For Kaila Kuhn, becoming U.S. team’s youngest aerials skier was a lifelong dream
Not many kids can leave home at the age of 13 and be successful. For Kaila Kuhn, though, moving from Michigan to Park City a year ago at that age was a no-brainer considering the opportunity that was awaiting her: a spot on the Park City Ski and Snowboard team that enabled her to become the youngest member of the U.S. national team’s aerials team.
“I was basically giving up my childhood by leaving my friends, doing online school and never going to any school dances,” Kuhn said. “But it really was worth it because I’ve been given an opportunity a lot of people don’t get; the chance to chase a dream so early on. Of course, I miss my family but I’m so busy training that I don’t have time to get sad.”
Kuhn’s journey to Park City began around the time she could barely walk.
Growing up in Boyne City, Michigan, Kuhn’s parents put her on skis at the tender age of 18 months at Boyne Mountain Resort. Combined with her early introduction to skiing, Kuhn also began taking gymnastics lessons at six years old, providing a great background into aerials.
But everything changed for Kuhn at the age of 12 when Winter Vinecki a national team aerials competitor, got in touch.
“She saw video of me on a trampoline and thought that I could become a really good aerials skier because I have the perfect background in ski racing and gymnastics,” Kuhn said. “I went to an aerials tryout camp in Park City when I was 12 and ended up staying with Vinecki. … So in a way I owe her a lot.”
PCSS is hoping to host their next aerials tryout camp later this year where Kuhn, now 16, could help usher in the next generation of athletes and of her teammates.
“Honestly, I didn’t know much about aerials at all,” Kuhn said. “I loved to ski and was a pretty good gymnast and I was very happy with that but that camp in Park City changed everything.” “The more I learned about aerials and went through the process, a move to Park City made the most sense for me.”
Before pursuing aerials full time, Kuhn impressed so much at the tryout camp that she was offered a scholarship to stay for an extra three weeks. A few recruiters discovered Kuhn’s natural ability and convinced her to go to Lake Placid, New York, where she trained for more than a year as part of the local developmental team.
“That year was so much fun because I got to train all the time, stay in the dorms and just be with people who were just like me,” Kuhn said. “I got to work with the national team coaches and that’s what eventually led me to move to Park City full-time, because they liked what I was doing.”
Kuhn’s year in Park City has been a whirlwind of traveling, competing and training. Although she wasn’t part of the national team at that point, Kuhn finished with two eighth-place finishes in China as a member of the world champs team.
“When I first started in Park City, I thought I it would be a very long time before I reached the level I’m at right now,” Kuhn said. “I didn’t think it would move this quickly but now I’m on the same team as them, the youngest member of the nationals aerial team.”
Now that she’s on the team with a successful 2018 debut where she ended up ranked 15th in the world in aerials, Kuhn is setting her sights a lot higher after knowing what it’s like to train with the best.
“This year I want to qualify for harder tricks, go on the world cup circuit and travel to places like Russia, Belarus and China,” Kuhn said. “I want some top-6 finishes in the worlds this year and to climb up the world rankings.
“It’s what I train for, so why not accomplish it?”
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Over the last 12 years, the National Ability Center has funded organized and hosted the Summit Challenge, a bike ride for participants of all abilities.