Ashley Caldwell, Alec Carignan soar to aerial titles |

Ashley Caldwell, Alec Carignan soar to aerial titles

Saturday’s U.S. Freestyle National Championships aerials competition at Deer Valley basically came down to the last man and woman standing after the final round was over.

With slushy snow conditions and warm weather, the landing areas were sticky, leading to several crashes in both the men’s and women’s finals.

But, after the snow settled and the final round of jumps was complete, two-time Olympian Ashley Caldwell and 18-year-old Alec Carignan stood atop the podium as national champions.

"The course was pretty rough," Carignan said. "It was really sticky, but the jumps were nice. The wind made it really difficult."

Despite seeing many of his fellow competitors fall ahead of his final jump, Carignan said he didn’t want to hold anything back.

"I didn’t want to do the lower tricks I had," he said. "I just did my most difficult tricks. It’s nationals, the last day of the year, might as well throw it down."

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After a sub-par week of training, Carignan, who trains in Park City with FLY Freestyle, said he was thrilled with the outcome.

"I actually only took two jumps [in training] because I wasn’t really feeling it," he said. "But I put down some of my best jumps of the year in comp and I couldn’t be happier."

Winning the national title was also a bit unexpected for the young jumper, who hopes his career takes a big leap after the honor.

"God no," Carignan said when asked if he ever thought he’d be national champion. "Definitely not. It feels pretty good though. I couldn’t be happier right now. I hopefully just got a spot on the U.S. team from that."

The only thing that could have made the day better for Carignan would have been sharing the moment with his family. But the New Hampshire native knew it was a special moment regardless.

"It’s incredible," he said. "I wish my family was here – my sisters and my mom couldn’t make it out. But, either way, it’s amazing."

For Caldwell, adding a national championship to her resume was a great way to end a season in which she also competed in the Sochi Olympics, finishing in 10th place at the event.

"I’ve never been national champion before, so it’s exciting," she said. "It’s definitely a highlight. I had a great Olympics, but it didn’t end the way I wanted it to. I took a lot of time off before this event. I hadn’t jumped in a while, so it was nice to get the rust off and still compete well."

The national championships were switched last month from Heavenly Resort in California to Deer Valley due to a lack of snow at Heavenly. Caldwell said she wouldn’t have minded going to California, but always enjoys coming to Park City.

"I love Heavenly, but at the same time, Deer Valley is one of the nicest sites we jump on," she said. "I wanted to go to Heavenly because I’ve only been there once before and it’s a fun place to ski, but Deer Valley is the best site we compete on and they have the friendliest workers as well, so I was just stoked to be here."

Now, though, Caldwell is looking forward to some much-needed rest and relaxation before another year of training begins.

"I think I’m going to go to Hawaii," she said. "Then we start water ramping at the end of May, so I’ll be doing that."