VAIL, Colorado - Ski Girls Rock received a boon from a true rock star of the ski world Sunday when Lindsey Vonn visited the program and skied with some of its participants.
Hosted by Vail Resorts, the opportunity to ski with Vonn was part of a celebration titled "Welcome Home Lindsey," where the four-time World Cup overall winner was welcomed back here to her hometown in true rock-star fashion - by hundreds of screaming fans.
But for a few young Vonn followers, the homecoming party was more of an apres ski session, with the fun part of the day coming earlier.
On Sunday morning, a selection of roughly 10 girls from around the world joined Vonn for a few turns on the Nastar course at Vail Mountain's Black Forest Race Arena. Seven-year-old Michaela Landry was first in the gates to ski alongside Vonn, Landry in the yellow course with her hero alongside her on the green.
"We came here just for this," said Barbara Landry, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as her daughter Michaela skied the course. "It's so nice to have somebody like (Vonn) so involved and wanting to see girls succeed in the sport."
Designed by Vonn herself, Ski Girls Rock lessons involve groups of no more than four girls ages 5 to 15 and are led by female instructors who "focus not only on improving skiing skills but empowering girls through the sport and creating opportunities to bond and build confidence along with developing teamwork and social skills," according to Vail Resorts.
And after being a part of several Ski Girls Rock sessions this season, it came as no surprise to see that Michaela Landry - who joined Ski Girls Rock as a level "high 6" and ended as a level 8 skier - was out in front of the pack to ski with Vonn.
"Michaela was the most fun I had skiing with a girl or anybody all season," Ski Girls Rock instructor Caitlin Turi said. "She did such a great job. She always had a smile on her face, and that's a big part of what Ski Girls Rock is all about - having fun, having a good time, making it more fun to learn and do tougher stuff."
Turi said the "tougher stuff" aspect of Ski Girls Rock was one of her favorite components of the program.
"I'm kind of a girly girl who likes to rip around and ski," she said. "(At Ski Girls Rock) you get some girls who are really great skiers, and they can progress a lot more because they feel comfortable around you. ... When you get more comfortable, you get more confidence, and the more confidence you have, the easier it is for you to learn and take those steps to do the more difficult stuff."
Following the skialong, Vonn expressed a fair amount of pride in the Ski Girls Rock program, saying it has been a success.
"I think it's done really well, and being able to come out here and ski with some of those girls was really fun," she said. "Talking with the ski instructors this fall ... I wanted them to focus on really having fun with the girls. I didn't want it to be a structured program - I didn't want it to be like normal ski school - I wanted it to be something totally different where the girls can really get self-confidence and build self-esteem and just be girls."
During the skialong, Barbara Landry said her usually outgoing daughter had been so in awe of Vonn that she was at a rare loss for words in the superstar's presence. But following their race down the Nastar course, the 7-year-old was composed enough to give an accurate analysis of the competition.
With big eyes and an even bigger smile, she exclaimed, "We almost tied!"