Hometown athletes prepare for unusual Deer Valley World Cup
Skiers say they’ll miss the crowds, but ‘grateful’ to be competing at all
The 2021 FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup at Deer Valley Resort kicks off Thursday afternoon, the 23rd year Deer Valley has hosted the event. It’s a beloved tour stop for many athletes, but for three Americans, it’s also a homecoming.
Moguls skiers Nick Page and Brad Wilson, and aerials competitor Ashley Caldwell, will compete this weekend on their home mountain.
The fun begins Thursday with moguls at 2 p.m., with dual moguls and aerials events to follow through the weekend.
This year, the Deer Valley stop will be a very different experience. There will be no raucous crowd at the bottom of the run, as COVID-related safety precautions preclude a live audience. The events will all be held during the day, too, another departure from the norm.
“It’s definitely going to be different,” Page said. “There’s usually such a great energy at Deer Valley. But everyone has done so much to get this event off the ground, we understand that, and we still plan to put on a good show.
“We obviously will miss that energy at the bottom of the hill but we’ll bring everyone with us when we compete this year.”
Page said regardless of the different atmosphere, competing at Deer Valley means a lot to him.
“I grew up learning moguls here, so to come around and ski at the World Cup that I watched so many years as a kid, that’s something really special,” he said. “It brings it all back to where the dream started for me.”
Caldwell said she and the other U.S. skiers consider it a blessing to be able to compete at all. The team went under a strict quarantine in March and began summer water ramp training a month later than usual.
“We had to symptom monitor twice a day, and we were COVID tested pretty regularly,” she said. “We were very strict in our bubble.”
The athletes were not able to do their typical strength training over the summer, Caldwell said, forcing them to think outside the box.
“We had to get creative with our lifting at home,” she said. “My boyfriend Justin (teammate Justin Schoenefeld) got a couple of Home Depot buckets and filled them with rocks. And we did a lot of hiking and mountain biking since we couldn’t be at the gym.”
Caldwell said the team has been grateful every time they’ve been able to compete this season.
“We spent the whole summer thinking none of this would happen,” she said.
Caldwell said she and the rest of the team are thrilled to make it to Deer Valley, which she called “by far the best event on tour.”
“That’s as described by every coach and every athlete in every country,” she said. “If anyone tells you different, they’re lying.”
Having said that, Caldwell added that she is “a little upset” there will be no live attendees.
“There is definitely some added adrenaline from the crowd. You don’t think about it beforehand but when you’re there you feed off it,” she said. “It’s like being a rock star. Your family and friends are all down there at the bottom waiting for you.”
For Brad Wilson, the atypical summer was a chance to take charge of his own training. U.S. Ski and Snowboard athletes normally have their training schedules planned down to the day, he said, but this season that was not the case.
“Usually we know where we’re going to be every day for the next four months,” Wilson said. “It’s been kind of nice to fly by the seat of our pants this year.”
Echoing Page and Caldwell, Wilson said he is happy to be competing.
“Being up on a hill is where everything feels normal,” he said. “I think anyone who’s been out skiing this winter will tell you the same thing. When you’re out there skiing you get a sense of normalcy that you haven’t had in a while.”
Coverage of the FIS Freestyle World Cup at Deer Valley begins at 2 p.m. Thursday and continues through Sunday evening. The events can be seen on the Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Network, as well as the Peacock streaming app.
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