For Krass, Second Olympic Qualifying Attempt Has Different Vibe

  • Julia Krass of the United States takes a jump during the women's freestyle skiing slopestyle qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Julia Krass of the United States takes a jump during the women's freestyle skiing slopestyle qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, January 08, 2018

Just 16 years old when she became a surprise selection as a discretionary pick for the first U.S. women’s slopestyle Olympic team, Julia Krass didn’t feel much pressure leading up to the 2014 winter games in Sochi, Russia.

It’s a different approach this time as Krass, now 20, attempts to qualify for next month’s games in Pyeonghang, South Korea.

To automatically make the roster, she’ll need a podium finish in two of three remaining qualifying events, beginning this Thursday and Saturday at the Aspen (Colo.) Grand Prix before a final pre-Olympic event a week later at California’s Mammoth Mountain. If Krass can’t crack the top three twice, she’ll need to be generally competitive in order to once again be considered as a coaches’ discretionary choice and earn one of a maximum of four spots on the U.S. team.

Krass, a Hanover resident and Dartmouth College student, is one of two Twin Staters on the U.S. ski team who compete in slopestyle, a still-growing freestyle discipline emphasizing big air and tricks off jumps and rails. Krass, West Dover, Vt., native Devin Logan and teammates Keri Herman and Maggie Voisin have helped advance the sport significantly over the last half-decade, and Krass understands her role in that progress.

“When you’re out here training, you know that part of what you’re doing is growing the sport,” said Krass, an economics major who has completed four terms at Dartmouth. “Last time, I was the last to make the team. This time around, I’m kind of expected to make it, and it’s always something in the back of your mind. At the same time, you need to forget about that when you’re competing and just focus on what you know you can do.”

According to Dave Euler, her coach for the last five years with Utah-based training outfit Park City United (formerly Team Axis), Krass has lately been putting together the best overall runs of her career. Her ability to rotate both directions and execute grabs smoothly are among her key strengths. 

Krass’s training highlights have yet to fully translate into stellar results at recent competitions, however. After suffering a sprained ankle that kept her from placing at the first Olympic qualifier, a World Cup event at Mammoth last February, Krass finished last winter placing ninth in Quebec City and 13th in Switzerland on the World Cup circuit. 

Krass began the 2017-18 season with an 11th-place showing in late August in New Zealand — “It’s always weird competing in the summer, but it’s their winter,” she said — and was 12th at the second Olympic qualifier, at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colo., last month.

“The biggest challenge is trusting yourself and being confident, and also getting your speed correct,” said Krass. “Your speed off of the jumps pretty much has to be perfect because of how much it affects your landings. If you’re too slow, you’ll land too flat, and that’s how you can end up with knee injuries. (Go) too fast and you’ll fly past that sweet spot where you’re totally in control.”

Freeskiing athletes are constantly balancing their desire for big air with strategizing amid varying conditions, Euler noted.

“You get to (the site of a competition) two days early, and you take some practice runs and try to hone in on what you think your approach to speed should be, but you’re constantly adapting because the wind changes.

“If the wind’s at your back, obviously it’s going to give you an extra push, so you want to be careful not to overcompensate. The next run, the wind could be coming at you, and in that case you’ll want to crouch down and make yourself as small as possible going into the jump.”

It takes plenty of moxie to execute slopestyle, commanding a vast repertoire of artistic spins, flips and grabs. Like many extreme snow-sport athletes, Krass and her peers juggle their intent to perform effortlessly with the logistics of the moment.

“All of the skiers here have skill so, for a lot of them, it comes down to strategy, and that’s why experience is so important,” Euler said. “Julia has been on this stage for four years now. She knows how to go 100 percent and how to dial it back when she has to. She’s still waiting to put a full run together, but she’s really close.”

Euler witnessed some of Krass’s maturity two years ago, after Krass tore the ACL and meniscus in one of her knees. Though it derailed much of her season, the Hanover High graduate had an impressive approach to the rehabilitation process.  

“She was coming off of a fifth-place showing at the X Games and appeared to be heading toward the height of her career,” said Euler. “That’s really tough mentally when you’re 18 years old, but Julia had a really positive attitude about it, and I think that’s a big reason why she’s come back so strong.”

Krass said she’s fully recovered from both the knee injury and the ankle tweak that kept her from placing at the first Olympic qualifier last February. 

“Unfortunately, injuries are part of the sport, but I’m 100 percent now,” said Krass, who’s been working on perfecting a trick known as the switch 7, a backward jump and 720-degree rotation. “Now it’s just a matter of going out there and pushing myself.”

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