Big Vail presence on Olympic mogul team
EAGLE COUNTY — Through the performance of their athletes this season, the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team earned the option to take eight moguls skiers to the 2018 Olympics.
Four of those eight skiers are from Ski & Snowboard Club Vail.
Morgan Schild, of Pittsford, New York; Tess Johnson, of Edwards; Emerson Smith, of Breckenridge, and Casey Andringa, of Boulder, all joined the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail program with hopes of making it to the Olympics one day. The chances of them all making it to the 2018 games, however, were very slim.
Speaking from Park City, Utah, on Tuesday, Jan. 23, after receiving his official team uniform, Andringa said the common link was in the coaching.
“When I was 18, everyone that I grew up skiing with at Winter Park left to go to college,” Andringa said. “I knew I wasn’t done yet, and I also knew that John Dowling was arguably the best mogul coach in the entire world. My parents said if you’re going to do this and be serious about it, you might as well go where the best coach is.”
Andringa joined Ski & Snowboard Club Vail two years after Dowling had signed on as freestyle program director.
‘ADVISING FROM AFAR’
Dowling brought with him to Vail a bevy of talent, including coach Riley Campbell. Campbell had been one of Dowling’s athletes, and Dowling recognized the potential in him to be a great coach.
This season, Campbell has been Dowling’s man on the ground, traveling to competitions and helping the athletes.
“But Dowling was still watching and advising from afar,” Campbell said.
Certain tips, here and there, from both Dowling and Campbell throughout the season, proved to be invaluable for all of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail’s athletes.
“With Tess (Johnson), we knew she needed to shave a second and a half off her time to get into a superfinal (top-six round),” Campbell said. “Dowling had this thought that if she didn’t go as big as some of the other girls on her top air (first jump on the two-jump moguls course), she’ll spend more time on the snow, and it will be a faster approach.”
Johnson lowered her times, made the superfinal in the last Olympic qualifier of the season to earn her spot on the team.
2017 National Champion Morgan Schild was among the top competitors on the World Cup circuit last season, notching a win and another podium. Her berth on the 2018 team seemed like a foregone conclusion, until the qualifiers actually started. She made the top 16 at the first event and then crashed. She didn’t find any better results at the second of five qualifiers.
“Dowling said she needed to look at it like she’s building toward Pyeongchang,” Campbell said. “She skied into sixth place at the next event, she’s always wanting the podium but I knew that was fine because we’re building.”
At the next event, a home-snow World Cup in Deer Valley, Utah, “we implemented that same planning, how she built herself up through the training runs into the competition.”
Schild notched a pair of podiums in Deer Valley and made the minimum objective criteria for the Olympic team.
“She sealed the deal in Deer Valley,” Campbell said.
FOURTH SPOT SERENADE
Emerson Smith was the only mogul skier on the U.S. men’s team to start off the season skiing well. At the first event, a tough competition in Ruka, Finland, more than 50 skiers took to the course before him. Ordinarily, this would not have been ideal.
“But in this case it was almost a blessing because he was able to see what was going on,” Campbell said.
Before Smith had a chance to touch the course, all of the other U.S. men and a large number of top skiers from other countries had crashed.
“I grabbed him by the jacket and said ‘don’t miss this opportunity,’” Campbell said.
Smith made it to the top-16 finals and was the best-finishing American on the day.
“We went to the next event in China and he made the superfinal,” Campbell said. “He then made both finals in Deer Valley, and by doing that, he helped Team USA end up with four mogul men instead of three.”
The U.S. Freestyle Ski Team encompasses several disciplines — halfpipe, slopestyle, aerials, moguls and ski cross — and if American mogul skiers weren’t making regular appearances in finals at World Cups, then they risk losing one of their potential Olympic spots to another discipline.
When the fifth Olympic qualifier had concluded, Smith was the fourth-best American in the points standing.
“Sure enough, that fourth spot that he helped to earn went to him,” Campbell said. “If they would have only taken three, he wouldn’t have made it.”
ANDRINGA’S INCREDIBLE ODDS
While Smith’s journey sounds improbable, it can’t compare to Andringa’s, which Campbell described it as a “1,000 to one shot.”
The odds started to stack up against Andringa last season, when he wasn’t named to the U.S. Ski Team.
“Last season, Todd Schirman (U.S. Freestyle program director) and Matt Gnoza (head moguls coach) were in a tough place with the amount of athletes they had,” Andringa said. “I recognized that their hands were kind of tied.”
Unfazed, Andringa came up with a plan.
“In an Olympic year, if you just keep skiing well, and keep performing, it can happen,” he said. “And that’s what I came to realize … I could do it, but it was going to take a lot of really, really good runs.”
With the best two results being tabulated from the five Olympic qualifiers, Andringa knew he needed at least two World Cup starts to have a shot. His only shot and earning two World Cup starts was to win the two events he knew he was invited to — the U.S. Selections competitions in December.
“I knew that was the only shot I would have,” he said. “I would get nauseous thinking about it.”
Andringa, with the help of his younger brother, started a total health program.
“We moved out to the woods and separated ourselves from everybody,” he said. “We cooked all our own meals and would do two to three hour workouts. It was so focused.”
Ski & Snowboard Club Vail coach Hans Gardner followed them out to the woods over the course of the summer, himself living in an Airstream, and watched Andringa’s every move on the water ramps in Steamboat.
“We just focused on jumping,” Andringa said. “Most days it would only be my brother Jesse, me, and Hans out there.”
Andringa did win both U.S. Selections events and earned his two World Cup starts. And then he caught a break.
“All of a sudden I got a call from Matt Gnoza, and he said ‘Casey, we want to congratulate you on earning your World Cup starts in Deer Valley, and we extend an invitation to come to Calgary (another World Cup) with us,’” Andringa said. “I just didn’t even know what to say.”
Andringa went to Calgary with the intention of warming up for Deer Valley.
“I started in 58th that day,” he said. “But I only made one mistake and ended up seventh. I watched everybody in superfinals, realized what I needed to do differently, had a day of travel, went to Deer Valley where I ended up getting fifth.”
The seventh and fifth place finishes were enough to guarantee him a spot on the Olympic team.
Now gearing up for Pyeongchang “I have yet to be as nervous as I was in the gate at U.S. Selections,” he said.