Over the weekend, the best aerials athletes in the world spent the day stunning the crowd at the 2023 U.S. Freestyle Ultimate Airwave Competition and Olympic champion Chris Lillis took home first.
On the second stop of the inaugural FIS Grand Prix World Tour, Park City played host to a full day of world-class aerials competition and the world showed up, with athletes from Canada, Switzerland, China and Australia competing on the water ramps in front of a large home crowd.
Most of the Stifel U.S. Freestyle Ski Team aerials athletes were on the start list, including 2023 World Champion Quinn Dehlinger and Olympic champion Justin Schoenfeld. For the men, Lillis took home his first win of the Grand Prix, and second podium of the series (he was third in Switzerland the week prior). Dehlinger was the next American man, finishing the day in fifth place. For the women, 2022 Olympian Winter Vinecki led the strong U.S. team with a fourth place finish, with teammates Dani Loeb in fifth and Kaila Kuhn in sixth.
"This has been an event that we have been trying out and testing out around the world for about ten years now," said Lillis in a post-competition interview. "So to be able to put it into place has been amazing, and it's been a blast. I am really excited about today, and stoked to be leading the Grand Prix overall. This is a ramp I have taken thousands of jumps off in my career, so to put on a good show in front of the home crowd was amazing!"
A unique addition to the start list were up-and-coming aerials hopefuls, who were hand-selected to compete based on video submissions to the Stifel U.S. Freestyle Ski Team Aerials Pipeline: Digital Combine organized and supported by GMTM. Athletes Brayden Flynn and Beaudin Napolitano competed in Saturday’s competition, showcasing their skills on one of the bigger stages of the sport. The Digital Combine by GMTM is an athlete recruitment program that acts as a pipeline for athletes to reach the next stage of the sport.
“In partnership with the USOPC this past spring, we teamed up with GMTM to create an aerial athlete recruitment program that allows athletes to try out through a video submission or a virtual competition series," said U.S. Freestyle Sport Director Matt Gnoza. "It was so great to see athletes from the aerial recruitment program compete at the FIS level for the first time at the Ultimate Airwaves. U.S. Ski & Snowboard are excited to assist these athletes as they work to become the next great American aerial athlete.”
"Redefining pathways for athletes -- that's what we've been working so closely on with Matt and the team," said Connor Dietz, GMTM Co-founder. "For the first time ever, any athlete is able to participate and be seen by U.S. Ski & Snowboard, regardless of their location, sport background or socioeconomic situation. We're excited that these two athletes are the first of many to follow."
Next up, aerials athletes will travel to Australia for the final FIS Grand Prix World Tour stop before the start of the 2023-24 winter season.