For the 11th year running, the FIS Moguls World Cup tour kicked off in Ruka, Finland, Saturday. Former Alta resident and Teton Valley Ski Education Foundation alumnus Jaelin Kauf led the U.S. Ski Team with a second-place podium finish, her best Opener result yet. She shared the podium with France’s Perrine Laffont, who earned the win, and Russia’s Anastasia Smironva, who came in third.
“I’m really stoked, I’m really happy,” she said in the finish area. “I accomplished exactly what I set out to today. I’m looking forward to competing more, building on that run, hopefully bringing in another new trick to the season as well.” Jaelin competed her new back mute grab on the top air and as the season gets underway, will look to bring in a new bottom air as well.
The PowHERHouse turned it on and four American women qualified for finals: Kai Owens, Jaelin, Hannah Soar and Tess Johnson. Sixteen-year-old Kai had a stand-out night with a career-best sixth place finish and her first World Cup super finals appearance. This was Kai’s first time on the Ruka course and she went up against a stacked female super finals field.
“I’m feeling really good, I’m really excited to be out here competing,” said Kai of her night. “This is an awesome event and a great course. It’s an honor to compete with everyone, they’re all my idols still. It makes me super proud of myself and how far I’ve come so I’m excited to keep skiing this season.”
“[She] had one of the biggest bottom airs, men or women, today, especially in that qualifying round,” said Head Coach Matt Gnoza. “That really helped her set the tone throughout the day with that high qualifying position. Kai’s a hard worker and I think what something like this [result] does is make hard workers work harder. She’ll dig in even more to find out what it’s going to take to go from that fifth or sixth to that podium position.”
Hannah Soar ended the night in fifth and Tess Johnson in tenth. In her first World Cup start ever, Sabrina Cass finished in 23rd, and Madison Hogg, in her first World Cup start as a U.S. Ski Team member, came in 25th.
On the men’s side it was anyone’s game as reigning Moguls World Cup Champion Mikael Kingsbury did not compete due to injury. Japan’s Ikuma Horishima took first place, Switzerland’s Marco Tade came in second and Sweden’s Ludvig Fjallstrom rounded out the podium in third.
Dylan Walczyk posted the best result for the Americans with a fourth place finish. “Dylan had good precision on the runs, making the tricks count and maximizing his turns,” said Matt.
Brad Wilson and Nick Page both skied in finals, finishing ninth and 10th, respectively. This was Nick’s second career finals appearance and the 10th place matched his career best from Deer Valley in 2020. He wowed the venue with a surprise cork 14 on his bottom air, making him the first American to throw the trick in international competition, and the third person overall to do so.
“It was fun to be the third overall and the first American to [throw a cork 14],” Nick said. “I didn’t [think I was going to throw it tonight], I was coming into the year knowing it was an option. But coming into the day I wasn’t really planning on it. I hadn’t done any on the course. I wasn’t thinking about it really today. I went into the finals and had nothing to lose.” Keep an eye on Nick as he continues to cut his teeth on the World Cup circuit. “He works very hard at his jumping and that carried him,” Matt said. “He had some of the higher jump scores all day, definitely the highest DD all day. He’s proving he’s going to be a force to reckon with.”
“[Today] was good, it was an event where the veterans were able to take advantage of their knowledge and experience and get the job done, such as with Jaelin’s second place, Dylan’s fourth, Hannah’s fifth and Brad’s ninth,” said Matt. “On the other hand, we saw the blossoming of a couple of new faces with Kai and Nick’s performances.”
With the season officially underway, one of the most unusual prep periods for the U.S. Moguls Team comes to a close. And although athletes were unable to get on snow for the majority of the last eight months, they are making up for it in taking advantage of every opportunity so far. “With more time on snow as we move through this crazy season we’ll see even more,” said Matt. “The team is moving in a good direction considering the prep that we’ve had.”
Moguls heads next to IdreFjäll, Sweden for two events, Moguls and Dual Moguls, Dec. 12 & 13.