YOUTH SKIING: Positive attitude, love of sport leads to accolades and opportunities for Grass Valley skier
Kaya Russell was only 2 years old the first time her parents took her skiing.
“When the kids were little my husband and I would take them up to Sugar Bowl for fun,” said Kaya’s mom Mya Russell. “It just sort of grew from there. They just really liked it. Especially Kaya. She was always asking, ‘when can we go skiing.’ So we kept going and by the time she was four she was asking to go all the time.”
Kaya, now 13, doesn’t remember those early days on the slopes with her parents and older brother, but they set the foundation for her love of skiing.
At 5 years old, the Grass Valley native joined the Squaw Valley Mighty Mites program and by the age of 9 was competing in moguls events for the Squaw Valley Freestyle Team, landing on podiums and collecting a medals.
Moguls skiing is a form of freestyle skiing in which competitors descend a slope covered in mounds of snow, making two jumps during the descent. They are judged on several aspects of the run, including speed, technical ability and jumps.
“It’s really fun to learn new things about it, and new skills.” said Kaya, noting a key to her success has been, “having a really positive attitude about it.”
Her positive attitude and desire to improve has served her well in the sport.
Kaya was the USSA U11 Farwest Freestyle Division champion in 2016, the USSA U13 Farwest Freestyle Division champ in 2018, and was the youngest mogul skier in the country to compete and make the podium at the 2018 Junior Nationals when she placed third in her age group. As a result of her placement at Junior Nationals she was invited to, and participated in, the Young Guns training camp hosted by the U.S. Ski Team that year. In 2019, she received the Farwest Freestyle Junior Athlete of the Year Award. Kaya’s achievements qualified her for the U.S. Freestyle Selections event which features the sport’s top competitors, but she is too young to participate.
“Kaya has a very natural style,” Mya said. “To me it looks like she doesn’t have to think about it. It just comes to her. Her style looks very relaxed. She makes it look like she’s not working that hard, even though it’s very hard to do what she’s doing. It looks very fluid and relaxed. She sort of just floats down it.”
Kaya isn’t the only Russell family member making their presence known on the mountain. Her older brother Jonah Russell, 14, is also regular on the podium.
Most recently, the Russell siblings competed at a USSA Farwest Freestyle competition at Northstar over the weekend. Kaya earned gold in the U15 dual moguls event on Sunday, and claimed silver in the single moguls competitions on both Saturday and Sunday. She also received a silver medal (all age groups) for her overall performance. Jonah grabbed gold in the boys U15 single moguls on Saturday and took Silver in the same event on Sunday.
“You definitely have to be strong to get down the course,” said Kaya. “You have to be able to carve.”
Kaya said she hopes to one day compete on the sport’s biggest stage.
“I want to go to the Olympics and win first,” she said. “But, I’m working toward that right now.”
While the competitions are exciting and challenging, Kaya said her favorite things about skiing is hanging out with her friends and exploring her ability on the mountain.
“I really like trying new things and new tricks,” she said. “Especially on powder days with good snow.”
Kaya has several events coming up, including a major competition in Park City, Utah.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4232.
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