UPDATE: Whitefish native and 15-year-old freeski phenom Maggie Voisin will round out the U.S. Olympic Freeskiing roster after being awarded the coaches’ discretionary spot Tuesday afternoon. Read the story here.
Last weekend the best slopestyle skiers in North America competed in Park City, Utah, at the fifth and final Olympic qualifying event, vying for a trip to Sochi, Russia, where the new-age sport is making its debut at the Winter Games in two weeks.
After it was all said and done and the final scores were announced, Luke Van Valin, the “voice of freesking” who served as commentator for the Olympic qualifier, felt inspired to state his opinion via the Internet.
“Maggie Voisin is the future of women’s slopestyle,” he stated on Twitter after Saturday’s finale.
The bold declaration echoed a sentiment shared by many in the freeskiing community and drew a quick, punctuated response from professional skier Kristi Leskinen.
“The future is now!”
Indeed, the daring 15-year-old from Whitefish has burst onto the scene, captivating audiences, inspiring contemporaries and embodying the new generation of freeskiers.
Now the decision must be made: Is she an Olympian?
This week, either Jan. 21 or Jan. 22, coaches from the U.S. Olympic Team were slated to announce one or two additional women to be added as discretionary picks in slopestyle skiing.
Based on the final point standings after the five Olympic qualifying events, Voisin was next in line to garner a trip to Sochi, although it remained in tight contention.
When it came down to the top two combined scores, Voisin was tied with 16-year-old Julia Krass, a native of New Hampshire and Voisin’s roommate in Park City, where the two young skiers reside during the competition season.
In terms of total points, Voisin edged Krass 280 to 274. Both achieved one top-three finish during the qualifying run-up to the Olympics. Krass helped her chances in a big way by winning last weekend’s final qualifier. A day after narrowly missing a third-place finish that would have sealed the Olympic berth, Voisin placed sixth in the finale. Darian Stevens, a talented 18-year-old skier from Missoula who was on Voisin’s heals during the Grand Prix, placed seventh overall on Saturday. She ranked fifth in the final standings with a top-two score of 150 and overall tally of 255.
None of those three athletes achieved the objective criteria for qualifying by earning two podium finishes in the five Grand Prix contests. Two other female slopestyle skiers — Devin Logan and Keri Herman — did meet the standards and became the first members of the inaugural U.S. Freeskiing Olympic roster.
The three other teams within the Olympic Freeskiing Roster — men’s halfpipe and slopestyle and women’s halfpipe — all have three athletes on the Olympic roster right now, which means the women’s slopestyle squad would likely add at least one more member.
Mike Jankowski, the head coach of the U.S. Olympic freeskiing and halfpipe teams, has said he wants to take four female slopestyle skiers to Sochi. That would make Voisin an obvious candidate. However, the unpredictable nature of whittling down an Olympic roster was recently called to mind after coaches with the U.S. Figure Skating Team bumped a qualified competitor for another high-ranking skater.
“The level of competition for the Olympic spots was amazingly intense — we definitely saw a new level of competition,” Jankowski said after last week’s final event. “To have so many spots come down to the final event is indicative of the depth we have across these sports in America. We will be taking a team to Sochi that is well prepared to compete for medals.”
A spokesperson from the U.S. Freeskiing Team said Jankowski would make his final picks this week, and then the U.S. Olympic Committee will formally name the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Jan. 27.
If Voisin were chosen, she would become the youngest American Olympian and one of the youngest at the Winter Games.
But even if she didn’t make the Olympics, her stature in the sport remains significant and her future is still bright.
As Van Valin alluded to, this is likely only the beginning of Voisin’s rise.
She flew to Aspen this week to practice for the upcoming Winter X Games, where she will make her debut Jan. 26 in the women’s slopestyle competition. Being chosen to compete at the premier winter sports event, which has become the main platform for the young generation of freeskiers, is an impressive feat in itself, and reflects Voisin’s level of talent. Winter X Games is Jan. 23-26.
For sure, it’s been a wild ride to get there.
As she says in her U.S. Freeskiing bio, “I learned to ski on Whitefish Mountain Resort where my parents put me in a pair of skis at age two. From there I found my passion.”
Two years ago, she gained national attention as a rising star on the Whitefish Mountain Resort Freestyle Team. That spring she won the women’s national title at the Freestyle Skiing Junior Nationals in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Her final score of 80 was the highest total for all women competitors and was almost 10 points higher than the 18-year-old runner-up. Among the array of high-flying spins Voisin performed in the finals, she impressed everyone with a rodeo 540 — a spin and a half with a backflip tucked in between.
Now she’s a star, regularly throwing switch left 900s, a trick hardly any other female competitors have successfully landed. She became the youngest member of the U.S. national team and ESPN named her the “Slopestyle Rookie of the Year,” highlighting her as a stylish innovator pushing the boundaries of possibility. Leading up to the Olympic qualifiers, she won the world championships in Whistler, British Columbia, the junior nationals and the USASA nationals.
In the Grand Prix series of Olympic qualifiers, commentators described the affable teenager from Montana as a beloved fan favorite and classy competitor who, in her own words, reminds herself during high-intensity events “to go out there and have fun and be like Maggie.”
In the second qualifier, she celebrated her 15th birthday in style, placing third in Breckenridge, Colo. She moved into the top position in the overall points standings after two events, but opted out of the third qualifier due to reported soreness and became tied for third with two events remaining.
In last week’s second-to-last event, she pulled off an impressive run that put her in third place with only one skier left. It would have essentially sealed her Olympic trip, except Canada’s Dara Howell scored 87, earning second place and bumping Voisin down to fourth and off the podium.
Voisin performed masterfully yet again in Saturday’s finale, throwing her distinctively big jumps with technical proficiency. Yet a couple small discrepancies in the judging dropped her to sixth place at the conclusion of the event, leaving the final say on her Olympic fate up to the coaches.
Regardless of whether Voisin punches her ticket to Sochi, this won’t be the last time she approaches her dream of competing on the world’s biggest stage.
“Maggie Voisin is an amazingly talented young female skier,” said Skogen Sprang, a coach on the U.S. Freeskiing Slopestyle team. “She has a very positive attitude and some of the most defined grabs in the business.”