John Lillis finds super finals, finishes as top U.S. men’s competitor

Ben Ramsey
The Park Record
Jon Lillis holds up a number one after landing his jump successfully during the first round of finals at the Visa FIS Freestyle World Cup Aerials event at Deer Valley Resort Friday evening, January 12, 2018. (Tanzi Propst/Park Record)
Tanzi Propst |

The past year has been a roller coaster for U.S. aerials skier John Lillis. In March he won the World Championships in Spain, then in October his youngest brother Mikey died suddenly in his sleep. In December his younger brother Chris, also an aerials skier with the U.S. team, broke his leg in training before a competition in China — all this while trying to qualify for the rapidly approaching 2018 Winter Games.

On Friday, Lillis was the highest-placing American at the FIS Visa International Freestyle Ski World Cup at Deer Valley Resort, where he took sixth overall.

Lillis jumped to the top of the bracket in the finals when he earned 130.53 points and a spot in the super finals.

Had he earned that score in the super finals, he would have taken third. But he lost control on the landing of his super final jump and earned 72.85 points, dropping him to sixth.

He said overall, he was proud of his performance.

“Outside of the last one, I was really happy,” he said. “The jump before that was two points away from perfect, and they don’t really give out perfect scores, so as far as that goes it’s about as good as it gets. If I can keep that going and keep that momentum rolling and keep that going into the upcoming Games, I will be really happy.”

It made his teammates happy, too.

“I love seeing good jumps,” Ashley Caldwell said. “What’s awesome about aerials is we have a lot of camaraderie in our sport – it’s very tough, it’s very scary — so when someone does a nice jump we all appreciate it. … Also, I know him personally very well, and he’s struggled with a lot of things this year and to see him do well feels good.”

Lillis said he is doing what he can to help his brother while he heals from the broken leg, but that is largely in the hands of the specialists treating him at U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s Center of Excellence.

“It’s been a hard year for both of us, so I know this put a dinger in his year, but he knows how much I care about him and how much I love him,” he said. “He’s the best brother and I try and be the best brother I can be, and that’s pretty much all we can do.”

Currently, his sixth-place finish puts him at ninth overall in FIS aerials, just behind Mac Bohonnon in seventh, who missed qualifying for the super finals after a rough landing on his finals jump.

Maxim Buroz of Russia took first overall on Friday, followed by Guangpu Qi of China and Anton Kushnir of Belarus.

With all the things outside of his control, Lillis is focusing on what he can do: the full, full, double full. “It’s a very hard trick to land and hard to perform, so it’s all about building up going into the Olympic Games,” he said. “That’s the one I plan to use to win there. If I can keep building and keep the momentum going for (Pyeongchang), it would be really good.”

But he has to get there first. He needs two podiums to objectively qualify for the Winter Games. Solid performances like Friday’s could prove to coaches he’s worth bringing as a discretionary selection.