Park City’s Cole McDonald’s ‘miracle’ run pushes him into World Cup spotlight
The teenager becomes one of the country’s top moguls skiers overnight
“I have to win it in order to get a chance at the Olympics and the World Cup.”
That’s what Park City moguls skier Cole McDonald told his mom, Hong, the night before an FIS Open competition in Idre Fjall, Sweden, on Nov. 21.
He had been named to the U.S. Freestyle Moguls development team in July and finished fifth on the first day of the FIS Open, but he was also ranked just 64th in the world in the FIS points list that was released just a few days before the Idre Fjall event. In a competition packed with some of the best moguls skiers, the odds of a relatively unknown 18-year-old taking home first place seemed small.
Yet, at the end of the day, it was McDonald who finished in first place for the first time in his career, kicking off a wild ride that will include the opportunity to compete on his home course at Deer Valley Resort this week and potentially a trip to the Olympics.
“It’s been pretty insane, being up at this level and actually being competitive with a lot of them,” he said. “Coming into this season, my goal was just to make one World Cup, and, yeah, it ended up being pretty much the whole thing.”
McDonald got into moguls skiing at 7 years old when Hong, then a single mom, signed him and his brother up for the Wasatch Freestyle team to keep them busy. It turned out that moguls skiing came to him naturally.
“He would be skiing under the chairlifts on the bumps, and people would turn their heads to watch him because he was that smooth of a moguls skier at 7 years old without any training at all,” Hong said. “He just took to moguls skiing as a natural athlete.”
By the age of 14, McDonald was performing cork 1080s. Moguls skiing soon turned into an obsession. He would spend hours watching the likes of Canadian greats Mikael Kingsbury and Alexandre Bilodeau, studying their techniques and dreaming of his own Olympic opportunity.
“He wasn’t watching TV, he was watching YouTube videos over and over,” Hong said. “He must have studied Kingsbury and Bilodeau, who were the reigning champions at this time, thousands and thousands of hours watching these videos over and over again.”
Now, McDonald competes alongside his idol Kingsbury on a regular basis. He made his World Cup debut in Ruka, Finland, on Dec. 4 and immediately made an impact. He finished in fifth place, despite being the youngest skier in the field.
“I’m one of the youngest skiers usually in the finals events that are getting pretty good results,” he said. “I’m not too nervous about it, being one of the younger guys out there, but it’s pretty cool that I’m able to compete with guys that have 10-plus more years of skiing than I do.”
McDonald’s best finish this season came in a dual moguls event in Alpe d’Huez, France, where he advanced to the semifinals only to meet Kingsbury. His upset bid ended prematurely when he crashed, but the day also included squaring off with Ikuma Horishima and Pavel Kolmakov, two of the top four overall moguls skiers in the world. He managed to finish fourth in that event.
“I would be in a ball crying, right, and he went up and went against them,” Hong said. “Like he said, to know your competition, you have to face them, and that’s what he did. To go up against that in a World Cup competition — the third World Cup ever in his lifetime — to get that bracket, and he was honored and he was thrilled with that competition.”
McDonald sits in 10th place entering the Deer Valley World Cup — whose moguls competitions are scheduled Thursday and Friday — right behind fellow Parkite Nick Page. The two teenagers are close away from the slopes as well, and McDonald said that they were “almost rivals” growing up in Wasatch Freestyle together. Plus, Page, last year’s FIS Rookie of the Year, should know a thing or two about being a young skier on the World Cup circuit.
“We’ve pretty much known each other for 10 years, and there’s a bunch of really cute photos of us when we were younger,” McDonald said. “I think him and I being together has been great because we push each other back and forth. If he does a trick, I have to do it as well, and I think it’s a really healthy thing, and it helps both of us a lot.”
The past few months have been a blur for the McDonalds. And everything comes back to that one FIS Open in Sweden. That one event changed everything. McDonald went from being on the U.S. development team to making his first World Cup start to being an Olympic hopeful in just a matter of months.
“Just a miracle,” Hong said.
Now, he’s finally getting his opportunity to compete at Deer Valley in a World Cup, something that he’s always been working toward. McDonald has been a forerunner for the event for the last few years, but this will be his first time competing. He’ll have plenty of friends and family cheering him on.
“It’s one of the most iconic courses definitely on the World Cup tour,” he said. “I’ve always just dreamed of competing on the course because I’ve watched it basically for the last 10 years. I’ve always just dreamed of being in that start gate, just like all the other athletes have, and showing my home crowd what I can do.”
Hong mentions how announcers often refer to her son as “unheralded” or “the youngster” when he’s competing. But after this season, the former might not be true anymore.
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