Emily Cook isn't an old woman by any standard.
But the 28-year-old skier is the oldest athlete competing in aerials for the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, which takes to the slopes at Deer Valley this weekend for the FIS World Cup competition. Now the veteran of the squad, Cook said she's enjoying that role.
"I've always been the youngest, and then one day I realized, I'm now officially the oldest," said the Belmont, Mass., native who now lives in Park City. "I love being around the younger athletes. It keeps it fun; everyone is so excited to be competing."
Cook and her young teammates will compete on Friday, with qualification rounds for women at 1 p.m., men's at 3:45 p.m., and the finals under lights at 6:30 p.m. Hell's Belles will perform with fireworks at 8:20 p.m.
"It's always super exciting to compete at Deer Valley," said Cook, who attends Westminster College in her spare time. "It's the best stop on the tour for most of us. Not only is it home for me, but we always have a big crowd, under the lights, the band, the jumps are awesome, it's just an incredible site."
Cook is having "a great year" after taking most of last year off to deal with minor back injuries. She has spent most of the last four years coming back from injuries. She broke both her feet in 2002, which meant missing the Olympic Winter Games. She had lingering issues until 2006 and then last year began having trouble with her back. She and the U.S. Ski Team coaches decided resting was the best course of action as her number one priority is being healthy for the 2010 Olympics.
"I am having a great season," she said. "My training is going fantastic. I'm landing tricks consistently in training, and they're at a competitive degree of difficulty ... I'm finally healthy and training a ton."
Instead of working her way back, Cook said, she's now doing more difficult tricks and actually competing with the world's best. She finished seventh at Lake Placid two weeks ago after having a little trouble with the landing.
"For me, it's time to start stepping it up," she said. "I need to be doing these tricks every week, in competition, regardless of the weather."
She said after another bad landing last weekend, she's confident she's saved the best for her home-town crowd.
"I decided I'm saving it up for this weekend," she said laughing. Cook is now competing in the finals with a triple twisting double flip. It is the first year she's done that trick in competition on a consistent basis.
"It's so nice being competitive," she said. Also exciting for her is the fact that her father, Don Cook, now lives just down the street from her in Park City. He retired and has now opened his own photography business (www.doncookphoto.com).
"He actually travels with us sometimes and takes great photos," she said. "It's really nice for me to have him around."
The ski team's mogul skiers will also compete this weekend, although they'll only compete in duals, which is when the skiers race head-to-head. The team competed in two individual events at Lake Placid, so the individual mogul competition was eliminated from this weekend's events.
The mogul skiers will compete Saturday night at 7 p.m., also under lights, and the competition will be followed with fireworks at 9:05 p.m. The group De La Soul will perform after the competition at 8 p.m. The skiers qualify at 3:25 p.m. for women and 4:25 p.m. for men. The top 16 skiers compete head-to-head in a single elimination bracket.
Among those competing are East High graduate Jay Bowman-Kirigin, who was the U.S. Rookie of the Year last season, and Colorado native Michelle Roark, who won the mogul competition at Deer Valley in 2005 and 2006.
"I really love Deer Valley," Bowman-Kirigin said. "It's where I learned to ski moguls. So to have a World Cup there and be invited to compete, it's been quite an honor."
The 20-year-old said he wished they were skiing single moguls but loves the adrenaline rush of dual moguls as well. He said competing in World Cups last season were quite an adjustment for him.
"It's almost a humbling experience," he said. "You realize you're no longer the best in your age group anymore. It has made me more motivated to work hard."
The 20-year-old's best finished was a second-place last year in Japan. He finished seventh at Lake Placid this season, as well.
Michelle Roark is a Colorado native, but she feels at home on the slopes of Deer Valley because the course caters to those who love to ski bumps.
"It's a skier's course," she said. "It's the steepest most challenging course on the circuit and you really have to pay attention to your turns. I love to ski moguls."
The FIS changed the rules in mogul skiing, extending the middle section of the course between the top and bottom jumps. Officials also shortened the landing area, which Roark said has led to more "clean solid air packages." That's because if a skier gets too much air on the jump, he or she will travel farther down the course and could end up landing in the mogul section.
"And you don't want to do that," she said.
Roark, a student at the Colorado School of Mines, is having a lot success so far this season with a third place finish last weekend in Mont Gabriel and a first place in one of the Lake Placid events. She's is also a business woman with her own company, Phi-nomenal perfume (www.phinomenal.com), something she decided to do as she studied for her degree in chemical engineering.
The idea came to her after working with a sports psychologist who encouraged her to visualize winning with all five of her senses."I had no idea what is smelled like to ski well," she said. So she did a lot of research and work to come up with fragrances that not only smell great even after eight hours on the slopes but "empower the wearer with energy and focus."
World Cup schedule
9:30 a.m. Men's and women's ski cross qualifications
1 p.m. Women's aerial qualifications
3:45 p.m. Men's aerial qualifications
Saturday 11 a.m.
11 a.m. Men's and women's ski cross finals
3:25 p.m. Women's mogul qualifications
4:25 p.m. Men's mogul qualifications