A determined skier going into the Courchevel GS, AJ Hurt had her sights set on not only qualifying for a second run, but guaranteeing a World Cup start for the remainder of the calendar. It was a rewarding feat for Hurt, who set herself up for the rest of the season — a season that, as of Sunday, now includes points across three disciplines: parallel, giant slalom and super G.
Prior to her Dec. 14 result in Courchevel, the 20-year-old had a preview of World Cup success at the parallel event in Lech, where a 25th-place finish rewarded her with World Cup points for the first time. The young Squaw Valley racer, who over four seasons recorded 15 straight DNFs and DNQs, headed into Courchevel with a renewed sense of confidence — and a plan. This time, Hurt finished two runs cleanly, skiing into 18th place from bib 34, and taking home her first points in a traditional event.
“(Courchevel) felt a lot more fulfilling,” said Hurt. “That’s what I have been trying to do for so long now, and getting that second run is such a big deal. In Lech, I got the points, but I didn’t qualify for anything.”
That strong result was followed by another points-scoring performance in St. Anton on Sunday. Hurt finished 27th in her first career super G start.
The 20-21 season has kicked off on a positive note for Hurt. She attributes her success to the mental maturity that comes with age and the work she has put into her mindset going into race day. It did not come easy for Hurt, who turned to teammate Breezy Johnson to improve her mental game.
After multiple knee injuries in the past three years, Johnson came back to the sport with a new motto: “Good skiing is safe skiing,” a mentality that she also attributes to age and maturity. The speed skier knew in order for her to stay injury-free and produce fast skiing, learning when to ski smart, instead of pushing it to the limit, would ultimately lead to top results.
Hurt incorporated this mentality into her own skiing. She shifted her focus from skiing 100% and not finishing runs, to skiing between 90-95% to make it in the top 30, she says.
“I talked with Breezy a bit, especially in the fall since we trained a lot of speed together,” said Hurt. “She is just really smart about those things. She’s like, ‘It’s okay if you ski at your 90%, it will be better than a lot of other people’s 100%, and then those who are skiing at 100% might go out anyways.’ If you can even ski at 95%, I think it’s just confidence to know that your 95% is good enough.”
Skiing at her 100%, Hurt knew she had no chance on making it down the course. When race day comes, Hurt trusts that she has done the work already, as there is nothing more she can do in the hours before she enters the start gate. When it’s her time to ski, she focuses on what she has been practicing and hopes it’s good enough.
That was the mentality that got Hurt to the finish line last month in Courchevel. It was a familiar hill; she skied it a number of years ago during the Seven Nations Cup as a U16. Back for her second World Cup and feeling like the work she has put into GS has paid off, Hurt had mentor Mikaela Shiffrin by her side during her own emotional return to victory.
The U.S. Ski Team is in its second year of a formal mentorship program, pairing older athletes with younger athletes to facilitate open communication and form mentor/mentee relationships across the team. Hurt was paired with Shiffrin, and has since had one of the best in the sport to guide her through the World Cup.
“(Mikaela) talked to me between runs,” said Hurt. “She’s been really great when making sure I have all the information I need and making sure I don’t have any big questions about the course set or anything, and that’s been really helpful. She will definitely text me just out of the blue, which is super nice.”
With a refreshed mentality, a mentor by her side, and comfort on the Courchevel hill, Hurt was motivated to put two runs of confident skiing together that granted her a guaranteed World Cup spot for the remainder of the season.
“It’s actually so nice because it takes a lot of pressure and stress away from fighting for a spot among teammates, which is never fun,” said Hurt. “Everyone wants the spot but you don’t want to fight your teammates about it. But now I have my own spot, and that opens up a spot for someone else.”
Hurt is in a unique position for the remainder of the season. With uncertainty in the exact outline of her schedule, she is prepared to balance her World Cup agenda between tech and speed. Officially a member of the Europa Cup team, Hurt is now bouncing between time with her EC group and teammate Katie Hensien, her tech teammates Paula Motlzan and Nina O’Brien, and the women’s speed team. With a supportive team environment across the disciplines, Hurt feels prepared and motivated for whatever race schedule is thrown her way.