Ava Sunshine competes in the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup women's giant slalom event on Nov. 26, 2022 in Killington, Vt.
In her first ever FIS alpine World Cup — in Levi, Finland, in mid-November — Ava Sunshine did what no U.S. skier had done in two decades. She scored world cup points in a slalom race (a feat accomplished by finishing in the top 30).
“I knew it was in me to make the flip,” Sunshine said about her results in Levi, using ski-racing lingo to refer to earning a second run. “I talked to my technician on the gondola before the race, and we were just saying how I had nothing to lose, I had done no world cups, no one’s really expecting anything.”
“It can only go up from here,” she realized, “so I might as well just go for it.”
Mikaela Shiffrin, who won both slalom world cup races in Levi, named one of her reindeer Sunny after her new teammate. [The prize for winning the Levi races is a reindeer.] It was, said Sunshine, “really sweet.”
At the Killington World Cup over Thanksgiving weekend, 20-year-old Sunshine did not make the flip (earn a second run) in the giant slalom. In slalom, she straddled a gate and was disqualified.
Still, it’s a bright dawn for Ava Sunshine.
Unlike most world-class ski-racers, Sunshine was not born on skis — nor was she born with the last name Sunshine. Until this year, she was known as Ava Sunshine Jemison. She dropped her last name and now uses her middle name as a last name “because it sounds better,” she said, with a smile that could become her trademark.
Her two younger siblings also have fun middle names. Her sister’s middle name is Violet and her brother’s is Cash.
Born in Denver, Colorado, Sunshine was 8 when her family moved to Edwards, Colorado, near Vail Resort. The change was not so Sunshine and her siblings could ski more frequently. The family just wanted to get out of the city.
Living in the mountains, Sunshine started skiing. She also learned to surf around the same time, whenever her family was visiting either the Pacific or Atlantic coast. Her Instagram has as many surfing pics as skiing. She even competed in a few surfing competitions. Sunshine and her mom and siblings now call Carlsbad, California, home.
Sunshine was a good ski racer, but not great yet. She graduated from high school in Vail in spring 2020 and realized that she needed a change of scene. So for the 2020-2021 season, she did a “gap year” at Burke Mountain Academy — a ski-racing academy in northern Vermont where both Mikaela Shiffrin and Olympian Nina O’Brien are alums.
“That was when I decided I would pursue skiing no matter what,” Sunshine said. “I'm going to try to get as good as I can get, to the highest level I can, whatever that looks like.”