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U.S. Moguls Team with former KMS coach, athletes named best in the world

US Mogul team. Courtesy FIS

By Katy Savage

Hannah Soar got to Boston from a red eye flight out of Kazakhstan at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, March 20 after being named the third best mogul skier in the world at the FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships. Soar was home in Killington by 10 a.m. At noon, she was skiing.

“It’s just such a nice day out, how can you not?” said Soar, as the temperature was sunny and near 60. “I was dreaming of it ever since we’ve been stuck in Kazakhstan.”

A week earlier, the U.S. Mogul Team took home first place at the Nations Cup for the first time since 2013, beating Japan by nearly 300 points on March 14 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Soar ended her season with the U.S. Mogul Team finishing third best in the world, behind Perrine Laffont of France and Anri Kawamura of Japan.

Now, the 21-year-old Killington Mountain School graduate is one of the frontrunners to compete in the 2022 Olympics, but she said days like Saturday, where the sun is warm and the moguls are soft, motivates her for the grueling competition schedule.

Hannah Soar. Courtesy FIS

“I’m a skier before I’m a competitor,” she said.

Her father T.J. calls Soar’s passion for the sport her “secret weapon.”

Soar started skiing between her father’s legs at 18 months old. By 2 1/2, she was skiing on a leash and by 3 1/2 she was skiing Killington’s hardest trails.

The family skied regularly, but had a rule.

“The rule was, if it wasn’t fun we were done for the day,” T.J. said.

Soar grew up skiing behind the best mogul skiers in Killington, like Randy Grasso — member of the U.S. Freestyle Team in the late 1970s.

“We’re like a giant family — all the mogul skiers,” Grasso said. “Everyone watched Hannah as a child and took turns babysitting her while her parents skied. Everyone who baby sat her was a mogul skier. She didn’t know anything different.”

Hannah soars. Courtesy: FIS

Grasso remembers Soar following the adults down Outer Limits — the longest, steepest mogul trail in the East— as a toddler.

“It was amazing, this little tiny thing. Now you watch her, she’s the star of the hill,” Grasso said.

Last year Soar and Grasso had a bet to see if Grasso could keep up with her. Grasso gave Soar one dollar, passing the torch on to the fastest mogul skier in Killington.

“The pride I have for her is beyond words,” Grasso said.

The local passion for skiing is part of Soar’s success, but she’s not the only person who has benefited from the strong community of skiers in Killington. Her coach Matt Gnoza was at Killington Mountain School for 20 years before he accepted the head coaching position for the U.S. Ski Team in 2014, while Soar’s friend and KMS graduate Alex Lewis made the U.S. Mogul’s Team in 2019.

Gnoza said Soar is a unique athlete.

“She doesn’t stop,” Gnoza said. “There are not many athletes you worry about overworking but with Hannah, sometimes that thought crosses your mind.”

While the skiers are usually done with daily training around noon,  Soar heads back to the slopes after lunch. Gnoza said she’s always looking for more training opportunities and more skiing — a drive Soar’s had since she was a student at KMS.  Gnoza said Soar skied an hour later than everyone else at KMS.

Winners. Courtesy FIS

“Most kids would run right in and take their boots off at 3 p.m,” Gnoza said. “[Hannah] had her pack of people, she’d drag those guys back out and ski until 4 p.m.”

One of those guys was Alex Lewis, who made the U.S. Moguls Team a few years after Soar made the team in 2016.

“She never gets tired, she loves skiing,” Lewis said.  “It’s fun to see each other progress as we get better.”

Soar admits it was a difficult year. The team was unable to compete in several events due to travel restrictions. The team skipped Asia and Japan and couldn’t go to Canada. The team also had Covid tests every other day. Some U.S. athletes ended the season stuck in Kazakhstan, unable to fly due to positive Covid tests.

Despite the challenges, there were also a lot of accolades. Just before ending the season in Kazakhstan, Soar and teammates Kai Owens and Tess Johnson swept the dual moguls World Cup competition for the first time ever at the Feb. 5 event at Deer Valley Resort. The team’s Nation’s Cup win at the end had been a goal of Gnoza’s since he became head coach.

Gnoza was looking forward to jumping off the success of this year next year.

“Hopefully we’ll see some Killington athletes on top of the podium at the Olympics,” Gnoza said.

Soar said she’s already thinking of Olympics training, but spring days at Killington, where all the best mogul skiers in the area gather at Outer Limits to try to get better, are what Soar looks forward to most.

Within hours of being home, Soar texted Gnoza a photo of her skiing on Bear Mountain in Killington. It didn’t surprise Gnoza.

“That is her happy place,’” Gnoza said. “That seems to keep her motivated.”

Grasso, her longtime friend, understood.

“You can never really master it,” Grasso said of mogul skiing. “No matter how good you get, you’re always adjusting and learning —  that’s what’s so cool about it.”

Grasso was looking forward to seeing Soar improve.

“I think she’s the perfect person for the Olympics, she has the personality,” Grasso said.  “She’s just so caring and thoughtful. To me, that’s what I want representing my country.”

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