George McQuinn threw his first backflip on skis when he was 12 years old at Purgatory Resort.
When he was 13, he tossed his first cork 720.
Two summers ago, the 23-year-old landed his first double cork.
“That was a cool day, getting around twice,” he said.
Last weekend at the International Ski Federation’s (FIS) moguls competition in Winter Park, McQuinn combined his aerial maneuvers with some fast, controlled turns through the bumps. He threw a cork 1080 on the top jump, stomped the trick and ripped through a mogul field. On the bottom jump, he threw a cork 720 with grab similar to a daffy, but without a name, spinning to his left while reaching across his body with his left hand to grab the tip of his right ski. McQuinn said he’s been trying to think of a cool name for the grab, but for now it’s just being called the “George.”
His performances helped him place first in competitions on Saturday and Monday, beating four members from Team USA in the process.
“It was definitely a special moment,” McQuinn said. “It felt really good to put down some runs. They’re all my really good friends, and they were all really stoked for me; it’s great when you have the support of (your competition).”
“To win at that event, it’s a pretty big thing,” said Kirk Rawles, who helped coach McQuinn when he was on the Purgatory Freestyle Ski Team. “He got his start here and has been flirting with getting on the U.S. team and into high level comps. Then last week he won both days to get a World Cup start.”
McQuinn’s two first-place finishes, coupled with a second-place finish at last year’s national championships in Winter Park, earned him a spot at World Cup events in Mont-Tremblant, Canada, Jan. 7-8 and Deer Valley Resort, Utah, Jan. 12-14. Based on the World Cup results, Team USA will select its four athletes who will get to represent the country at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games.
“Even when I was a little kid I dreamed of the World Cup and skiing in the Olympics,” McQuinn said. “Now I just have to focus up and make it a reality. (Team USA) will take four guys and four girls, and I plan to be one of them.”
McQuinn, whose parents are Mike and Ceci, began competing with the Purgatory Freestyle Ski Team when he was 7 years old. At 15, he joined Telluride’s team and then became part of Winter Park’s team when he was 19.
“I love competing,” McQuinn said. “I think it’s fun when everybody comes together on comp days and seeing who can throw down. It’s all about skiing with friends and trying to throw down the best runs.”
McQuinn puts a lot of time and effort into his skiing, so in the off-season he enjoys as much time kayaking whitewater and mountain biking as he can.
“It’s important to enjoy other aspects of life,” he said, adding that it helps him bring a renewed energy into the ski season.
When McQuinn competes in Deer Valley, it won’t be his first World Cup event. It will be his eighth. McQuinn has competed at venues in Japan, Finland and Kazakhstan, to name a few. Despite doing well enough to qualify for some big events, McQuinn has never been an official member of Team USA.
This summer, however, he found a new coach to help him reach his peak: Kirk Rawles’ brother and Colorado Ski and Snowsports Hall of Famer, Scott Rawles.
Kirk said Alex Mickel, owner of Mild to Wild Rafting and Jeep Tours, got a permit to raft down the Grand Canyon and invited him, Scott and McQuinn to join the adventure.
McQuinn said he had met Scott before, and they became friends on that trip. Scott was a U.S. team coach from 1999-2014, including head coach from 2006-2014. He then coached the Chinese Mogul Team from 2014-2018 before retiring.
Under his leadership, U.S. skiers Hannah Kearney, Shannon Bahrke and Bryon Wilson won gold, bronze and bronze medals, respectively, at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics – it was the first time in mogul-skiing history that a nation won three medals at a single Olympics,
While rafting down the Grand Canyon, McQuinn was able to coax Scott out of retirement to help him.
“We became friends on that trip, and I told him, ‘I need your help, I need someone to help guide me’ since I’m not the U.S. ski team,” McQuinn said.
Since joining forces, McQuinn said Scott has helped with “a lot of big picture stuff,” like developing plans and sticking to them.
“With his experience, he’s seen a lot of people in my position,” McQuinn said. “He’s helped me understand and be confident in knowing exactly what I need to do throughout the season.”
Properly balancing training with rest has been one important lesson McQuinn has learned. “Training feels more productive,” he said, “but a lot of times, rest is what you need.”
McQuinn also has been doing a lot of mental focus training with Scott’s guidance, which has helped him deal with pressure at events.
Out of a possible 100 points in freestyle moguls, 50 are awarded based on a skier’s turns in the bumps, 25 are awarded on aerial tricks, and 25 are based on the skier’s final time down the run. Competitors do three runs if they keep advancing, but the slate is wiped clean after each run.
“The pressure really builds a lot in the day,” McQuinn said. “In the past, I had troubles getting my head straight and would go too fast, too big and crash.”
Now, however, McQuinn said he’s been able to get into the zone to help him perform his best.
“Scott has been helping me tweak my technique, which has been really cool, but a lot of (the training) is about being able to perform,” McQuinn said.
In the past, McQuinn also experimented with a lot of different tricks in competitions. This year, however, he’s doing the same run every time. His cork 10 and cork 7 have some of the highest degrees of difficulty, but doing them over and over again has helped them become second nature, he said.
In Winter Park, McQuinn was the only skier to spin around three times on the top jump.
“I prefer to go big on the top jump,” he said, and then “let loose” in the middle.
Still, flipping and spinning and then landing in some moguls is a challenge, no matter how many times McQuinn has done it.
“It’s pretty wild,” he said. “You’re upside down and then you’re going through the moguls. It’s all about reaction. There’s not too much thinking. It’s all about relying on instincts and trusting the training I’ve been doing for the last 10 or 15 years.“
McQuinn was in Durango for the holidays and said he’ll probably head back to Winter Park to continue training, possibly Copper Mountain as well.
“My vehicle is pretty much my home at this point,” he said. “I go around to friends’ houses (in different ski towns) and find a place to stay.”
McQuinn, however, is focused on keeping his body in good condition ahead of the World Cups, doing yoga and using a foam roller, as well also staying focused mentally.
“I’ve been training for so long that all of the heavy lifting is already done,” he said. “Now it’s just about maintaining my body and staying focused.”
After the World Cup events in Mont-Tremblant and Deer Valley, Team USA will select its representatives for the Olympics based on their world rankings, about two weeks before the winter games begin.
“I’m just excited for George and his family,” Kirk Rawles said. “Probably only four (mogul skiers) are going to the Olympics from the U.S., and he’s got a legitimate shot.”
People can follow McQuinn’s progress and view his winning runs from Winter Park at instagram.com/mcquinn_george