Shimko skiing from NYC to the U.S. Ski Team, via Steamboat Springs | SteamboatToday.com

Shimko skiing from NYC to the U.S. Ski Team, via Steamboat Springs

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The path from Manhattan in New York City to the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team can't be a direct one for a lot of reasons.

For Avital Shimko, that journey required one big waypoint, and she found it in Steamboat Springs, her home for seven years. She was a wide-eyed 14-year-old showing up for her first day of school at Lowell Whiteman School — she proudly will point out it was still called Lowell Whiteman when she graduated in 2014, though it's since changed its name to Steamboat Mountain School. Now, seven years later, she's just days removed from the best season of her career, one winter in which it all came true, and she's just a month away from packing up to move to Park City, Utah, where she'll continue to compete with the U.S. Ski Team.

"I can't believe I'll be saying goodbye to Steamboat," she said Sunday as she arrived back in the town after competing in Waterville Valley Resort, New Hampshire, at the U.S. Freestyle Skiing National Championships.

"It's been amazing," she said. "It's helped me grow as a person and an athlete."

The latest accomplishment in Shimko's breakthrough season came late last week when she finished second in the women's moguls event at the national championships.

That was actually a spot she'd reached before the year prior, second at nationals, but a change to the national team's rules meant every athlete had to compete this year whereas in year's past, some of the elite would opt out of the week's competitions.

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Second last year was nice, she said. Second this year was awesome.

She was one of a handful of Steamboat Springs skiers to shine in New Hampshire.

Keaton McCargo won the individual moguls event ahead of Shimko while Steamboat-trained Olivia Giaccio completed the podium in third.

Kenzie Radway, enjoying a breakout season of her own, placed 12th in the first year she's been old enough to compete in the competition.  Steamboat's Trudy Mickel placed 14th and Jaelin Kauf, fresh off a second-place finish in the season-long World Cup standings, was 15th after a bobble on her finals run.

Competing in dual moguls on Saturday, Kauf finished second, behind Vail's Tess Johnson. McCargo rounded out the podium in third, and Giaccio was fourth.

Shimko placed seventh, Radway 10th and Mickel 11th.

On the men's side, Bradley Wilson won both events. Jesse Andringa was second in the individual moguls competition and Dylan Walczyk third. Walczyk was second in duals and Troy Murphy third.

Wyatt Antkiewicz, who moved to Steamboat Springs last summer to train and compete with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, placed 11th in individual moguls. Landon Wendler was 38th in that event, only done in by a bobble off the bottom air. He placed 22nd in dual moguls.


Upward and onward

For Shimko, the strong week of results capped a strong season of results, one she'd been waiting on.

She's not officially on the U.S. Ski Team yet, but she will be when it's named later this spring, thanks to winning the North American Cup circuit.

The Nor-Am Cup this year consisted of eight events. She competed in seven, won three, was on the podium for three more and finished sixth in the last one. She was third on that circuit a year ago, but winning it guarantees her a spot on the U.S. team.

Earlier in the season, she was first once and second once in the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team Selections event in Winter Park. Those results earned her World Cup starts at the World Cup in Deer Valley, and she cashed that coin in big time, making finals before finishing 15th in the biggest event of her career.

Her strong skiing had her in the conversation to make the U.S. Olympic Team, something she was a deep dark horse for before the season.

She couldn't quite capitalize on that opportunity but did earn more World Cup starts. She placed 12th in Megeve, France, at the last World Cup of the season.

"She had a great winter," said Kate Blamey, Shimko's coach in Steamboat. "She just kept rolling and progressing and competing at the top level. She was skiing great runs week after week."

There were moments before this season Shimko wondered whether it would ever happen. Blamey's team of Steamboat-based moguls skiers has become a bit of a fast track to the U.S. Ski Team.

In recent seasons Kauf, Giaccio and Mickel have all jumped from Steamboat to the team, and Shimko could only watch as those athletes, most younger than her, came to town, achieved big results and moved on to Park City.

Their dreams came while hers seemed forever around the corner.

"It's been tough, but I learned you just have to focus on yourself and not let that bring you down. People peak at different times."

She's peaking now, and this spring she's expecting that call from U.S. Ski Team coaches, the one that will call her up to the team she's waited so long to join.

"Thank you Steamboat," she said. "It's sad to be leaving, but I'm really excited for the next steps."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.