Vail Mountain senior Kjersti Moritz set for her rookie season on the U.S. ski team
VAIL — Kjersti Moritz is forgiven for not appearing in the student section at Switchbacks Weidner Field last Saturday as the Vail Mountain School boys soccer team claimed its first state championship. The Gore Ranger senior had work to do.
“I wish,” she sighed. “I was here.”
‘Here’ is Copper Mountain, where Moritz has been stationed the past month, training with the U.S. ski team. She’s been making turns since Oct. 21, the start of the first of two 2 1/2-week-long training blocks. Last Wednesday, the rookie D team member sat down with the Vail Daily at the U.S. ski team’s media day in East Village to chat about training, goals and her inability to choose — still — between soccer and skiing.
After claiming a first, second and third in giant slalom, slalom and super-G, respectively, at the U18 National Championships in Vail, Moritz came out of the 2021-22 season knowing she needed to get stronger.
“I’m on the smaller side, so I’m already at a disadvantage,” she said. “So I need to pump up the strength to do well this year.”
She spent June in Park City with the D team and had another “big block of training” in September. Throughout, she diligently stuck to the U.S. team’s strength program at the Sonnenalp gym. Her fall at Copper has consisted of on-snow training from 6-9 or 9-11 a.m., commuting to VMS for school, and returning for evening strength sessions. When the lights go out at the women’s D team condo, which she shares with fellow VMS student and D team athlete Kaitlin Keane, it’s easy to fall asleep, especially after witnessing the hard work in the gym pay off on snow.
“I feel like my movement and my awareness is a lot better,” she said. “I just feel like I’m able to control my body more, if that makes sense.”
Her other weakness is less tangible, but perhaps just as important. She admitted, “I can be really hard on myself if I’m not doing so well.
“It’s just hard for me because I’m so competitive,” she said. “I just hate falling behind or not doing my best.”
Moritz addresses the mental-perspective side of skiing by reminding herself it’s OK to occasionally have a bad day.
“There’s so many more days,” she said, describing her internal monologue on the rare occurrences where she doesn’t find herself on the podium. “The season’s long. Career’s long. So I just kind of remind myself that it’s a long game.”
Her goals, with a healthy mix of process and product, reflect those ideals.
“I just want to get really comfortable on my skis so I can ski on any terrain, any type of snow,” she said of her first priority. “Objective-wise, I want to make world juniors and hopefully get a top 10 or top 5 there.”
While her schedule is still a little under construction and will likely be made month-to-month, Moritz is aware that consistency at the upcoming NorAms and her early-January European competitions will factor into the selection process for the WJSC in St. Anton (Austria) from Jan. 17-26.
Of course, come spring, she’ll trade skis for shinguards and try to make a run at a 3A state soccer championship with her twin sister, Liv, who recently committed to playing soccer and ski at the University of Denver, and the rest of the Vail Mountain School girls team. To put it simply: both sisters love — and excel at — both sports.
“It’s kind of complicated,” Kjersti said of her relationship with soccer and skiing. “I really love both and I honestly kind of can’t choose. It’s just I think I’m better at skiing, so that’s why I put a little more time and effort into it right now. I can’t speak for her, but I think (Liv) probably values the soccer a little more than I do.”
Kjersti plans on taking a gap year after graduation, but has been recruited to ski and play soccer at Middlebury, where she is waiting to hear if she has been accepted. In fact, soccer was actually what drew her to the Vermont school.
“I’m not even on the team and when I visited, they treated me like one of their teammates,” she said.
The twins might get at each other’s throats from time to time, but deep down, they have each other’s backs.
“We’re definitely very competitive with each other, so sometimes it can be tough,” she said when asked how they manage different seasons of sometimes relatively disproportional successes. “But, at heart, we just want the best for each other and it’s a good dynamic.”
Making the cut … again
In regard to being nominated to the U.S. ski team this spring, Moritz said, “That was definitely a huge goal of mine last year and even two years ago … I made the criteria but I was too young.”
Enthralled by World Cup action from a young age, Moritz idolized and pedestalized U.S. ski team athletes as she grew up racing for Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. When the overwhelming plethora of USST-emblazoned Kappa jackets, sweatshirts, pants and other dri-fit options arrived on her doorstep, it was certainly special.
“It’s kind of a lot,” she said of all the Team USA apparel, of which her current favorite is a fuzzy white sweater.
“Watching all the USST members when I was younger I was like, ‘Oh my gosh they have such cool jackets and they’re so lucky,’” she continued. “So, it’s kind of cool to think I’m there now.”
Cloaked behind her soft-spoken demeanor and natural poker face hides a fierce competitor, but Moritz humbly downplays everything, saying, “Of course I was excited, but it wasn’t like a huge, huge deal.”
At Copper, where her rookie teammates have brushed shoulders with the likes of Federica Brignone — “she’s so nice,” Moritz said of the Italian Olympic and world championship medalist — the 17-year-old has realized the Super Bowl of skiing she grew up watching on TV is just made up of regular folks.
“It’s cool to see that they’re normal people and are just really good at skiing,” she said of the Norwegian, Austrian, Italian and American elites she’s shared the hill with over the last several weeks of training.
“I don’t know. I think, growing up watching the World Cup, it’s always seemed like this huge deal. I’ve just learned from being around all these people that they’re all doing the same thing. No one’s doing something that’s totally different.”
On Thursday, a FIS super-G Moritz labeled as “a mini-World Cup” was won by Beijing super-G silver medalist Mirjam Puchner. Up and down the results list, where Moritz’s name was found in the 37th overall position, it was a who’s-who of international women’s skiing — Brignone, Sofia Goggia, Corinne Sutter and Tessa Worley, to name a few.
When it comes to talking about making the U.S. ski team, it’s sometimes difficult distinguishing the above dichotomy Moritz holds with the ho-hum, matter-of-fact tone she employs. On the one hand, she balances awestruck be-wonderment at the presence of a Brignone with the realization that everyone, even Breezy Johnson and Mikaela Shiffrin, put their boots on in the lodge the same way we all do. On the other hand, her straight-forward responses feel appropriate for “high-level, long-time” type stars, an apt description of Moritz. She’s no stranger to the top five in University and NorAm races, where winners often have six or seven-year advantages, and against her own age, she’s won U16 and junior national titles.
Then again, the way Moritz sees it, this isn’t the top rung on the ladder — it’s just the next step. In essence, her real epiphany is that even in climbing to new levels, she still belongs.
“Yeah for sure,” she answered when asked if she’s derived any confidence from her reflections.
“I can compete with them.”
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