Small move, big change for aerials champ | SteamboatToday.com

Small move, big change for aerials champ

U.S. Ski Team aerialist Harrison Smith soars through the sky Saturday on his way to winning the 2016 aerials national championship in Steamboat Springs.

— There were three jumps built for the U.S. Freestyle National Championships aerials event, which took place Saturday in Steamboat Springs — a Goldilocks of options with big, bigger and biggest.

On the hill, the move from one jump to the next is a minuscule matter of a few feet, but in the air, it's a world of difference, U.S. Ski Team athlete Harrison Smith said.

"It's a lot more height on the bigger jump and a lot more impact when you come down," he said. "It's a lot more nerve-wracking at the top, too, just looking down."

A year ago, he was second at the championships in Steamboat, enjoying one of the best days of his career flying off the middle jump.

This season, he made that move over to the biggest jump, the triple, however, and that allowed him to move up one spot on the podium.

"It means a lot to me," he said. "I was stocked to put down my jumps when it counted."

Recommended Stories For You

Participation in the week's aerials event paled in comparison the moguls side of things, which wrap up today with a dual moguls event. Whereas 135 moguls skiers started this week's bumps competitions, 25 did so for aerials.

The aerials program's credentials are unmatched, however. The program has had athletes win the overall World Cup championship three times in the past two years and with three different athletes.

There may not be a lot of them, but they're good.

"Our program is extremely dedicated," said Kiley McKinnon, the 2015 World Cup champion. "We have a lot of younger kids coming up who are extremely talented, and it’ showing the U.S. team is the team to watch out for."

McKinnon flew to a second-place finish Saturday, landing behind teammate and reigning World Cup champ Ashley Caldwell.

The pair finished in the same order at last year's nationals competition in Steamboat, though for McKinnon, Saturday's success was sweeter. A year ago, neither landed a clean jump in the finals.

This year, McKinnon came close, dragging a hand as she landed. Caldwell, meanwhile, was clean, finishing with a score of 87.88.

McKinnon was second with a finals score of 83.54, and Megan Nick was third at 76.85.

"This year, she landed, and I touched a hand, so it was really close, but I'm glad we got to go one and two again," McKinnon said. "

On the men's side, it was all about that slide six feet to the side, at least for Smith.

He finished with a dominating score of 117.85, putting him comfortably in first place.

"I landed some of my biggest jumps of the season and got the best scores of my life, so I'm pretty stoked," he said.
Nik Seemann, an aerialist from Winter Park, was second at 106.11.

He was thrilled to land the result in what he considers his old stomping ground.

"I was happy to put it down in my neck of the woods," he said. "It went really well."

Patrick O'Flynn was third with a top score of 84.10.

The championships wrap up Sunday with the final event, dual moguls. The first run is scheduled for 10:40 a.m. on Voo Doo run at Steamboat Ski Area.

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

U.S. Freestyle National Championships aerials results

Men

1 Harrison Smith, 117.85

2 Nik Seemann 106.11

3 Patrick O’Flynn 84.10

Women

1 Ashley Caldwell 87.88

2 Kiley McKinnon 83.54

3 Megan Nick 76.85

U.S. Freestyle Skiing National Championships schedule

Sunday

10:40 a.m. — Men’s and women’s dual moguls competition