Owens chasing World Cup points, worlds and school | VailDaily.com

Owens chasing World Cup points, worlds and school

Owens chasing World Cup points, worlds and school

Avon’s Kai Owens slides into the finish area in Ruka Finland, during a World Cup Moguls event earlier this month. Off to a great start this season, Owens is hoping to qualify for the world championships next year. (Lara Carlton/Special to the Daily

The Northern Lights snubbed Kai Owens.

During its six weeks in Finland and Sweden, the U.S. Freestyle Team did its business, training and competing, but there was also time for fun like a trip to Northern Lights Ranch in Kongas, Finland.

“It had glass houses so you could see the Northern Lights. It was surprisingly warm for a house made of glass,” Owens said.

The only thing is that the Northern Lights didn’t show that night, so, presumably, Owens will have to return, and that’s good.

The 16-year-old from Avon is essentially finishing up her rookie year on the tour — she made her debut on Jan. 25 of last winter. Yes, Owens needs results to stay on the team, and she’s getting them — sixth in Ruka, Finland, and 12th in two events in Idre Fjall, Sweden.

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But she also has to learn the ropes of the World Cup — be they how the courses are different, how to travel, how to keep training while traveling and, if you’re a junior in high school (the Vail Ski& Snowboard Academy) like Owens, you’re also balancing your studies.

And, oh yeah, Owens is doing this during a global pandemic.

“The big thing I learned from last year is to take it day-by-day,” Owens said. “I prepared as if there would be a season. I hoped there would be a season. I was thinking if it happens, I’ll be ready if it does. If it doesn’t, I’ll get ready for 2021-22.”

’Funny story’

When the moguls tour reached North America last year— in normal times, that’s stops in Tremblant, Quebec, Calgary, Alberta, and Deer Valley, Utah in January and February — Owens got her call-up.

At 16, Kai Owens is balancing the demands of World Cup training, competition and, yes, high school.

She finished 11th in Tremblant and 10th in Calgary in her first two starts, performances that certainly caught some attention. Owen had six starts before COVID-19 shut the door on all things sporting.

Owens spent the summer traveling out to Park City, Utah, for training in chunks of weeks. In addition to the traditional water ramps for training jumps and all the other usual stuff, Owens was going full cardio this summer. During the summer, she was running — not fun— a lot and transitioned to swimming — more fun because of less impact on her knees — and mountain biking — really fun because Owens likes going fast.

And then it was off to Scandanavia for six weeks.

“Funny story,” Owens said. “We met up for work on flats in Ruka and then we drove to Sweden for moguls camp. I broke my rib in Idre Fjall on the first day.”

Yeah, that’s a real rib-tickler, Kai. Despite the injury and the ensuing limited training, she finished a career-best sixth in Ruka and notched her best performance in dual moguls a weekend later in 12th in Idre Fjall.

Hit the books

Yes, she has a full-time job — professional athlete — but Owens is still 16. She’s obviously good at this moguls thing, but school and trying to preserve a “normal” life remains important.

Summers are for training, yes, but, they, and other rare moments of free time, are also for studying.

“For me, it’s always been a tough struggle to balance everything,” Owens said. “During that six-week tour (in Sweden and Finland), I don’t have too much time for school. Camps, we’re in skiing mode. We do strength and video work. It also gets so dark there. I try to do a lot (of school work) before I go, and I have a lot of catch-up the next two weeks. I have to finish this semester and get as much of the next done.”

Owens is also proud to report that she did what 16-year-olds do. With a little less training this summer because of COVID, she still got her diver’s license. And while the books are important, you might see Owens on Cookshack in Vail. It’s one of her favorites.

“Vail always makes good moguls,” Owens said. “I like softer moguls. I can ski them faster and there’s less impact on the body. I like the big moguls, putting my tip into them and breaking them.”

World championships?

Owens features a back mute off her first air and cork-7, an off-axis 720, for her second leap. Like teammate Tess Johnson, Owens is considering an overhaul of her air elements, however, that broken rib back in Europe may have slowed that down.

Owens does have ambitious plans for those moves. She’s into D.D., aka degree of difficulty.

“I want to do a cork-10 or a cork grab in the next couple of years, maybe both of them,” Owens said.

It’s tempting to say she might have some time to work on those jumps. The moguls tour, like all forms of snow-sport competition, is in limbo.

Because of COVID-19, the next World Cup isn’t until February in Deer Valley, Utah, followed by Calgary, Alberta. Worlds were scheduled for Zhangjiakou, China, but canceled. FIS is trying to relocate the biennial event.

Just as she prepared for the uncertainty with the start of the season, Owens is preparing for world championships wherever and whenever they might be. Owens finished 24th in the moguls points last season, outstanding for partial rookie season.

Owens is ranked 11th in the world in moguls points , which is really impressive. The only problem is that, though 11th in the world, she is fourth among the American women behind Jaelin Kauf (second), Hannah Soar (fourth) and Johnson (seventh).

Since only four American women will qualify for worlds if they happen, Owens will have to earn her invite. If the Deer Valley and Calgary events happen as scheduled, those will be big comps for Owens.

“Of course, that would be huge for me,” Owens said of worlds. “Hopefully, with all the things I’m doing — training, qualifying for World Cup — if i ski better all that stuff will come. It’s definitely on my radar to get there, but I’m not focusing on it, if that makes any sense.”

It does because if Owens continues to succeed, she’ll keep her spot on the national team, get to go to Ruka, Finland, next year and actually see the Northern Lights.

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