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In her first ever FIS alpine World Cup — in Levi, Finland, in mid-November — Ava Sunshine did what no U.S. skier had done in two decades. She scored world cup points in a slalom race (a feat accomplished by finishing in the top 30).

“I knew it was in me to make the flip,” Sunshine said about her results in Levi, using ski-racing lingo to refer to earning a second run. “I talked to my technician on the gondola before the race, and we were just saying how I had nothing to lose, I had done no world cups, no one’s really expecting anything.”

“It can only go up from here,” she realized, “so I might as well just go for it.”

Mikaela Shiffrin, who won both slalom world cup races in Levi, named one of her reindeer Sunny after her new teammate. [The prize for winning the Levi races is a reindeer.] It was, said Sunshine, “really sweet.”

At the Killington World Cup over Thanksgiving weekend, 20-year-old Sunshine did not make the flip (earn a second run) in the giant slalom. In slalom, she straddled a gate and was disqualified.

Still, it’s a bright dawn for Ava Sunshine.

Unlike most world-class ski-racers, Sunshine was not born on skis — nor was she born with the last name Sunshine. Until this year, she was known as Ava Sunshine Jemison. She dropped her last name and now uses her middle name as a last name “because it sounds better,” she said, with a smile that could become her trademark.

Her two younger siblings also have fun middle names. Her sister’s middle name is Violet and her brother’s is Cash.

Born in Denver, Colorado, Sunshine was 8 when her family moved to Edwards, Colorado, near Vail Resort. The change was not so Sunshine and her siblings could ski more frequently. The family just wanted to get out of the city.

Living in the mountains, Sunshine started skiing. She also learned to surf around the same time, whenever her family was visiting either the Pacific or Atlantic coast. Her Instagram has as many surfing pics as skiing. She even competed in a few surfing competitions. Sunshine and her mom and siblings now call Carlsbad, California, home.

Sunshine was a good ski racer, but not great yet. She graduated from high school in Vail in spring 2020 and realized that she needed a change of scene. So for the 2020-2021 season, she did a “gap year” at Burke Mountain Academy — a ski-racing academy in northern Vermont where both Mikaela Shiffrin and Olympian Nina O’Brien are alums.

“That was when I decided I would pursue skiing no matter what,” Sunshine said. “I'm going to try to get as good as I can get, to the highest level I can, whatever that looks like.”

At the time, she thought college ski racing might be the most viable path.

The focused atmosphere at Burke, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when the academy was an island of training and racing, suited Sunshine — who’s known as a hard worker. She thrived with the coaching too, and her ski career began to take off.

“It was a good accumulation of all the pieces coming together,” she said.

Last season, she won a silver medal in super-G at the world junior championships (a surprise because she had not trained much super-G). She also claimed the overall NorAm title, which gave her a world cup start this season.

“I remember the first two weeks after I won the NorAm title, it was even hard to think about [the world cup] because I was like, ‘Whoa, like, that’s crazy!’” she said. “It made me nervous for sure.”

Her nerves calmed a bit after a summer of hard training. Competing in New Zealand in late August, Sunshine was on par — and sometimes beating — her teammates, like Katie Hensien, who scored her first world cup giant slalom points at the 2022 Killington World Cup this weekend.

“Training with all these girls, that made it a lot more manageable,” Sunshine said. “The biggest hurdle was definitely learning to adapt and train with these girls.”

Mark Smith, one of her coaches in Vail, is not surprised by Sunshine’s rise.

“She works really hard, she’s a gifted athlete, and she doesn't let pressure get to her,” he said. “She's just very, very relaxed. She just goes with the flow and always just puts in 100 percent. So yeah, I'm not surprised at all.”

For all her intensity, Sunshine is one of the U.S. women’s team driving forces in creating fun TikTok videos.

By the time the Soelden World Cup came along in October, Sunshine was feeling confident. But the race was canceled due to weather — a “blessing in disguise” for the young American skier.

“All summer long and all fall, every interview I did and every friend asked about Soelden,” she said. “So there was a lot of build-up around it. By the time it was canceled, I was already prepared to race. So going into the Levi slalom [a month later], it almost in a weird way felt like I had already started my first world cup.”

In Levi, Sunshine gave a glimpse of the competitor that she could soon become. Shiffrin took note. She had not yet seen Sunshine that morning. So, in the hospitality tent, Shiffrin went over to say hi. Unlike many of the racers, Sunshine was not watching the race on the giant TV in the tent, even though it was hard not to watch. “I'm like that is probably the hardest thing you're going to do all day is not see what's going on the TV,” recalled Shiffrin. “But Ava just seemed set, and I imagine there were some nerves. When she skied, it looked like she was an athlete executing a plan, skiing really well. That was super impressive.” Although both Shiffrin and Sunshine grew up in the Vail Valley — and attended Burke — the two skiers did not formally meet until a few weeks ago. They are seven years apart in age. But Sunshine is following in Shiffrin’s tracks, hoping to ski all four disciplines — slalom, GS, super-G, and downhill — on the world cup and hopefully in the Olympic Games. This year, she will focus on slalom and GS — the two “tech” disciplines in skiing — then hopefully add super-G on the world cup level soon. At 2023 world juniors, she will compete in super-G. “I definitely want to do speed,” she said. “I hope to get good at downhill.” And perhaps soon, Sunshine will win her own herd of reindeer. To date, Shiffrin has won six. At the Killington Cup, a junior racer asked Sunshine if she always wanted to dedicate her life to ski racing. “Since I was really little,” Sunshine replied. “With any career, there are many ups and downs,” she advised the younger racer. “Sometimes the downs are really hard, and your mindset might change where you don’t hold on to [your dream], you’re not sure. “But if you still have a little bit of fire left, then the moment you decide to really put all your energy into it, that’s when things come together.”

Written by Peggy Shinn An award-winning freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered seven Olympic Games. She has contributed to since its inception in 2008.

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

Hi all, Mariah here!

I have been asked a good amount of questions recently about my participation in the Bozeman Marathon like how it relates to nordic training and what my motivation for it was. The reason I signed up for the Bozeman marathon was because my roommate and lifetime friend Aja want to qualify for the Boston Marathon to celebrate her birthday weekend there either this year or next. The Bozeman marathon was perfect because this year it actually gets you in to the Boston for ‘23 and ‘24. I have also wanted to race the Boston for a while and then missed the sign up last time I realized I could have! It was an obvious choice for me and a great first marathon for Aja to run.

The day went as good as it possibly could have! For instance there has been wildfire smoke in Bozeman the past week and it cleared up just in time for the race. And it has already come back this morning. I was also really lucky to just be feeling good that day and there were also such supportive people out there cheering on which really meant a lot to me! My parents drove up from Idaho, and the BSF team was out there roller skiing and friends were out there too- it all gave me so much hype!!

When I started the race my only goal was to qualify for the Boston and I knew I had to keep my pace under 8 minute miles for that. I have done 2 marathons before and both were with my dad and I ran with him for the first half both times before feeling good enough to run on my own. This time I started out a little harder than I have before and found a guy running a good pace to follow for the first portion, and figured if I blew up later at least I’d have a little buffer to be able to still make it. Luckily I never blew up and I found that I was able to maintain the 7 minute mile pace for the majority of the race! When I was getting to the last third of the race I totally got a boost from people cheering and knowing the finish was close. When I realized I could make it under 3 hours I really pushed it to the end and I do not think I could have run a second faster or or a foot longer!

It was surreal to me to run a sub-3 as I had initially been worried I wasn’t in enough running shape to possibly run under 3:30 (women’s qualify time). It just shows that the the training I have been doing with the BSF team is really doing good for me right now, and I hope that I can now bring this type of energy onto the ski trails as well :)

The whole experience was amazing. We took a bus out to the and then watched the sun rise while wrappedin the Bozeman marathon emergency blankets in a huge Montana field eryonewas just out there to have fun running. Aja ended up being stoked on her race and motivated to run another now! This race is so scenic for a qualifier marathon and the proceeds are also donated to a good cause :) I would recommend it to anyone! My focus on running is done for now, and am looking forward to sticking to ski specific training until our season starts in not so long late November!! Hope to see everyone out there

- Mariah Bredal

Blog post courtesy of the Bridger Ski Foundation

A family friend asked me last week why I am still ski racing.

It’s a very good question and one I had to think seriously about two years ago when I was deciding whether or not to commit to race independently on the World Cup circuit. The first part of this decision was to think about if and why I wanted to keep going.

Ski racing has been a pretty defining part of my life for as long as I can remember. Reflecting back on my early years there wasn’t much thought that went into the decision. I simply did it because it’s what my family did and my competitive nature made me give it my all and work to be as fast as possible. I had small struggles with deciding between ski races and training over birthday parties or normal high school events, but I always chose skiing. I remember struggling a little bit more with whether or not to give up soccer, but again I chose skiing and never had any regrets. Once I got to college, decisions to sacrifice things for skiing felt a little heavier, but the outcome was always the same. (I will note that school and education never needed to be one of these sacrifices, which I am very grateful for in retrospect.) Skiing was what I did, and I wanted to commit to that as much as possible to become the fastest racer I could.

Despite this consistent commitment, I never really stopped to think about why I was continuing to commit to skiing. I knew that it felt good to work really hard towards something and with skiing there was always another challenge. This fueled me for a long time. But two years ago, the decision got much more serious as the price tag to continue the dream at the World Cup and Olympic level rose drastically, and so I was forced to think more deeply about this choice. I had a similar period of reflection after last season.

The truth is there are a number of reasons I am continuing to ski race, some more tangible than others. I will do my best to try to convey them to you.

Ironically, the biggest factor today is consistent with what was sub-consciously pushing me to commit for so many years. Skiing challenges me in so many ways. It pushes me outside my comfort zone and forces me to grow to survive. From the relentless crashes, disappointments, setbacks and obstacles, skiing has also taught me many important lessons. I’ve learned to not let the fear of failure intimidate me from trying, I’ve learned how to re-evaluate what success means to me, how to get back up after failure, how to take my career into my own hands and how to be resilient in all possible ways. I have learned to be self sufficient, but also how to work with people who I don’t see eye to eye with (a very challenging feat for me), and most recently skiing has taught me that I can’t do everything alone, and how to be humble enough to ask for help.

Taking a step back, I also realized that because skiing is what I have committed so much time and energy to for so long, I have a unique opportunity to work towards being one of the best in the world at it. I feel strongly that I owe it to myself and the amazing community supporting me to continue to work towards World Cup success. And I firmly believe that I have the ability to compete with the best in the world.

I also feel that I have a lot left to give back to the ski racing world. I think there is a lot of potential for current World Cup athletes to share their experience and lessons with the next generation, in addition to using their platform to promote growth in sport for as many kids as possible. This is a huge part of my mission this year, and I am really excited to have already made meaningful steps towards encouraging young athletes (especially girls) to find empowerment through sport and to chase their dreams.

Finally, I still absolutely love ski racing. Racing as an Independent athlete last season was the best year I have ever had skiing for a number of reasons, and I cannot wait to make this one even better.

Reflecting on why I am continuing to ski race helped bring clarity to what my intentions for this year are. I also realized that I don’t know if it matters so much what it is we’re doing, but more why we’re doing it and what we’re hoping to accomplish by committing to it. There are so many worthwhile pursuits in the world, (and I certainly hope to find other exciting ones when my time with skiing is over,) but for now I am still as excited and motivated as ever to continue this journey. To continue to challenge myself to grow. To continue to learn as much as possible during the ride and to share that with others. To continue to push myself to capitalize on every opportunity given to me and to continue to use my platform to pay it forward to the next generation of rippers.

Follow Tricia on her blog;

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