Olympic and world champion Hannah Kearney wanted spring sunshine this weekend at the Sprint U.S. Freestyle Championships in South Lake Tahoe.
Mother Nature isn't going to cooperate despite highs in the 50s. A weak front could bring showers for America's top freestyle skiers in their final event of the season just a year before the Sochi Games.
Kearney, of Norwich, Vt., will be the featured moguls skier a week after winning a World Cup title in Spain. But she plans to enjoy the event that runs Friday through Sunday at Heavenly Mountain Resort.
"California, that will be a wonderful little vacation, hoping the weather is good," she said in a teleconference last week.
While Kearney, 27, wants to win a national title it comes at a difficult time. "That's always been a bit of a struggle because you're fighting all year for these World Cups and then it's hard to kind of rebound at a competition that doesn't have much meaning to it beyond a title," she said.
But the event is significant to the reigning gold medalist because it gives Kearney another chance to prepare for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia. The daredevil skier missed the first two World Cup events of the season because of a crash during training in October. As a result, she doesn't have the usual end-of-season fatigue.
"For me, it's another opportunity to get in the gate, adding a little bit of difficulty to one of my tricks," Kearney said. "This is a perfect opportunity because there are no repercussions for messing up here. I'm looking forward to skiing fast and not conservatively which may happen at the end of a season when you're trying to clinch a title. You don't worry about results at nationals."
Top Northern California athletes expected to compete include Olympian Sho Kashima of South Lake Tahoe and K.C. Oakley of Piedmont. Other featured mogul competitors are Heather McPhie of Bozeman, Mont., Cody Tempel of Missoula, Mont., and Jeremy Cota of Carabassette Valley, Me., and aerialists Dylan Ferguson Amesbury, Mass., and Madison Olsen of Park City, Utah.
Kearney, also a Dartmouth student, spoke just hours after she won the World Cup moguls title on a stormy day in Spain.
"I'm running on adrenaline right now after a crazy competition day with a three-hour delay, high winds, gondolas closed," she said. "They were going to cancel the competition, in some ways I was hoping they would."
Instead she had to compete.
The two-time Olympian was prepared because Kearney knows anything can happen after her October crash that led to a liver contusion, punctured lung and fractured ribs.
"I really had to fight for it," she said of the title.
Kearney spent five days in a hospital in Switzerland after her tumble while training on a glacier above Zermatt, near the famed Matterhorn. She crashed while performing a routine flip jump known as a back layout.
At first Kearney didn't worry much about the incident. She started to prepare for the World Cup season until discovering she had bruised her liver. The Olympian didn't start jumping until January.
"I haven't been hurt that often," said Kearney, who this year also won her first world championships title in eight years. "But when it does happen, it's surreal. There's a photograph of me dangling off the helicopter. It's very hard to believe that that is what happened to me."
Kearney didn't suffer from horrible pain but struggled with her breathing. She had no choice but to take a break.
She missed her first competition since 2008, Kearney said. But the time away made the skier realize she had more to give.
"I'm still motivated because it was torture," Kearney added. "Had I been OK with that, that's maybe the first sign that retirement should come sooner rather than later."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/elliottalmond.