Steamboat Springs There’s just a little something different about walking off the course and into a hug from mom.
Surely, U.S. Freestyle Ski Team moguls skier Jaelin Kauf would have been happy to have won her first national championship, no matter the location, but doing it in Steamboat Springs, where she attended high school and trained with the local club, was something extra special, she said.
With friends and family cheering at the bottom of the hill, Kauf got the best of her matchups all day on Voodoo run, where she refined her skills as a teenager, and Saturday, she won the final head-to-head matchup against teammate KC Oakley to take the U.S. dual moguls national championship.
"It’s awesome, to be on my home mountain and have a bunch of family and friends here. It’s unbelievable,” she said. “I’m really glad I got to share this with them.”
Kauf’s win capped a good, two-podium weekend for the 20-year old Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club skier. She was also third on Friday in the individual moguls finals. More than that, however, the championship capped a brilliant finish to her season, one that launched her from middle of the pack on the U.S. team to one of the squad’s top contenders.
Kauf racked up seven top-five finishes in her final 10 events of the season, including two World Cup podiums and one win, a World Championship dual moguls bronze medal and, this weekend, bronze and gold in Steamboat.
“It’s a great way to end the season,” she said. “I guess in the big picture, this win doesn’t really mean a whole lot for me. I already have a spot on the team. But just the title is something really cool to have. Not many people get to walk away with that title, so it’s special.”
It wasn’t easy Saturday.
Steamboat’s Avital Shimko, who had quite a weekend herself with a second-place finish Friday, knocked out teammate Lane Stoltzner in the quarterfinals, then met Kauf in the semifinals.
Kauf pulled out a tight dual there and won an even closer one, 18-17, in the finals against Oakley.
Oakley won the race to the finish line, but Kauf was cleaner in jumps and turns to take the edge.
“Those last two were really tight,” Kauf said.
U.S. Ski Team athlete Tess Johnson then beat Shimko in the small finals to lock up third place. Stoltzner ended up seventh.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9