Arrived in Salt Lake City last night. I haven't been here since the 2002 Winter Olympics, and as I descended the escalator to baggage claim, there was a crowd of people waiting with balloons and signs. OK, they weren't there for me -- it was a homecoming celebration for Mormon missionaries -- but it still made me feel festive.
I'm heading up to the Deer Valley ski resort near Park City for the three-day Visa International Freestyle World Cup. This is one of two events remaining for athletes in the disciplines of moguls and aerials to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. Four of them clinched spots by winning the U.S. trials in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in late December: Hannah Kearney and Patrick Deneen in moguls and Jeret "Speedy" Peterson and Lacy Schnoor in aerials. The rest will be selected based on their results at previous World Cups, this weekend's event and the Nature Valley Freestyle Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., next weekend.
Toby Dawson took home a bronze for the U.S. moguls crew in Torino four years ago, but the U.S. aerialists were shut out of medals. The highest finisher, male or female, was Peterson, the two-time Olympian from Boise, Idaho, with the turbulent past, who placed eighth. Peterson's signature trick, the "Hurricane," is a quintuple-twisting triple flip that could be a metaphor for his life; more on that later.
I've always loved covering these events, partly because of the gasp-inducing tricks, but mostly because they tend to attract bright, iconoclastic people who do interesting things when they're not bouncing around defying gravity. Moguls veteran Michelle Roark developed her own fragrance line (www.phinomenal.com) after a sports psychologist told her she needed to use all five senses in competition. Shannon Bahrke, who won an Olympic silver medal in moguls here in 2002, runs her own coffee roasting company (www.silverbeancoffee.com).
One skier to watch this weekend is 21-year-old Bryon Wilson of Butte, Mont., the 2009 U.S. moguls champion who has the best World Cup results of any American man thus far this season and looks poised to make the Olympic roster. Wilson also happens to be an avid outdoorsman, fisherman and accomplished wood carver (www.wilsoncarvings.com), a quiet, artistic pursuit that seems as if it would be a great counterweight to his day job.
Bad news for the U.S. team Wednesday, when Sho Kashima, the 23-year-old Texan who is one of the top moguls specialists on the men's side, ripped up his left knee in training and is out for the season.