It’s hard to imagine that someone named Ava Sunshine wouldn’t make her mark on the world in some way. While the name sounds more appropriate for a pro surfer than a skier, especially a skier who has an aversion to the cold, Ava Sunshine Jemison is indeed about to make an international impact in the form of her World Cup debut.
Having podiumed at the Junior World Ski Championships in Panorama, B.C. as well as clinched the 2022 Nor-Am overall title, it’s safe to say the 20-year-old Colorado native is coming in hot.
The Jemison journey
Jemison moved from Denver to Vail, CO, with her parents and two siblings when she was eight. After casually taking up skiing, she began racing through Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy.
“As soon as I started, I loved it,” she says. “I liked the competitive aspect, but I was never someone at the top.”
It only took a few years for that to change.
I was super invested, but I was very little compared to a lot of the girls,” she says. “It was two steps forward, one step back. The first two years of FIS racing were a struggle for me. I couldn’t find my footing at Nor-Ams, either. I decided, OK, I’m going to Burke [Mountain Academy]. No matter what, I’m going to pursue skiing. I really had a breakthrough year there.”
Steadily landing on FIS podiums throughout the 2020-21 season, Jemison joined the U.S. Ski Team last year and immediately became a force on the Nor-Am circuit.
Following a 2019-20 season of disappointing Nor-Am races, Jemison launched into her first race last season – a Nor-Am giant slalom at Copper Mountain – and landed in ninth place. She followed up in December with a top six streak at the trio of Nor-Am speed races in Lake Louise. After that, she pretty much didn’t look back. By last February, she was landing on Nor-Am podiums and clinched her first wins – the Osler Bluff, Ontario slalom and then the alpine combined at Whiteface Mountain a few days later.
“My solid support base gave me the confidence to do well,” she explains. “I’ve always been trying to find confidence. Having coaches that believed in me, finally feeling better about myself – it made it a lot easier to trust that I could do that kind of thing. Last year was a build up from November to January. We went to Europe in January with FIS races and I started making the podiums. Getting back to Nor-Ams afterward, I had that base to build from. It was mostly mental. It’s so crazy what the mental side can do. Knowing how to handle pressure, especially racing in Europe where it’s so competitive, you learn to step it up.”
Yet another big step came in March, when Jemison landed a silver medal against a stacked super G field at Junior Worlds.
“It was an amazing moment for sure,” she says. “It was awesome going from those Nor-Ams and learning to podium, feeling like a whole new competitor.”
Jemison’s world debuts
Following her breakthrough season, Jemison decided to try her skills at the World Pro Ski Tour races in Taos, N.M., last April, driving from Denver with her grandmother, who had never seen her granddaughter race. Although Jemison was knocked out in the first round, she enjoyed the experience and hopes to work another Pro Tour event into her schedule at some point.
“I kind of signed up on a whim and took my grandma with me as my support team. The skiing was fun. It’s so different than anything else. It definitely takes a bit of practice to learn that start – leaning onto your poles and pushing back at the right time. It’s super cool. The prize money is insane. I’d love to do it again in the future,” she says.
Jemison has spent the summer dryland training in Park City, UT, participating in an outdoor camp at Yellowstone National Park with some of her U.S. Teammates and catching waves at home in Carlsbad, CA.
Thrilled as she was to clinch the Nor-Am overall title, she immediately began feeling the pressure of her biggest leap yet – her forthcoming rise to the World Cup circuit.
“When I first got the Nor-Am title, it got me so nervous thinking about Soelden, because it’s a big step up,” she says. “Having all this time to decompress and think about it has made me a lot more comfortable.”
Catching and making waves
Surfing provides a refreshing change of scenery and peace of mind for Jemison. She believes it inadvertently sharpens her on-snow skills as well.
“Ski racing is so irrelevant in SoCal. I tell people about it and they’re like, what is that? Being able to surf is so mentally refreshing,” she says. “When I’m surfing out here, it’s such an in- the-moment kind of thing. Obviously, it’s kind of different, but there’s a lot of elements that transfer over. It takes a lot of agility to be quick and react with the wave. It definitely broadens the spectrum of athleticism and helps diversify my skills.”
When it comes to alpine racing, Jemison has proven skills in every discipline. When asked which event is her favorite, she says it’s a toss-up between slalom, GS and SG. She is planning to compete in all of the World Cup GS and slalom events, adding super G at some point and moving on from there, with big goals looming on the horizon.
“It’s definitely part of the dream to be an all-arounder,” she says. “My ultimate dream is to go for the overall globe. One of my main goals this season would be to grab points quite a few times. Another big one is to win World Juniors. I’m just super excited for everything to come.”