made the most of the Nor-Am events, finishing third overall.
A strong showing Friday and Sunday would cement that progress.
She’s well aware what she’s up against, however.
“The whole field has improved. This is going to be really high-quality moguls skiing,” she said. “It’s going to be great.”
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