Pair of northern Michigan skiers prepare for first Olympics

·4 min read

Jan. 23—PARK CITY, Utah — Tuesday marks the start of a big adventure for two local skiers, but the journey began long before that.

Winter Vinecki and Kaila Kuhn will represent the United States in Freestyle Aerial Skiing at the 2022 Winter Olympic games — an event that's been described as a mashup of ski jumping and gymnastics. The two northern Michigan natives depart for Beijing from Park City, Utah, next week for the Games that run from Feb. 4-20.

"Just getting there right now is such a huge accomplishment itself, especially with everything that's going on," Vinecki said. "One of our biggest stressors and concerns right now is just getting to China, staying healthy, and keeping away from COVID."

Vinecki, 23, grew up in Gaylord and moved out to Park City to take on freestyle at 13 years old after meeting U.S. freestyle skier Emily Cook in 2011. She was hoping to try and qualify for the 2018 games in PyeongChang, South Korea, before a knee injury ended her season.

Kuhn, 18, lived in Boyne City before attending high school virtually and training with the U.S. Elite Aerial Development Program in Lake Placid, New York. She took off with the sport after getting to know Vinecki through a mutual friend.

"I met her for the first time five or six years ago and I saw her as one of the coolest people," Kuhn said. "She was on the national team and that's something that I really wanted. To have trained really hard and to be going into our first Olympics together, it's really cool — especially because we're both from a small town in Michigan."

The timing couldn't come at a better time for Vinecki, who is coming off her best season yet on the FIS World Cup. She finished second on the 2020-21 tour with three podium finishes — a first-place finish in Moscow, Russia, then second- and third-place the next two weekends.

Vinecki met the Olympic qualification standards this past December after a string of strong finishes in Ruka, Finland. She helped the U.S. take second in Team Aerials — a new event for the 2022 games with teams of two males and one female.

Vinecki said the addition of the event is neat because it gives aerial skiers a chance to earn multiple medals — just like swimmers. The rosters for it have not yet been announced.

"Going into this season, I have another variation of a triple-twisting double backflip that I've worked on all summer and hopefully going to be doing for the Olympics here," Vinecki said. "We'll have a nice high degree of difficulty heading into the games. I've really just been focused on staying healthy, getting some good training in and really feeling confident in my tricks."

Kuhn also took a podium last year with a third-place finish at a World Cup event in Park City, which doubled as an Olympic tryout.

The Olympic qualifying process is complicated, Kuhn said, but it helped her grow as a person and taught her to trust the process and her training.

The U.S. Ski and Snowboard team officially announced the nominations of Kuhn and Vinecki to the Olympic aerials team Friday night.

"Obviously, it's a dream come true," Kuhn said. "It doesn't really feel real because I've been working toward the Olympics for so long now. It just feels really rewarding."

Because of the pandemic, however, their families won't be able to travel with them.

The IOC announced Monday that only selected spectators will be allowed to watch the Games in person. It had already announced that no fans from outside mainland China would be permitted at the events, and tickets were not offered to the general public.

"My family has made just as much sacrifice to getting me here as I have. It's tough that they can't be going over to support me and be there with me," Vinecki said.

In lieu, Vinecki says her family from Gaylord is planning to head to a watch party in Utah. Boyne City high school students were working on sending postcards of support to Kuhn, according to a Facebook post by the school.

The qualification rounds for the Women's Aerials event at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou are set for 19:00 China Standard Time (6 a.m. in Traverse City), Feb. 13. The finals are the next day.

The events will stream on nbcolympics.com

Visit Record-Eagle.com to read feature stories on both Kuhn and Vinecki that ran on Dec. 20, 2020.