Lake Placid to host first aerials event since 2019

Team USA’s Winter Vinecki, USA’s head aerials coach Vladimir Lebedev and Chris Lillis pose infront of a Team USA sign at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center on Tuesday in Lake Placid. (Enterprise photo — Parker O’Brien)

LAKE PLACID — When 2022 Winter Olympic gold medalist Chris Lillis walked through the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center this week, he was hit with a bit of nostalgia.

It was the first time the freestyle skier from Pittsford, who competes in aerials, returned to Lake Placid in four years.

Like many in the freestyle skiing world, Lillis, 25, had spent year training in this village. He has been on the U.S. National Freestyle Ski Team for the past years, and before that he was on the Elite Aerials Program in Lake Placid.

“I feel 15 years old again, especially walking around these walls,” Lillis said. “It’s a great time. Nothing changes, and its a very similar vibe and similar feel.”

Lillis is in Lake Placid for the NorAm Aerials competiton, which will take place at the Olympic Jumping Complex on March 1 and 2. It’s the first time since 2019 that Lake Placid has hosted an aerials event.

Team USA’s Chris Lillis flips through the air during an aerials training day on Tuesday in Lake Placid. (Enterprise photo — Parker O’Brien)

He is one of the top aerials skiers on the U.S. freestyle skiing national team to have arrived to this village and will battle for the top spot on the podium on the aerials hill next to the ski jumps at the Olympic Jumping Complex.

Winter Vinecki, of Gaylord, Michigan, leads not only the American women but is the current women’s FIS World Cup leader with 352 points. Vinecki has won three World Cup aerials competitions this season, following nearly a three-year drought of World Cup victories for the U.S. women. A lot of her success has come from landing difficult jumps — including triples.

“This year has been a big year for me because it was the first year I was going up to do triples on snow,” she said. “We had been training this over the last two years on water.”

Vinecki said there has only ever been one other American woman to land a triple in competition and that was four-time Olympian Ashley Caldwell.

“It was kind of the expectation that it was like ‘Yeah, but that’s Ashley. Nobody else is going to do triples,'” Vinecki said.

The 25-year old Olympian said landing a triple in competition is a huge step for women in the sport.

“In some of the other competitions this year, it was only myself and one other girl from Austrailia back in China and other World Cups,” she said. “To be able to do those for the first time in competition and to be able to land them in competition was super rewarding.”

While Vinecki is the top-ranked women’s World Cup aerials competitor, Lillis is ranked fourth, having earned an individual podium sport once this season in Changchun, China.

“It’s been a solid year, there’s been some ups and downs,” he said. “We’ve struggled with some tough weather. I’ve had a couple of good events and had couple of events last week in Canada that were a little bit disappointing. We’ve got one World Cup left, and we’re just trying to end the season on a high note and I feel like next year we’ll really start our team’s push toward that 2026 Olympics.”

The competition next week will feature multiple American and Canadian aerials athletes performing acrobatics more than 60 feet in the air. They will also have to executing multiple flips, twists and spins before landing to earn points.

Even after years of competing, Lillis said its terrifying jumping in aerials events.

“You freak yourself out constantly,” he said. “A lot of fear and big crashes. I’d say it’s about mentally overcoming those hurdles. That’s the fun part. It’s also alot of fun, especially on the good days. On the bad days, it can hurt quite a bit.”

The Lake Placid competition will kick off with the two qualification rounds for the men’s aerials event starting at 11 a.m on Friday and Saturday. The final round will start at 12:10 p.m. The women’s events will kick off at 2:10 p.m. with two qualification rounds, before the finals at 3:10 p.m.


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