Best chance for Wyoming gold at PyeongChang: Jaelin Kauf   Buckrail - Jackson Hole, news
Kauf at the race gate. Photo: courtesy NBC Sports

“This girl is on fire”

Jaelin Kauf is the hottest thing going in freestyle mogul skiing. The 21-year-old heads to South Korea as Wyoming’s best chance to bring home gold from the 2018 XXIII Olympic Winter Games.

Jaelin at the top of the podium in Thaiwoo Ski Resort (China)

Sure, there are bigger names in US women’s skiing. Resi Steigler comes with pedigree and downhiller Breezy Johnson is perhaps her lady-in-waiting. But watch out for Kauf. The 2015-16 FIS World Cup Rookie of the Year is getting red hot at just the right time.

Last winter, the Alta native skied her first full season in World Cup competition, finishing ranked 7th in the world. This year, she not only made the US Ski Team and qualified for the Olympics with ease, she has finished on the podium in four of her last four competitions.

Jaelin Kauf shows off George Junior. She also never skis without two items in her jacket pocket—a wish bead and a lucky coin given to her by her mother.

When Kauf steps off the plane in PyeongChang she will have a bull’s-eye on her back and a stuffed Curious George in her arms.

Wait, what?

Yeah, she travels everywhere with this Curious George monkey. His name is George Junior. It was the first thing Buckrail asked Jaelin, actually. Are you going to be bringing that thing to Korea?

“Of course, he comes everywhere with me,” Kauf said. “He’ll probably even walk the opening ceremonies with me. I just need to get him a mini USA jacket.”

“It’s a family affair”

Jaelin was raised in the ski industry. Her parents—Scott and Patti—were both professional skiers. When Jaelin wasn’t busy skiing she was watching skiing. Re-runs of parents winning seven Pro Mogul Tours. Dad is a five-time Pro Mogul Tour champion. Mom is a two-time Pro Mogul Tour champion who also competed in the X Games and won three bronze medals in skier cross.

Still, as a kid, Jaelin wasn’t a big fan of moguls. But she loved her big brother, Skyler. And wherever Skyler went so did Jaelin. They were inseparable. It was keeping up with Skyler that stoked Jaelin’s competitive spirit.

“He’s the biggest fan of me,” Jaelin told Buckrail. “I mean, he’s my big brother and it’s always been the two of us together. He’s been a huge part of this journey and my life. He helped to raise me into who I am and he is the reason I started mogul skiing. He still pushes and motivates me everyday and every time I stand in the gate.”

Kauf in Thaiwoo, China

Growing up in Alta, the Kaufs skied Grand Targhee. It was there Jaelin would chase her brother around the mountain. If he skied fast, so did she. When he skied moguls, she learned.

“It never mattered if you were a racer, big mountain or freestyle skier, we all skied together and we all skied everything,” Kauf said. “I grew up with no fear, no limits and believing that nothing would hold me back from achieving my goals.”

After competing in moguls for the Grand Targhee Ski Team, Jaelin moved to Steamboat Colorado six years ago to be a part of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. More recently she moved to Park City, Utah to train for the US Ski Team.

“Started from the bottom now we’re here”


Kauf is often at her best when she turns it loose. Her admitted greatest showing ever is still the carefree run she made two years ago at the Deer Valley World Cup.

Kauf was still wet behind the ears, trying to convince herself she belonged with the best mogul skiers in the US. It was only her third competition. She had not yet made the US Freestyle Team. And sitting in 14thposition after her first run, it didn’t appear she would.

With nothing to lose, Kauf decided to stop pushing and just ski. She slowed herself down. She made herself lighter. When she made it to the bottom, Jaelin would be the first to admit it wasn’t her best run, but she had never felt more confident, more relaxed.

And it showed. That run propelled Kauf into first place going into super finals. For the young skier, it finally clicked. Not only did she belong at this elite level, she was going to own it.

Last month, Kauf was there again. Same place, same situation—the FIS Visa Freestyle International Ski World Cup at Deer Valley Resort. With a large crowd at the bottom waving signs—“J” for Jaelin and “C” for Charlotte, her middle name—Kauf was stone cold focused. Sitting in 16th—the lowest possible position to enter the finals—she was exactly where she wanted to be: at the bottom with nowhere to ski but up.

Kauf again turned off expectation. At the gate she muted distraction, turned up her ‘competition song,’ and just skied.

The result was another gold and her fourth podium finish in her last four entries. The 21-year-old heads to South Korea as the No. 1 mogul skier in the world. The one to beat.

“Nothing can stop me, I’m all the way up”

All skiers have a routine. Before she heads to the hill, Jaelin stretches and takes a short run to get her blood moving. At the top of the hill, she’ll do some leg swings and squats, and begin to visualize the course and how she’ll run it. She’ll rehearse a few jumps in her head.

Jaelin fierce and locked in at the gate with her competition song.

Then, at the start gate, her face takes on a decidedly un-Jaelin look. It’s as if someone stole her body. Gone is the ubiquitous smile, replaced with a steely-eyed glare. She looks determined and lost at the same time. That’s Jaelin in the zone.

The last thing she’ll do before a race official tells her it’s time is click on her competition song. This year, at the Winter Olympics, it will be Kanye West’s “Amazing.”

    I’m a monster, I’m a maven
    I know this world is changing
    Never gave in, never gave up
    I’m the only thing I’m afraid of

Actually, Jaelin says she is a little afraid of moths but now is not the time. Watch, as she stomps some blood back into her feet and pushes off. And if she’s running at the bottom of standings, look out. She’s right where she wants to be. Free from pressure, relaxed, with nothing left to do but ski like a savage.

See you at the bottom. She’ll be standing at the top.