NEW YORK -- Each year, U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s annual New York Gold Medal Gala brings retired greats, current stars and up-and-coming athletes together to celebrate the start of the season and raise funds to help ski and snowboard athletes achieve their goals.
The 53rd gala, held last week at Manhattan’s Ziegfeld Ballroom, raised nearly $2 million through the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Foundation. Its theme, “Inspired by the Stars,” included tributes to retired Olympic champions Lindsey Vonn and Kikkan Randall, who delivered the keynote address.
“It’s nights like this that make you realize people believe in you and are willing to do the work to help you succeed,” said Randall, winner (with Jessie Diggins) of the cross-country skiing team sprint gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. “I think that can give you a little extra momentum, that push you need when you get into those tough races.”
With no world championships in 2020, athletes are gearing up for the 2019-20 world cup seasons, which have already begun for some sports, including alpine skiing over the weekend in Soelden, Austria. Many are already looking ahead to the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
A handful of attendees checked in with TeamUSA.org about offseason preparations and their expectations for the coming season.
Travis Ganong, Alpine SkiingTravis Ganong competes in the men's super-G at the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup on Jan. 20, 2017 in Kitzbuehel, Austria.
Olympian Travis Ganong, who owns 28 top-10 world cup finishes, looks forward to the world cup in December in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
“I won a silver medal (in downhill) at the world championships at Beaver Creek in 2015, so I’ve had some success on that hill,” Ganong said. “It would be really fun to win a race on home soil.”
“Another big goal would be the test event for the Olympics in China (Yanqing) this winter,” he added. “We have a new downhill (course), no one has seen it yet. It’s brand new, an even playing field. The U.S. tends to do really well when it’s a new track, and no one else has a big advantage and tons of experience. It makes the skiing more important than the tactics or the history of the venue.”
Ganong missed a downhill medal at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 by a tenth of a second, placing fifth. He lost a second trip to the Olympics when he injured his right knee (ACL) three weeks before the 2018 PyeongChang Games.
“I was really fired up to go to South Korea,” the Squaw Valley, California, native, now 31, said. “It was really horrible timing. Looking ahead to the next Games, that’s obviously in the back of my head every day. Hopefully if I can stay healthy and motivated, I can be there.”
Brita Sigourney, Halfpipe SkiingBrita Sigourney competes during the freestyle skiing ladies' ski halfpipe final at the Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 20, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.
For freestyle skier Brita Sigourney, who won the halfpipe bronze medal in PyeongChang and again at the 2019 world championships, this season is a bit of a question mark.
“I’ve been rehabbing a broken tibia/fibula this summer, so I’ve done no skiing in the last five and a half months,” the Carmel, California, native said. “I’m very excited to get back on snow, very excited to start training again and see how the ankle feels.”
Sigourney, 29, who also competed in the 2014 Olympics, has come back from several injuries in her career, including knee (ACL) in 2012 and a broken collarbone and shoulder surgery the following year.
“I’ve always benefited in the past from breaks like this forcing me to rehab, and I’m excited to see how my body recovers,” she said. “Right now, it’s all a bit unknown, because I’m not sure about how it will feel until I do get back on snow. I do anticipate competing this year and doing the full circuit. I may have to tone it back the first event or the first month, but I’m hoping I will be right back to where I left off last spring.”
Mick Dierdorff, SnowboardcrossMick Dierdorff competes during the men's snowboard cross qualifier at the FIS Snowboard World Championships on Jan. 31, 2019 in Solitude, Utah.
Mick Dierdorff, who won his first world title in snowboardcross last season in Solitude, Utah, is anxious to prove the result “wasn’t a fluke.”
“This past year was the biggest year of my career so far with the world championships win, so this year feels pretty big to me just to prove to myself I can follow up on the result,” Dierdorff, 28, said.
The 2018 Olympian from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, is raring to go for 2019-20.
“I’m super eager for the year to get going, I have high expectations for myself,” he added. “We have a good number of races on the schedule, there’s a lot of opportunity to check off some good results from the list and hopefully stand on some podiums this year.”
Bradley Wilson, Moguls SkiingBradley Wilson competes in the men's moguls qualifying at the 2018 FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup on Jan. 10, 2018 in Park City, Utah.
Two-time Olympian Bradley Wilson, who won his second consecutive world silver medal in dual moguls in 2019, hopes to build momentum for Beijing 2022.
“I need to get better, I need to get to the point where I can win an Olympic medal,” said Wilson, 27, from Butte, Montana. “This year is one of the years where I’ll be pushing to get up to that level. I have a whole different air plan I’m trying out that I’ve never done before, just so it will be ready (for Beijing).”
Toby Miller, Halfpipe SnowboardingToby Miller competes during the men's snowboard halfpipe qualification at the FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships 2017 on March 10, 2017 in Sierra Nevada, Spain.
Up-and-coming Toby Miller finished fourth in halfpipe at the 2019 world championships, just 1.25 points from a medal. He spent much of the offseason working up new moves and training hard to build strength and prevent injuries.
“I’ve definitely had some injuries at the end of last season that made me miss training, and I had appendicitis during one of our training camps recently in Switzerland,” the 19-year-old Miller said. “I hope not to miss any events. I’m healthy, and I want to keep it that way.”
Miller, of Truckee, California, is eager to show off his new tricks this season.
"In the offseason we definitely train constantly, we have training camps every single month pretty much,” he said. “We (use) giant bags of air, which allow us to try brand new tricks without the risk of decking in the halfpipe or landing flat. We’re trying them in the air and taking them into snow and adding to our runs going into the 2019-20 season. I’m definitely excited. I’m working on a lot of new moves to push my riding and hopefully push halfpipe as well.”
Jaelin Kauf and Tess Johnson, Moguls SkiingJaelin Kauf competes during the freestyle skiing ladies' moguls final at the Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 11, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.
Moguls skier Jaelin Kauf, who upgraded her 2017 world bronze medal in dual moguls to a silver medal in 2019, also plans to bring some new tricks into her run this season.
“Training has been going really well, I’m getting excited about trying to switch things up a little bit,” the 23-year-old Kauf, from Alta, Wyoming, said. “I think judges are looking for something different. They’re a little tired of seeing the same 360 to backflip run over and over again, so I’m trying to give them something a little more exciting.”
Kauf, a 2018 Olympian, is balancing her desire to develop new tricks for Beijing with staying on top the world cup standings.
“I’ve been second in the world (in world cup rankings) the past two years, so (I’m) definitely looking to take the overall, but with bringing new jumps into my runs this season, I have to be a little more willing to make those mistakes,” she said. “Maybe (I won’t) get as great a score every time, but I still want to come out with a number of podiums and good results.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. women’s moguls team comes into the season ranked No. 1 in the world, and Tess Johnson, a 2018 Olympian who finished third in dual moguls at worlds, says she and her teammates are “gunning” for the team title this season.
“Our sport is an individual sport, but our team is really gunning for that Nations Cup (team title),” Johnson, 19, said. “We came second last year in a really tight race to Canada. I think we’re all motivated this year to that goal, in addition to our individual goals. I think that’s really brought us together."
Like Kauf, Johnson is working up new tricks.
“In terms of my individual goals, I’m also looking to incorporate some new variations to my tricks, which is really exciting,” the Vail, Colorado, native said. “I’m currently fifth in the world, nothing to lose, just going to go as hard as I can. I’m really hoping to break into that one, two or three for the overall.”
Ashley Caldwell, Aerials SkiingAshley Caldwell trains for the ladies aerials competition at the FIS Freestyle World Cup on Feb. 1, 2017 in Park City, Utah.
Ashley Caldwell is the first female skier to land a quadruple twisting triple back flip; the trick helped her win gold at the 2017 world championships. Now, at age 26, the three-time Olympian doesn’t think she will be learning many new tricks.
“I’m a little bit older in my career now, so staying healthy is very important,” Caldwell, who is from Washburn, Virginia, said. “I’m not going to be doing my hardest tricks this year. There are other athletes that are pushing really hard because they’re younger, they still have a lot of work to do to increase the degree of difficulty.
“I’ve already broken world records, so I’m just trying to refine what I already have,” she continued. “That’s what it takes in aerials, too, sometimes you have to go back to basics. We’re constantly pushing to do the harder tricks, and that’s harder on your body and harder on your mind.”
Kikkan Randall on Cross-Country SkiingKikkan Randall competes during the ladies cross country skiing 7.5km + 7.5km skiathlon at the Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 10, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.
Randall, who made 29 world cup podiums and five Olympic teams in her storied career, is high on the U.S. cross-country skiing team’s preparation for the season, and she’s especially looking forward to the March world cup stop in Minneapolis.
“I think the athletes have had one of the best summers of training, with these incredible training groups in different parts of the country,” Randall said. “We have the veteran athletes who we know are capable of winning world medals, and we have these young athletes coming into a world where they know it’s possible to win medals.
“Most excitedly, we have a U.S. world cup for the first time since 2001, (so athletes) will get their first world cup experience in front of a U.S. crowd, and our future champions are going to be in the audience watching.”
Julia Kern, Cross-Country SkiingJulia Kern competing in the cross country skiathlon 15k race at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships on February 23, 2019 in Seefeld, Austria.
One of the younger athletes, U.S. cross-country sprint champion Julia Kern, 22, heads to Europe on Nov. 16 to kick off four months of competition on that continent. Toward the end of last season, Kern suffered an elbow injury that required surgery this May, but she says she has fully recovered her arm strength.
“This is my last year as a U23 athlete, and so we have a junior world championships for U23, which is a really big event for me since there is no world championships,” said Kern, who is from Waltham, Massachusetts. “That’s a big goal. I went to my first world championships last year, and that was a cool event reaching the top level. It was great preparation for the Games and I’m really excited to see if I can put my best foot forward for Beijing.”
Katie Hensien, Alpine SkiingKatie Hensien competing in the women's slalom at the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup on January 9, 2018 in Flachau, Austria.
Katie Hensien was a member of the junior world championships team that finished second in the alpine skiing team event last season in Val di Fassa, Italy. She has set high goals for the 2019-20 campaign.
“My goals are to win a junior world medal and get the NorAm (North America Cup) overall title,” Hensien, 19, said. “I’m kind of a mix between junior and world cup, so I’ll be going into world cup and NorAms this year. I’m putting myself up there with other top athletes, making sure I can secure a spot for next year to compete hopefully for world cup all next season.”
Most importantly, the Redmond, Washington, native is taking the long view, focusing on 2022.
“For sure, the Olympics is in the back of my head,” she said. “Hopefully this year I can prove myself that I can be at the top level and compete up there.”