U.S. aerials skier Megan Nick twists to silver; Winter Vinecki edges her own recruit, teammate Kaila Kuhn

Eight U.S. Ski Team athletes reach super final in front of 7,500 fans at Deer Valley World Cup

Megan Nick, of the United States, competes in the finals of the World Cup women's freestyle aerials skiing event Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, in Park City, Utah. (AP Photo/Jeff Swinger)

Park City • When Winter Vinecki reached out to Kaila Kuhn to encourage her to attend a camp for potential aerial skiers, she wasn’t just helping restock the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team. She was returning a favor.

It was 2016 and Kuhn, then age 12, had a background in gymnastics and lived near the base of Boyne Mountain Resort in Northern Michigan. Vinecki didn’t know Kuhn even though she grew up in the same area and learned to ski “french fries” on the same hill before leveling up to the local ski team. Yet Vinecki remembered when she was 13 and received an unexpected call from three-time Olympian Emily Cook extending an offer similar to the one she gave Kuhn.

“I was like, sure, an Olympian's inviting me to come stay with her and try this crazy sport?” Vinecki, 21, recalled. “Sure. I'll try it.”

Kuhn had a similar response. And on Friday the two found themselves competing side by side, and head to head, in the women’s aerials super final at the FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup event at Deer Valley Resort along with University of Utah graduate Megan Nick.

Just the six best athletes on the day reach the super final and this time it was Nick’s night. Athletes can’t throw the same jump they did in qualifying and in the first final, so Nick was stuck with a jump she said wasn’t working for her in training earlier in the day. It worked when it counted, though, as she flipped and twisted her way to the silver medal – her first career World Cup hardware.

“I was like ‘Oh geez, I got nothing to lose now,’” Nick, 23, said. “So I just did my best and it worked out.”

Things didn’t work out so badly for Vinecki and Kuhn either. Vinecki also treated the hometown crowd of 7,500 — of which Cook was one — to her best career World Cup finish, taking fourth overall. Kuhn, meanwhile, made her super final debut. She finished fifth.

In the men’s competition, Park City’s Eric Loughran, 24, placed a near career-best fifth, while 2018 Olympian Jon Lillis, 25, landed in sixth. Due to various scheduling issues, the event served as the World Cup opener for the U.S. aerials team.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) U.S. Freestyle Ski Team member Winter Vinecki performs her aerial routine during practice Jan. 7, 2020 at the Utah Olympic Park.

Kuhn said having two teammates with her in the super final helped ease her nerves.

“It helped so much having my teammates up there, especially since they’re veterans on the team,” she said. “So they give me advice, help me out. It’s absolutely amazing having them up there.”

It is just the latest example of one, or in this case two, of the more experienced U.S. aerial athletes giving a leg up to a teammate who is newer to the scene. Kuhn said Vinecki, in particular, has taken her under her wing. The two even lived together for several years after Kuhn moved to Park City at age 14.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Madison Varmette and Kaila Kuhn, both U.S. Freestyle Ski Team members, share a laugh prior to practice Jan. 7, 2020 at the Utah Olympic Park.

“I think it would have been a lot different if I moved in with people I didn't know. And it also would've been really hard because most of the people that live out here are a lot older than I am,” said Kuhn, who is taking online classes while training and is a high school junior. “So, Winter being able to help me out was amazing.”

Vinecki knew, even when she first reached out to Kuhn, that she could be recruiting her own biggest competition — the person who might knock her off the podium. That's also the person who might push her closer to her goals, which right now is the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. After finishing seventh on the World Cup Tour last year, Vinecki doesn’t need much of a shove. But If she’s going to get one, she’d prefer it come from someone in whom she can see herself.

World Cup competition wraps up Saturday with dual moguls, a discipline that won’t be in the 2022 Olympics but could be added in 2026. Finals begin at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Olympic Channel.


Women’s aerials

1. Aliaksandra Ramanouskaya, Belarus, 106.74

2. Megan Nick, USA, 83.99

3. Abbey Willcox, Australia, 81.78

Also: 4. Winter Vinecki, USA, 81.20; 5. Kaila Kuhn, USA, 73.37

Men’s aerials

1. Maxim Burov, Russia, 139.00

2. Noe Roth, Switzerland, 126.91

3. Illia Burov, Russia, 123.98

Also: 5. Eric Loughran, USA, 113.97; 6. Jon Lillis, USA, 97.28