Park City • Standing at the bottom of the White Owl hill, Kiley McKinnon could only watch as her competitors soared, flipping and twisting through the cold, night air.

McKinnon had finished eighth a round earlier, missing the cut for the Freestyle World Cup aerials super final at Deer Valley on Friday. The Madison, Conn., skier would not get her third podium of the season. But after the competition had finished, McKinnon was told she’d earned an even bigger prize.

She would be going to the Winter Olympics.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” McKinnon, 22, said just moments after she’d learned she would be the first U.S. aerial skier to punch her ticket to Pyeongchang, South Korea.

McKinnon had finished second at the World Cup event at Deer Valley last year and won a World Cup event last month in Moscow, giving her the two podiums she would need to meet the Olympic qualifications. After her first-place finish last month, McKinnon’s family bought their plane tickets to South Korea. But it wasn’t until Friday night, when no American women finished on the podium Friday, that McKinnon was officially guaranteed a spot on Team USA.

For the aerial skier, it was the realization of dream she’d been working toward since she was 16.

McKinnon started competing in aerials in high school when a friend from her hometown, Olympian Mac Bohonnon, reached out to the former gymnast and skier on Facebook and invited her to try the sport out at a camp in Lake Placid, N.Y.

“The rest is history, I guess,” McKinnon said.

In 2014, with her sights set on Russia, McKinnon was injured in a training run, dislocating her elbow and knocking her out of contention for an Olympic spot, just before the start of the games.

“Four years later — a long four years later — I’m so happy I was able to keep it together and qualify for my first Olympic team,” she said.

China’s Mengtao Xu took first place in the women’s competition Friday, with Russia’s Kristina Spiridonova and China’s Fanyu Kong rounding out the podium.

Park City’s Madison Olsen finished fourth overall, the best finish of her career, in front of a hometown crowd.

“It was crazy,” she said. “It was like a dream. I grew up here. I watched the 2002 Olympics here. I couldn’t have asked for a better crowd. It was awesome.”

Ashley Caldwell, who lives and trains in Park City, finished in seventh place, just missing the cut for the super final. Caldwell remains the Americans’ best chance for a medal in aerials next month in South Korea. But Caldwell’s high-risk, high-reward approach cost her on Friday night when she failed to stick the landing of her jump.

“I didn’t need to go big, but that’s just me,” she said. “I’d rather get seventh doing my biggest tricks than get third doing not big tricks.”

Russian skier Maxim Burov took home a first-place finish in the men’s competition. China’s Guanpu Qi and Belarus’ Anton Kushnir took second and third, respectively.

The U.S. ski team could take a total of eight aerialists, four men and four women, to Pyeongchang next month. The American skiers will head to Lake Placid, N.Y., next week for their final qualifiers.

For McKinnon, the competition will now simply be a tuneup for the world’s biggest stage.

“I don’t even know how to explain it,” she said. “… Oh my God. Words can’t even describe how it feels.”

Freestyle World Cup

At Deer Valley Resort, Park City

Men’s aerials final

1. Maxim Burov, Russia, 131.67

2. Qi Guangpu, China, 130.77

3. Anthon Kushnir, Belarus, 124.78

6. Jonathon Lillis, USA, 72.85

Women’s aerials final

1. Xu Mengtao, China, 114.21

2. Kristina Spiridonova, Russia, 88.47

3. Fanyu Kong, China, 82.36

4. Madison Olsen, USA, 81.78

6. Madison Varmette, USA 71.92

7. Ashley Caldwell, USA, 80.19

8. Kiley McKinnon, USA, 76.54