Steamboat Springs Jeremy Cota finally realizes that going bigger isn't always better.
It's a fine line that the freestyle mogul skier has long dealt with. His talents were always apparent. Nobody would go as big as he did. Nobody would try a lot of the tricks he would. But for years, Cota could never find the consistency to finish runs.
"I always felt like my skill level and technical level have always been there," Cota said. "It was just consistency. I had the jumps and the turns to do well, but I was unable to put runs together in previous years."
But now, the 20-year-old - who moved to Steamboat Springs last season to train with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club - is starting to better understand the process.
After missing a spot on the U.S. Ski Team Selections event the past three years, Cota finally made the jump this year after winning the NorAm Grand Prix.
"I wouldn't say surprised, I'd say we were elated," said Erik Skinner, the Winter Sports Club's freestyle director. "We were extremely happy for him. Consistency was something we were wondering about. We thought he could have done it at selections, but to get that number of starts and podiums at NorAms was really beneficial."
Cota started skiing at age 2 when his mother, a ski instructor, taught him the basics at a small mountain in Maine.
As he progressed, he joined a freestyle team and went to the Carrabassett Valley Academy for high school. After a couple of years competing on the East Coast, Cota realized his best chance to advance in the freestyle program was to train in Steamboat.
He made the move because he knew some of the coaches and athletes who train out here, and for all the summer work he'd be able to put in at the water ramps at Bald Eagle Lake.
Skinner said when Cota joined the Winter Sports Club, his skills were well known. The focus then, Skinner said, was refining his skills and getting him to focus on little things instead of the big picture.
Cota said he came into the season with tempered expectations after just missing the U.S. Ski Team the previous couple of years.
It was like dejÃ vu all over again for Cota at the selections event this season, where on his final run he narrowly missed making the U.S. Ski Team.
But whereas in years past the near miss may have derailed Cota's season, this time he said he just focused on the task at hand.
"It's definitely a mental game," Cota said. "A lot of skiers out there with skill level will be up there, but what separates the better skiers is when to push it and when to back down. It's not an easy thing to do. I think the reason I was able to find that line was through experience. I would go out and try hard jumps and end up falling. It pays to back down sometimes."
Rob Day, the Winter Sports Club's lead NorAm ability coach, said Cota always has had talent. He said the biggest difference was the work at the water ramps he put in during the summer and attacking competitions differently.
"He went into the season with a different outlook," Day said. "The consistency of his skiing made him have a winning year. He grew up and became more mature."
Now, Cota will train throughout the summer in Steamboat and at various U.S. Team camps.
He's already qualified for the Gold Cup next year, where the winner earns an automatic bid to the 2010 games. Depending on what the U.S. Ski Team coaches decide, Cota also could be in line for several World Cup starts.
While the 2010 Olympics are certainly a possibility, Cota said with his newfound focus, he's just trying to get better for next year.
"My goal, I feel like if my summer training goes as planned, my skills early next season will be there with the best guys in the country," he said. "My goal is to ski my best everywhere I go. As long as I ski my best run, I know I'll keep moving my way up through the ranks."