The Long Road Back

Published: 8/3/2016 3:42:51 PM
Modified: 12/28/2015 12:00:00 AM
Norwich — Julia Krass was only 16 years old when she was thrust into the national spotlight as the youngest athlete selected for U.S. slopestyle ski team’s inaugural Olympic roster in 2014. This year, she’s been taking on her first real bout with adversity.

Krass, a 2015 Hanover High graduate, was training for a U.S. Grand Prix event last February at California’s Mammoth Mountain when she overshot a jump, landing hard in the flats and tearing the ACL and meniscus in her right knee.

After placing 11th at the Socci Winter Games in slopestyle — a freeskiing discipline emphasizing amplitude and tricks on courses peppered with big-air rails and jumps — Krass placed third in last winter’s Dew Tour at Breckenridge, Colo., and fifth at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., just prior to her injury.

Krass spent the end of the season confined first to crutches and later to the U.S. Ski Team’s Park City, Utah, rehabilitation facility, slowly building back strength and mobility. She skied for the first time since the injury a couple weeks ago while teammates prepared for the Dew Tour back at Breckenridge; Krass hopes to be competing again by early March at a World Cup event in Switzerland.

“I broke a tiny bone in my leg once a long time ago, but it only kept me out six weeks,” recalled Krass, who learned to ski at Enfield’s Whaleback Mountain, later training at Waterville Valley (N.H.) Resort before joining Utah-based Team Axis.

“I also broke my wrist maybe four years ago, but that wasn’t too big a deal; I just skied with a cast. This was a lot more serious. The first two months, it was just a lot of soft-tissue work with no movement at all. I lost most of the strength in my leg; (there was) a lot of atrophy. So you start doing some exercises and moving around, but not too much at first. It was a long time before I could even think about jumping again. It was definitely a long process.”

Forced to be patient with her recovery, Krass at least had plenty of company. Her close friend and teammate, Maggie Voisin, was one of several U.S. freeskiing athletes spending time on the mend with similar knee injuries during the last year. The list also included 2014 halfpipe gold medalist Maddie Bowman.

“There were, like, five or six of us all rehabbing together at one point, all with torn ACLs,” Krass recalled. “In this sport, almost everyone tears their ACL at one time or another, but it was unusual to have that many of us at once.”

As much as being away from the slopes has pained Krass, she’s used the opportunity to enhance her understanding of physical checkpoints. It can be difficult to notice the body’s more subtle signals when constantly preparing for the next high-stakes outing.

“I learned a lot about myself since the injury, because I’ve never had to work so hard in my life to get what I want,” said Krass, a Dartmouth College freshman who is currently on leave, but plans to be on campus for the third trimester this spring. “It’s difficult being injured, but you learn some different techniques and a lot of little details when you’’re in physical therapy every day. Things like your hip and back alignment that you might not think about very much, but there are a lot of things to do (to prevent injuries) in those areas.”

Krass was finally back on skis two weeks ago at Breckenridge, practicing turns on groomed trails while teammates on the U.S. Ski Team trained for the Dew Tour. Next month, she hopes to progress to rails and jumps and, if things go swiftly, to be in full gear by a World Cup event to be staged March 4-5 in Silvaplana, Switzerland.

“There’s some stuff before that I’d like to be a part of, including an Olympic test event (in February in Pyeongchang, South Korea, site of the 2018 Winter Games). It’s hard to predict if I’ll be ready for that. These kinds of injuries have a high re-injury rate, so it’s not something you want to rush back from. I want to be 100 percent before I’m competing again.”

Krass had also been looking forward to Whaleback’s Camp 360, scheduled for today, Tuesday and Wednesday but cancelled due to lack of snow. Krass, who flies back to Park City on New Year’s Day, had been slated to help introduce young athletes to a “360 view” of skiing and snowboarding activities and lead nutritional discussion and goal-setting at the camp. Krass first learned to ski at Whaleback — today managed by the nonprofit Upper Valley Snow Sports Foundation — and trained there under two-time Olympic skier Evan Dybvig.

Krass won’t say yet if she anticipates ski instruction to be a big part of her future, but she hopes to give it a shot at Whaleback at some point.

“I’d love to be able to teach kids the sport that I have such a passion for,” she said. “It’s great when you’re able to pass that passion on to younger kids and hopefully give them a good foundation to progress forward in the sport.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.




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