U.S. Ski Team’s youngest athlete reflects on her first World Cup race
Last Friday, Park City resident Katie Hensien celebrated her birthday. But, being a serious athlete, first she competed in a slalom race at Copper Mountain.
At 18 years old, Hensien is the youngest member of the U.S. Ski Team, having earned a spot on the C-team last June.
That alone was the realization of a dream. Recently she also earned a spot at a World Cup race in Killington, Vermont, which was the first for her at that level.
Though Hensien broke through a gate on the first day, eliminating her from the race, she said she is taking it all in stride and learning as much as she can from her new place as a U.S. Ski Team member.
Hensien, who grew up in Washington, has skied since the age of 3, when her parents took her to Whistler, British Columbia, on vacation and signed her up for a day of ski school.
When they dropped her off, she cried because she didn’t want to ski. But by the end of the day, she cried because she didn’t want to leave.
Hensien said her parents saw how much she loved it, so they enrolled her in a ski racing team when they got back to their home .
“I was totally unclear of what I was doing, but from 6 years old to now, I’ve been learning and loving it,” she said.
Eventually, Hensien and her parents realized two things: she wanted to race for the U.S. team, and that the club she was in wasn’t geared toward that goal. So they started looking at ski academies that combined excellence in education and ski racing. Rowmark Ski Academy at Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City was at the top of the list. The Hensiens had family friends that had gone there, and after a visit, she decided it was the place for her.
“After a couple months I got an acceptance letter,” she said. “My parents (and I) looked at each other like, ‘Let’s make this work.’”
So they came with her to Utah, moved all their stuff from Seattle and got new jobs.
“It’s been awesome to have that support system,” she said. “I thank them every day for letting me come to Utah.”
When asked what it was like coaching her, Todd Brickson, her first-year coach at Rowmark, didn’t mince words. “I’m going to use all the athlete superlatives,” he said.
Brickson described her as a hard-working, humble, positive and talented skier and a great teammate.
Jim Tschabrun, who is Hensien’s current coach at Rowmark, added that she is a technically savvy skier.
“She seems to have a pretty solid grasp on tactics,” he said.“Our sport has so many external variables, whether it’s changing conditions or changing light or terrible visibility and fog. It’s not like a golf course where they might change the tees. It’s extremely variable in the way the course might change, and she can manage that.”
Brickson said she has a “unique blend of intensity, but always has fun.”
“She’s always looking for what she enjoys,” he said.
Hensien still makes time for other interests outside of skiing, such as industrial design and turkey farming.
“It interests me because my grandfather designed Ford engines,” she said. “He showed me sketches and I was super into it. Both my parents work in tech, so they’ve always brought home new phones and showing off new apps.”
As for turkeys, she said the holiday bird would be her desert-island meal, and a great off-piste hobby.
“That would be kind of fun to retire on,” she said. “Then I talked to my parents and kind of got serious on the idea … turkey whenever you want, always Thanksgiving. My parents are super into it now. They are like, ‘Let us start helping you,’” and I’m like, ‘Let me make some money first.’”
She’s not about to start buying land just yet, especially when competing with the U.S. Ski Team, where she still has star-struck moments training with the country’s elite skiing athletes.
“It’s just super cool to walk into a gym and you see Ted Ligety squatting next to you or Steve Nyman walks in,” she said. “One day he came up to me and said hi and I’m like ‘Oh my god, you know my name?’”
“It’s kind of cool being the youngest because you get to look up to people and get this advice you couldn’t get,” she continued. “(They say) don’t worry about the age; there is no age limit in ski racing. I don’t think it’s discouraging being the youngest; it’s just a learning process and you have to take it step by step.”
She said she isn’t letting Killington’s result get to her either.
“I’m taking the experience, and I know I can do well,” she said. “Unless you’re Mikaela Shiffrin, you don’t have a perfect first World Cup race. It doesn’t make you want to stop, it just makes you want to do it again. Like, I know I can do more, let me try again.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the accurate spelling of Steve Nyman’s name.