Students fly high at the 2016 Freestyle Skiing World Cup

Alex Bowen, a Westminster student, competes in the Freestyle Skiing World Cup at Deer Valley Feb. 4–5, alongside other Westminster students. Bowen has been a member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team for five years and moved to Utah four years ago to attend Westminster.  Photos by Megan Skuster

Alex Bowen, a Westminster student, competes in the Freestyle Skiing World Cup at Deer Valley Feb. 4–5, alongside other Westminster students. Bowen has been a member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team for five years and moved to Utah four years ago to attend Westminster.  Photos by Megan Skuster

Several Westminster students showcased their alpine aerial talents at Deer Valley during the 2016 Visa Freestyle Skiing World Cup (FIS World Cup).

The competition kicked off on Feb. 3 with fireworks and a concert. The event continued with three days of aerial competitions, single and dual mogul races, food, vendors and an afternoon tribute dedicated to the late Stein Eriksen, a pioneer of aerial skiing who helped create the Park City resort and worked as director of skiing at Deer Valley for much of his life.

U.S. Freestyle Ski Team athletes Alex Bowen, Avery Driscoll and Madison Olsen all competed in the aerial skiing events that took place Feb. 4–5.

Bowen, who has been a member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team for five years and competed in two previous World Cups, grew up in Buffalo, New York and moved to Utah four years ago to attend Westminster and for the skiing opportunities.

“My senior year in high school, I told my mom I wasn’t going to go to college, that I was going to work hard and take a year off of school and try to get on the ski team,” Bowen said.

During the first day of the 2016 FIS World Cup, Bowen flew through the air, executing three backflips and four twists—a move called a full-double full-full—to advance to the finals. He performed the same trick again in the second round and snagged 10th place for the first day.

Matt Saunders, one of Bowen’s coaches on the U.S Freestyle Aerial team, said he was incredibly proud of Bowen's performance.

“He’s one of the best guys on tour," Saunders said. "He’s just such a nice guy, as well, and just super talented. It’s been a blast having him on tour with us. Alex is capable of winning every event he competes in.”

In the second day of aerial events, Bowen placed even higher, completing a difficult trick he had not performed during competition in two years and earning sixth place.

The two female athletes didn’t place as high on the podium but still had solid performances.

This was Driscoll’s first year on the U.S. Ski Team and her first World Cup appearance. She grew up doing gymnastics and said those skills helped her become an aerial skier.

“Pretty much our entire sport is in the air, so it’s really all about air awareness,” Driscoll said. “I am definitely not a good skier at all. I’ve gotten a lot better since I came out here.”

She kept her spirits high, despite not advancing to the final round during the first day of aerial competition.

“I was really happy with it,” Driscoll said about her first jump. “I didn’t have a lot of expectations coming in.”

Driscoll’s family came from Minnesota to watch her ski and said they were supportive of her.

“Just that she was here and she landed a good jump, we are just as pleased as can be,” said Sheri Driscoll, Avery’s mother.

Driscoll earned 17th place during the first day and 14th place on the second day of jumps.

Westminster’s Madison Olsen, a Park City native who started skiing when she was 3 years old, said she was excited to be returning home. She was originally interested in skiing moguls, but after experimenting with aerial jumping at the Olympic Park in Park City, she committed to the high-flying sport and joined the U.S. team in 2012.

Olsen has competed with the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team for three years, though she did not participate in last year’s World Cup because she was recovering from a shattered foot.

“It’s definitely exciting, jumping here in my hometown and knowing my whole family is here,” Olsen said.

Olsen’s ski detached upon landing during the first aerial event, but she said she was proud nonetheless.

“I was really happy with my jump,” Olsen said. “It was one of my nicer straighter jumps that I did today. I just got unlucky with my landing.”

During the second day of competition, Olsen successfully landed her jump but had points deducted for a slight hand drag. She earned 23rd  place for the first day of competition and 17th  for the second.

Each of the extreme athletes said they chose to attend school in Utah because it allowed them to pursue their passion for winter sports while furthering their educations.

“All my teachers that I’ve had I love, and I like the class sizes,” Bowen said. “Everyone is super friendly.”

Olsen agreed and said that Westminster has an awesome program.

“I love it there,” Olsen said. “The teachers are always easy to work with, and I like the atmosphere.”

Westminster isn’t shy when it comes to U.S. Ski Team members and other pro-skiers and riders. The college has been partnered as the official education partner of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) for 10 years.

Westminster has  helped over 130 national team athletes combine competing and training with a college education. A total of 22 athletes have graduated from the program, according to USSA.

The program and tuition grant, as a whole dates back to 2005. Westminster states on its website: “Since fall 2005, 133 athletes have enrolled for a total of 4,699 credit hours. Over the past nine years, Westminster’s contribution to USSA has totaled $4,471,265.”

Westminster has made strides to be invested with the USSA teams over the years. Students can find USSA athletes as peers in their classrooms, on the slopes in their backyard and on their TVs competing in events such as the FIS World Cup.