How aerial skier Winter Vinecki turned her passion for running into an Olympic career

Winter Vinecki competes and the Deer Valley World Cup.
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What does marathon running have to do with aerial skiing? Everything if you’re Winter Vinecki, who fittingly will become the first Winter Olympian named “Winter” when she makes her Olympic debut for Team USA this month in China.

“Running and competing in other sports helped me be a better all-around athlete,” wrote Vinecki in a recent first-person essay for TeamUSA.org. Now 23, she set two world records as a 14-year-old when she became the youngest person to run a marathon on seven continents, and for being part of the first daughter-mother duo to do so when her mom, Dawn, joined her on the quest.

“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.”

Her inspiring athletic journey started when the Northern Michigan native was just 5 years old, running her first 5K race and graduating to triathlons that same year. She ran her first 10K at age 8, completed her first Olympic-length triathlons at 9 and ran her first 10-mile race at 10.

And then she got serious.

Vinecki was just 9 when her father, Michael, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer and passed away just 10 months later. That’s when she got the idea to form her non-profit, Team Winter, which to date has raised more than $500,000 for prostate cancer awareness and research through her running. Her world marathon tour, in which she still participates, includes Eugene, Ore., Kenya, Antarctica, the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu in Peru, Mongolia, New Zealand and the original marathon course in Athens, Greece.

In October 2011, Vinecki was in New York City at the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Annual Salute to Women in Sport, where she was honored with the Annika Inspiration Award. That’s where she was approached by three-time Olympian Emily Cook, who suggested the 12-year-old Vinecki try her hand at aerials.

“How could I say no?!” Vinecki recalls. “I went out to Park City (Utah) that next summer and fell in love with the feeling of flying through the air.”

It’s that feeling of flying that hooked her on aerials: “Aerial skiing, I think, is as close to flying as you can get,” she tells NBC Olympics. “You literally are flying through the air, doing a bunch of flips and twists. A lot of people don’t know this, but we actually can see most of the time when we’re in the air, so you’re just watching the ground, where you’re going to land, and it’s just amazing, when you stick that. It’s such a unique feeling.”

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Currently ranked 14th in the standings, Vinecki notched her first career World Cup podiums last season with a win in Moscow, a third at Raubichi, Belarus, and a second on home soil in Park City at Deer Valley Resort.

Most recently, Vinecki finished second for the U.S. as part of the aerials team event last month in Ruka, Finland, and last month at Deer Valley – the last World Cup stop before the Olympics – she qualified for the finals but finished 12th after crashing out ahead of the podium round.

“We got some really good training here in Deer Valley and that’s just what I needed before we head over to Beijing,” Vinecki said. “Obviously would have loved to get on the podium, but I’m healthy and happy we get to train one more week [in Park City] before we head over. This event is always tough as expected, we always know it’s going to be great. Getting some good double-ins in training and getting really consistent with those is really important here and I’m just going to keep doing that at the [Utah Olympic Park].”

Vinecki will share the spotlight in Beijing with U.S. teammates Kaila Kuhn, the 18-year-old from Boyne City, Mich.; Megan Nick, the 25-year-old Vermont native; and 28-year-old Ashley Caldwell, who will be competing in her fourth Winter Olympics. They’ll face stiff competition from perennial powerhouses Australia and China, which boasts the Nos. 1-2 women in the World Cup standings in Xu Mengtao and 2018 Olympic bronze medalist Kong Fanyu. Aussie and two-time Olympian Laura Peel, currently ranked No. 3, took top honors at Deer Valley for her seventh career World Cup win and first since January 2021.

(The full episode of My New Favorite Olympian podcast featuring Winter Vinecki is embedded above. You can also listen to the My New Favorite Olympian podcast on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app.)

2022 Winter Olympics: Schedule for Women’s Aerials and Mixed Team Aerials

Sport Event Date / Time (U.S. Eastern Time) Date / Time (Beijing, China)
Freestyle Skiing Mixed Team Aerials 2/10/22 6:00 AM 2/10/22 7:00 PM
Women’s Aerials (Qualifying) 2/13/22 6:00 AM 2/13/22 7:00 PM
Women’s Aerials (Final) 2/14/22 6:00 AM 2/14/22 7:00 PM

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: How to watch every women’s event at the 2022 Winter Olympics