From Marathon Running To Snow: Aeriel Skiier Winter Vinecki Trains To Soar At 2022 Winter Olympics

by Winter Vinecki

Winter Vinecki poses at a Team USA Beijing 2022 Olympic shoot on Sept. 12, 2021 in Irvine, Calif.


Ten years ago, I had never heard of aerial skiing, let alone thought that I would ever be preparing to compete at the Olympics, the biggest event in the world for the sport. 
As a young girl, the Olympics were always a dream of mine but I wasn’t sure if it would be the Summer or Winter Games. You see, I was a multi-sport athlete growing up. I spent my winters on the mountains ski racing and my summers competing in triathlons and running races. 
In fact, just before learning about this wild sport of aerial skiing, I had begun my journey of setting the world record for the youngest person to run a marathon on all seven continents. So where did aerial skiing come in? 
Back in October of 2011, I was attending the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Annual Salute to Women in Sport in New York City as the recipient of the Annika Inspiration Award. My efforts for raising money for prostate cancer through my foundation, Team Winter, were being recognized on the main stage, where they played short clips of my athletics, including my ski racing. 
That night, Emily Cook, an Olympic aerial skier, came up to me and invited me to come stay with her that next summer to try aerial skiing into the pool. How could I say no?! I went out to Park City that next summer and fell in love with the feeling of flying through the air.
As a 13 year old, I could not pursue this dream on my own though. To this day, it has taken a village of supporters to help get me to where I am. My mom let her only daughter move away from home to another state at 13. I lived with coaches, host family and then one of my teammates for years since I could not even drive yet. 
All of this meant that my three brothers did not get to grow up with their sister around. Instead, we spent hours on FaceTime staying connected. Whenever we do get together, we cherish and take advantage of every minute. We have an inseparable bond that is unlike most other siblings.

Winter Vinecki takes a training run for the women's aerials during the 2021 Intermountain Healthcare Freestyle International Ski World Cup on Feb. 3, 2021 in Park City, Utah.


From the outside, marathon running and aerial skiing are very different sports. Running is an endurance sport. It is highly dependent on cardiovascular fitness and being able to keep going for hours at a time. 
Aerial skiing, on the other hand, is a very skill-specific sport. The entire performance lasts only a few seconds. While we need to be physically strong to be able to withstand the forces of the jumps and the impacts of landing, it is an incredibly mental sport. 
Fear, more specifically, learning to cope with and overcome fear, is crucial in the sport. We must be able to focus on the right things at the exact moment to be able to execute a good jump. 
In marathon running, if you have one misstep or even one slightly slower mile, you have 25 more miles to make up for it. You do not have this luxury in aerial skiing. I know from the second my skis leave the jump if I have done what I needed to do a good jump or not. 
So, how could marathon running have helped me get to where I am in aerial skiing? The first important factor is overall fitness. Running and competing in other sports helped me be a better all-around athlete. It prepared my tendons, ligaments and muscles for the impacts I would endure from landing from 40 feet in the air. 
Most of all though, running helped my mental ability to train and compete at a high level. Marathons taught me grit and perseverance. 
In running, you always have the option of an easy way out. You can just walk or stop altogether. To do well though, you have to constantly make an active choice to push your body through the pain. No-one can help you get across that finish line. It is all up to you. 
If I am going to perform well and get better in aerial skiing, I have to want it. My coach can help guide me, but I have to be calm, focused and ready to hop turn into the jump. 
Both also involve being able to continue to compete and improve the same movements over and over again, whether that be putting one foot in front of the other faster on a pavement road or being tighter as you drop your arms after leaving the jump to do a full-full. 
In the end, marathon running and aerial skiing are not too dissimilar. To be successful in either sport, you need to get out of your comfort zone, push your body and be willing to put in the work day in and day out.

Believe it or not, training for aerial skiing all starts in the pool. 
In May, I put on my dry suits and gear and begin my “summer” training. The pool is a chilly 50 degrees when the sun is just coming up. This is just the beginning of what will be about five months straight of water ramping. 
Every training day, I am at the ramps at 7 a.m. to warmup for the first of sometimes two sessions a day. With all of my jumping gear on, plus a dry suit and life jacket, I begin the hike up to the top of the ramps. 
Unlike snow, we do not get a chair lift. We instead have to hike in all of our gear up 100+ metal steps to the top. Thinking back, the miles of stone steps up to the top of Dead Women’s Pass in the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Marathon prepared me well! 
At the top of the ramps, visualization and deep breathing are key for me. I go through the arm movements and imagine the trick in my head while standing at the top. Then, it’s three calming breathes, a quick slide down the plastic material and off the jump! 



I do this anywhere from 10-25 jumps a day, and that’s just part of the day. Wet hair and all, I head to the gym where we have a trampoline and bungee session, followed by a workout. Most days, I am not home until 5 p.m., where the recovery and rest begins. 
All of this water ramping is crucial for us to be able to learn new tricks safely. Even though landing wrong on water does not feel good, it feels a lot better than landing wrong on snow. Come middle of October, I have dialed in my tricks and am ready to leave the pool for the snow. 
We spent over a month from early November to the middle of December 2021 in Finland. We had two weeks to get up to our high degree-of-difficulty tricks for the six World Cups we would have over two weekends. This trip was a big moment on my radar in the lead-up to the Games because the first Olympic qualifying criteria spots would be awarded after the last World Cup in Finland. 
Another milestone for me leading up to the Games was the Aerials Team Event in Finland. Since team aerials will be debuting in the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, this was a chance to see how our team could stack up. 
Only one U.S. woman gets a spot for our aerials team event. Thanks to my two fifth place finishes in the individual competitions, I got to compete in a team event for the first time in Finland. My teammates and I put all of our jumps to our feet to win the silver medal, against the same teams we’ll compete against in the Olympics this February. 

To top off this trip, upon arriving home from Finland, I got the call that I had met the objective criteria to qualify for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Wow! I still don’t think that has sunken in yet. 



We are only a few competitions away from the Games. With having already qualified for my individual spot, my big focus for this final lead up is to work on consistently putting nice jumps to my feet. 
This will help me towards my goal of qualifying for the Team Aerials competition in Beijing. At the end of the day, to compete at this level would be the culmination of years of sacrifice and hard work. I cannot wait to stand on top of the hill, amongst the best in the world in the sport, knowing I had fully dedicated myself to this dream.
Just flying through the air at the Olympics will be a success in itself, but sticking that perfect jump to my feet is what I am truly after. By doing that, I can accomplish my ultimate dream come true - standing on that podium with an Olympic medal in hand. 
The only thing better would be to have my family there. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my family and friends will not be able to be there in person. Instead, they will be gathered together back home in the U.S., watching from afar. 
This is not what I expected when I imagined my first Olympics, but like everything else, it is a challenge I will face head on. The athletes in Tokyo showed us that the Games are still a way to unite the world even when we must be apart. In Beijing, we will continue to show that we are more than the challenges life throws at us. We will dream big and never give in.

Winter Vinecki has been competing for Team USA in aerial skiing since 2017 and trains out of Park City, Utah. She began her sport career as a triathlete and holds the world record as the youngest person to run a marathon on seven continents. She is currently training to represent Team USA in aerial skiing at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.