WATERVILLE VALLEY, NH — The inaugural Waterville Valley Freestyle Cup put competitors to the test in classic New England conditions — a constant mix of snow and freezing rain — but still managed to be a solid showcase of the best mogul skiing in the world.
The men’s and women’s overall FIS World Cup leaders finished the day on the top step of the podium. The Japanese Ikuma Horishima won the men’s competition, while the Australian Jakara Anthony emerged as the undisputed champion among the women.
It was a great day for the Americans, who clinched five of the six spots for the super final, the final round of the competition. Although Anthony won his sixth consecutive World Cup freestyle event and captured the overall season title in moguls, Americans Jaelin Kauf and Hannah Soar finished second and third, respectively.
In the men’s category, Australian Cooper Woods produced his best run of the day during the super final to finish second, while Canadian 10-time Moguls World Cup champion Mikaël Kingsbury had to settle for third place. The highest-placed American was Cole McDonald, who drew a roar from the crowd with an electrifying final run and finished fifth.
The event took place on one of Waterville Valley’s classic mogul trails, Lower Bobby’s Run, which has proven to be a challenge for the best in the world. Bad weather was a major factor.
“Today was definitely a fight all day long,” said Kauf, who won a silver medal at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. “It started with me being so firm. Honestly, that first race was very difficult, it was just a matter of trying to put together an up and down run, which I hadn’t done in training.
However, Kauf and her teammates handled these difficult conditions better than their international competitors. Part of it is experience: Soar and fellow American skier Olivia Giaccio are from New England, and the New Hampshire ski area has hosted several recent editions of U.S. national championships.
“Normally when I’m skiing in the rain on the East Coast – which is all the time – I wear a rubber suit, I have my dishwashing gloves on and I’m prepared for that,” Soar joked. “I’m a New Englander, I know how to prepare for rain, but when we compete it’s obviously different. I can’t get ready with my dishwashing gloves on to ski the course, so this was actually one of my first competition appearances in this weather.
“In the super final, when everyone was crashing in front of me, I was just thinking, ‘If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s how to ski up and down in the rain, and just go down -le,” she explained. “Nothing special, and that’s kind of what was needed today given the weather.”
Conditions should be better for Saturday’s parallel moguls event, which will take place on the same course. Yet despite occasional bouts of intense freezing rain, a loyal crowd of mogul ski enthusiasts gathered at the finish line to cheer. Waterville Valley, which claims to be “the birthplace of freestyle skiing,” has managed to make quite an impression.
“It’s so cool to compete here,” Kauf said. “Waterville has so much history when it comes to freestyle. Wayne Wong is here, Donna Weinbrecht (and) Hannah Kearney were commenting on it. It’s cool to be part of this history, with this old freestyle community coming together. It is special. It really shows the family community what freestyle skiing is all about.