All sorts of jumping on the way: Aerials NorAm and Big Air competition coming to UOP
Winter in Park City means more than just snowflakes in the air.
Jan. 4 will mark the beginning of high-flying snowsport competitions at the Utah Olympic Park, starting with the Bjorn Thorsen Big Air competition on Jan. 4, and followed by Aerials NorAm competitions on Jan. 5 and 6.
The Bjorn Thorsen is a source of precious points for junior big air competitors, which counts toward athletes’ qualification in the U.S. Big Air Junior Nationals.
Around 20 athletes between the ages of 12 and 18 will achieve liftoff and throw a broad range of tricks from three jumps, the largest of which is 50 feet tall.
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“You can see a little bit of everything,” said Chris “Hatch” Haslock, Park City Ski and Snowboard’s freeski program director. “A lot of spins, twists and multiple rotations for sure.”
The top athletes will throw double cork 1080s or 1440s, while less experienced athletes will throw simpler tricks – a spread eagle, for example.
The event will consist of two back-to-back competitions in which athletes get two runs each to show their skill.
Parkite Troy Podmilsak, a silver medalist in junior nationals last season, is a favorite to medal, as is Parkite James Kanzler, who took bronze in junior nationals last season.
The competition will start at 5 p.m. on Jan. 4, on the hill behind the Alf Engen Ski museum. Admission is free.
The next day, America’s top aerials athletes will compete for the first time this season with two NorAm events.
NorAms, a competition circuit around North America, are considered a second-tier competition in aerials behind World Cup events. Usually, World Cup athletes on the U.S. national team wouldn’t compete in them. However, World Cup season doesn’t start until Jan. 18 in Lake Placid, New York, so spectators in Park City will be able to see a handful of top-level competitors as well as up-and-comers.
Jana Johnson of Park City Ski and Snowboard, which is hosting the event, said the NorAm will include competitors from the U.S., Canada, and possibly Belarus and Australia, whose athletes have been training in Park City this winter.
Regardless of which nations show up, the competition will be a high-flying spectacle, with athletes going off steep ramps to complete single, double and triple flips with multiple twists.
Park City Ski and Snowboard has several athletes eying the top of the podium.
On the men’s side, Jasper Holcomb, 23, is expected to be a strong competitor across the NorAm tour. He finished second in the tour last season.
Holcomb (no relation to the late local bobsledder, Steve Holcomb), is going into his third winter with PCSS after coming out from the development program in Lake Placid.
On the women’s side, Kaila Kuhn, 15, is one of PCSS’ up-and-comers. She came to Park City from Boyne City, Michigan, and finished on top of the tour last season.
PCSS alumna Winter Vinecki, now a national team athlete, is also likely to be a strong competitor. Vinecki is coming off a shortened season after she tore her ACL at the FIS VISA Freestyle International Ski World Cup at Deer Valley last January.
She will be aiming for a spot on the U.S. World Championship team this season, though for most athletes in the NorAm, the goal is to get a World Cup start.
However, they all could be upstaged by reigning World Champions Ashley Caldwell and Jon Lillis, and their fellow national A-team athletes, depending on their level of commitment to the competition.
The winner of the seven-stop NorAm tour is given a start at a domestic World Cup the next season.
Last season, Justin Schoenefeld took the overall season title, as did Kuhn, earning a spot in this season’s aerials opener at Lake Placid on Jan. 18.
There will also be an aerials regional competition running simultaneously for younger athletes, and those hoping to break onto the NorAm tour.
The NorAm competition is set to begin Saturday, Jan. 5 at 11 a.m. on the slope on lookers right from the ski jumping base, and is expected to finish around 2:30 p.m. It will continue Sunday, Jan. 6, with the same schedule. Admission is free.
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It’s going to be at least another month before Summit County’s high school athletes have any chance of getting onto the field again.