It was a dreary, foggy afternoon when Katie Hensien prepared to take her first run in Zagreb on January 3. But the Washington native, who grew up racing at Crystal Mountain was, if anything comforted: “I felt, like, ‘I’m at home—I can ski in puddles!’” With that confidence Hensien, who had made her first World Cup flip five days earlier in Semmering, let it fly, powering through extraordinarily rough, salted conditions to secure a second run, and a shot at a much cleaner course.
Her first reaction to making the flip a second time, when reached by assistant Europa Cup coach Katie Twible, wasn’t one she expected. “She gave me a big hug and I started crying. It was such a surreal moment.”
For Twible and Hensien it was also a sweet moment. Fresh in their minds was last season on the NorAm and Europa Cup circuit, where Hensien had her signature speed but struggled to finish. “I put myself in a hole, doubting my abilities. Mentally, I wasn’t there.” The two created a bond. “Katie helped me put it in perspective. She’s a great mentor and friend.”
In addition to Twible, Europa Cup coach Casey Puckett brings his own World Cup and U.S. Ski Team experiences plus what Hensien calls, “a chill attitude.” The security of having two coaches and a tech who all believe in her is paying dividends with confidence.
Teamwork at work
Hensien calls making the flip in Semmering, from bib 49, “a dream come true.” She let nerves get the better of her on the second run, however, and ended up hiking. In Zagreb, she was ready. Her second run was ninth fastest, and made her the fifth American woman to score slalom points this year.
This momentum has created a contagiously positive attitude on the tech team. “Nina and Paula, AJ and Keely—all of us push each other and have created a family atmosphere,” says Hensien. “When we are together we have a good time.” She notes they are inspired by the Norwegians and their notoriously team-oriented atmosphere, that raises the level of the entire group. “Everyone is having their best years and their best results. It’s been a fun thing to be part of.”
Watching Moltzan break through in Soelden in GS, and then score her first podium in slalom in Lech inspired the teammates. Hensien ticks off the cascade of success that ensued: “After that, Nina got a top 15, then AJ got her first points, then her first top 20, while Keely was crushing in speed. Then finally there was me coming on in the back. It was so fun to channel each other’s energy and say ‘Yeah we belong up there.’” With five women scoring in slalom and four in GS it is the deepest tech team success in more than a decade.
The Covid reset
Hensien attributes some of her own success this year to the mayhem that has accompanied Covid. “I did not think I’d make the team last year, and I knew this year I’d have to work harder.” The abbreviated racing season, and longer time off snow gave her time to focus on physical and mental preparation.
Working with USSS Sports Psychologist Gillian Bower, Hensien took a step back and adopted techniques like breathing exercises, journaling and other tools to help her relax and be mentally present. “Having that reset and less pressure helped me get my best skiing out there.”
Hensien reaped rewards for her preparation immediately at the Copper Mountain national championships in November. There, she finished third, behind Hurt and Cashman, in the slalom and nabbed the national GS title. This versatility hints at Hensien’s potential, which is both exciting and unsurprising.
Hensien’s success has been a steady build. She earned her first World Cup start in 2017 just before her 18th birthday and scored a fourth in slalom in the 2018 World Junior Championships later that year. After graduating from Romark Academy that spring, and being named to the U.S. C Team, Hensien went straight to Denver University. The move made sense to Hensien in every way. DU was stacked with World Cup athletes from various countries pursuing their education while racing on the NCAA and World Cup circuits, and the scholarship helped defray her then-unfunded national team training costs.
“It was fun being around people who wanted to keep pursuing the highest level of athletics and also education. DU created the perfect atmosphere.” Well-prepared for the rigors of balancing both pursuits, she reconnected with the joy of skiing in a less stressful environment. She also enjoyed the challenge of coed training. “For my skiing style, I like to watch men ski. When training with the guys it was a fun atmosphere, to be pushed by them and want to beat them.
In January, Hensien decided not to return to the States and compete for DU, but continues to work remotely towards a double major in computer science and business, with a minor in entrepreneurship. She hopes to start her own business in product design.
With her first world championships now behind her, Hensien remains focused on progressing her skiing, while staying physically and mentally rested. In a winter with few available diversions, she maintains her energy by going for walks, calling home and keeping up on the news. “It’s always a process. Not every day is your best day. I’ve just been slowly chipping away and working harder.”