World-class aerial skier Ashley Caldwell doubles down on triples
January 6, 2018
In Ashley Caldwell's line of work, you travel a lot. In 2017, the Park City resident and reigning world champion aerialist traveled to Spain, China, Belarus, Russia and South Korea for competitions. During a recent phone interview, she was in Amsterdam, packing for her next stop on the World Cup circuit in Russia, but she was already looking forward to returning stateside and skiing in the Visa International World Cup at Deer Valley Resort.
"It's definitely by far the nicest accommodation-wise, food-wise." she said. "And volunteer-wise, the people around us are always so excited for us to be there. You feel like a rock star when you're at Deer Valley."
Which is fitting, because in aerials, she is one.
Not only is Caldwell an elite aerialist – one of a few women in the world performing triple flips – but the 24-year-old is perhaps the most progressive athlete in her sport. She was the first woman to throw "the daddy," a quadruple twisting triple backflip (which earned her the title of World Champion), and one of a select few who compete off the triples ramp year-round.
Getting to that point has not been easy. Caldwell has blown out both of her knees and has pushed against the status quo concerning the level women should compete at.
As soon as the former gymnast started competing in aerials as a teenager, she said she knew she wanted to jump at the same level as the men, and for a long time she did.
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"I started the sport at 13, 14 years old," she said. "I started doing flips and twists and the path that every aerialist goes through, and I looked at the boys my age — Mac Bohonnon and Jonathon Lillis — and I was doing bigger tricks than them."
She reasoned at the time that if she kept pace with them, she should be able to do the same tricks when they reach the World Cup circuit.
"Then I blew my knee twice and that set me back," she said.
She painstakingly worked her way back from her first knee injury, but then her other knee gave out.
"That was brutal, because I felt I had been betrayed by my body after doing all the work," she said.
When she did return, she still had to prove she could and, just as importantly, should do triples, which are neither easy, nor immediately rewarding.
"Especially in the beginning for women, it's really tough to forgo the reward of doing doubles consistently, because the first triples you do, you crash more often, and the easiest triples are comparable to the doubles in points," she said.
To make doing triples worth her time, she would have to reach a high level of proficiency in them, which requires a lot of practice, and, as a result, a lot of crashes and missed opportunities for World Cup points.
"The first couple years you're doing the triples, … you might not see the rewards," she said. "I was told a lot to back down and do doubles … I had to fight for myself and say, 'No, if I don't do this, then I will never get to the point where triples are easier and I won't get that reward.'"
Last year, in throwing "the daddy," she showed that the risk involved can pay off, but it's nowhere near a sure thing.
She said while some women land their doubles more than 90 percent of the time, she estimates men land their triples around 70 percent of the time. She hasn't reached that level of consistency yet. A good doubles performance from a competitor could push her off the podium if she missteps on a triple jump.
But when she does win, she wants it to be something everyone immediately understands is impressive, progressive and maybe historic. She wants to put on a show, because that's what rock stars do.
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