By Abagael Giles/VT Ski & Ride
KILLINGTON— On Thanksgiving Day last week Ripton resident Abi Jewett was feeling especially thankful: The 18-year-old U.S. Ski Team rookie was getting ready to spend the weekend at Killington, racing in her first World Cup giant slalom event on home turf.
On Saturday she was set to toe the line to compete with some of the best women alpine skiers in the world.
Jewett was named to the U.S. Alpine Ski Team’s C squad on Nov. 16, an unusual accomplishment for a first-year team member. She was first nominated for the U.S. Ski Team in May, just before graduating from Waitsfield’s Green Mountain Valley School. She spent the summer traveling and training with the U.S. Ski Team, and said it had been a long-time goal of hers to race in the World Cup in Vermont.
“It really means so much for me that I can do my first World Cup at home,” Jewett said.
Qualifying for the event was no easy task. She earned her spot by competing against her teammates, the best skiers in the country, in a time trial at Colorado’s Copper Mountain. Among them was Mikaela Shiffrin, who entered the weekend with 43 career World Cup wins.
“It was kind of stressful and weird because in a time trial, unlike a regular race, you are competing against your friends and teammates,” Jewett said. “Whatever happens, you’ll either be happy for your teammate or excited for yourself, but for me, there was a lot more pressure this time than in a regular race.”
Jewett was hoping to qualify to race on Killington’s Superstar giant slalom course.
“We do a lot of races over the course of the season, and there are a lot of other World Cup events, but this one means a lot to me,” she added.
The skiers weren’t told whether they qualified for the race until their team meeting later in the day. Jewett quickly shared the good news.
“The first thing I did was quietly text my family. They were so excited,” she said.
It also meant Jewett got to come home for Thanksgiving.
Jewett acknowledged before the race feeling the pressure about being able to keep her cool in front of the anticipated crowd of about 34,000 spectators.
“I’m most nervous about being able to keep my head on straight and go into it very confidently, but I’m really excited to race in front of a home crowd and come down Superstar and hopefully see some familiar faces,” she said.
This weekend wasn’t her first time running the course. She did a pre-race run as a sort of official course warm-up before the 2017 World Cup race.
“I foreran the Killington GS race last year, so I know what the course is like,” said Jewett. “The hill has two pretty awesome pitches and then some moderate terrain in the middle. Last year the snow was amazing, and we’ve been training on the trail next to it this week, watching them work on it. I think the surface is going to be really awesome.”
She said this will be the first time her Vermont family has been able to watch her race as a member of the U.S. team.
“They haven’t gotten to watch me race in recent years because often the bigger competitions are far away. They’ve always been really supportive but had to watch from afar. I think they are really excited,” Jewett said.
Jewett was most excited to watch Shiffrin, French skier Tessa Worley and German skier Viktoria Rabensburg compete. “All three have gotten to a point where they make very powerful turns very consistently, while being really active in their skiing,” she said. “I’d like to be able to keep working so I can be as comfortable making every turn that way.”
Jewett said she’s grateful for the opportunity to train and compete with so many good skiers. “My teammates are pretty cool. All of them are awesome,” she said.
What was her goal heading into the weekend?
“To just kind of be out there and go for it,” Jewett said. “I’ll be starting in the back of the pack, and I’m going to give it my all. It’s really tough to break into the top 30 for a second run. If I did get a second run, that would be unbelievably cool, but I’m just excited to experience it and enjoy it.”