Frisco’s Mikaela Matthews gets first World Cup moguls win in Finland | SummitDaily.com

Frisco’s Mikaela Matthews gets first World Cup moguls win in Finland

Mikaela Matthews couldn't have asked for a better Christmas/birthday gift.

On Dec. 12, after three seasons on the World Cup freestyle ski circuit, the soon-to-be 24-year-old Frisco native finally earned her first-ever dual moguls gold at a FIS event in Roku, FInland. It marked her first win after 34 World Cup starts and only her second podium since taking silver in Japan in 2013. And, it came less than two weeks before her birthday — on Christmas Eve.

"It is a big weight off my chest to have this, especially after last season when I spent so much time spent struggling," she said shortly after returning home to Colorado for a brief holiday break. "My coaches did believe in me and saw that I could do well, so thankfully they put me back on World Cup this year. It's validating to see that the hard work paid off."

She was no stranger to the Roku duals course. She's been there all three years in her World Cup career, but international press hardly expected her to reach the podium. The favorite entering the day was Chloe Dufour-Lapointe, a Canadian Olympic medalist and 2013 FIS World Champion in dual moguls. She ended in third behind second-place finisher Regina Rakhimova of Russia.

"You know, I was just feeling confident," Matthews said of the win. "We've had a lot of really good training coming into this season — a ton of jumps on the water ramps, a lot of time on the snow. I was just ready for it."

Ramp time made a difference in Roku, especially on the final of two jumps for the duals course. Last season, Matthews decided to add a "full back" (aka backflip) to her run after discussing it with the new U.S. Ski Team head moguls coach, Matt Gnoza. He told her that the next women's Olympic gold medalist "will need to have a 360 and a full back" in her run. That was all it took for the Frisco local to set her sights on something new.

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"A lot of times last year, I'd be in the start gate, wondering if I was good enough to put down a top to bottom (run)," Matthews said. "This year, I knew I was good enough to do it. That was a huge boost to confidence."

She is now one of the only moguls skiers to add her invert in the last half of her run, where the jump is bigger and stakes are higher. After struggling with the new run last season — it was rare to complete with the full back, she says — she's now found her skis, so to speak, and is looking forward to more podium finishes when the dual moguls season continues in Lake Placid on Jan. 12.

"When my coach suggested that (full back), I thought he was crazy," she said.

"I felt that was something I had to do to see the results down the road. I told him I was nervous to throw that trick this year, but I told him I wanted to do this in the future. They gave me the support, and I was feeling good about that."

The win will also bolster her career. Since earning an invite to train with U.S. Ski Team in 2009, she's been part of the developmental B team. That means the majority of travel and training expenses fall on her shoulders to the tune of $20,000 per season, similar to attending a full-time university. A podium win secures her a spot on the A team next season, which comes with full support for travel, training, equipment and the like. And, with a unique run that packs plenty of "wow" power, she hopes to stay on the top-tier squad for the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018.

"I tend to think of myself as a skier, not a jumper, and, even though that's changed over the years, I think I have the technique to stay consistent through unpredictable courses, ones where other people make mistakes and go down," she said. "It's validating to see that the hard work has paid off. I'm set for the season and for next season. I would like to keep this going, but it's always nice to ski without that pressure."