Annika Paz believes she was “bred into skiing.”
Her parents, Maro and Kari Paz, are admitted former ski bums who met in Vail, Colorado, 25 years ago while Maro was competing professionally as a mogul skier.
“That started all of it,” said 17-year-old Annika, reached by phone in Calgary, Alberta, this week. “I was on skis before I could walk, and my parents and I would always have a weeklong trip where we’d take off from school and work to travel and ski.”
Now, the Summit High senior is taking online courses while living and training in Park City, Utah, and traveling to various contests as an up-and-coming halfpipe freeskier. Last month, Paz finished sixth in the halfpipe at the Freestyle Junior World Ski Championships in Leysin, Switzerland.
She is set to compete in the Calgary Open in Canada this weekend in both halfpipe and slopestyle. She currently competes on the Nor-Am Tour and the Revolution Tour Elite, which include contests throughout the United States and Canada. Her main event is halfpipe, and she dabbles in slopestyle. (In halfpipe, skiers are judged on the style, amplitude and execution of the tricks they perform as they soar in and out of the pipe. In slopestyle, they are judged on tricks performed along a course of rails and jumps.)
“I’m doing stuff that I didn’t think I was going to be able to do for another month or two,” said Paz, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament nearly a year ago in the halfpipe. “I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to spin or flip until March.”
She has recovered quickly with the help of her mother, a physical therapist who moved with her to Park City last November along with Annika’s brother Xavier, 15, who is also training and competing as a freeskier. They are staying with family friends this winter, while Maro Paz, a financial planner, remains in Bend with Annika’s sister Zele, 12.
Maro said Annika spent about a year persuading her parents to let her train in Park City, which offers jumps and a halfpipe on which to train for most of the year.
“We didn’t push them into this whatsoever,” Maro said. “Some parents do. It was more about, we just wanted to teach our kids how to ski so they could ski with us. And we wanted to ski with our kids. They found this passion, this desire, this love, and they’re pursuing things that are pretty impressive at this point.”
Annika Paz started competing in freeskiing with the Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation in Bend when she was 10. In eighth grade, she traveled to Park City on winter weekends to train with a team called Fly Freestyle. There, she competed in a variety of freeskiing disciplines, including moguls, aerials and big mountain. Her coach was an advocate of developing well-rounded skiers.
Annika returned to MBSEF during her freshman year of high school at Summit, focusing on halfpipe and slopestyle.
“She was a good mogul skier; unfortunately at Bachelor there’s just not that many moguls,” Maro Paz said.
High placings at the USA Ski and Snowboard Association Nationals and on the Revolution Tour have vaulted Annika onto the Nor-Am Tour and the Revolution Tour Elite for this season.
She said she needs only a couple more online classes to complete her coursework for graduation, and she is leaning toward attending the University of Utah in Salt Lake City next year while continuing to compete in freeskiing.
Her hectic schedule of training, traveling, competing and studying can be a challenge.
“It’s a little difficult,” she admitted. “I definitely stress out and I’m hard on myself sometimes. But I’m thankful I have people and friends who are doing the same thing I am. My (school) counselor in Bend is amazing and is willing to move things around to help my schedule.”
Annika said she dreams of one day competing in the X Games or the Olympics, but for now the young skier knows she has time to improve on her craft.
“I’m super happy and satisfied being on the Nor-Am circuit,” Annika said. “I’m planning on going to college next year so I’m hoping to balance out all the craziness. I want to keep this going as long as I can.”
Annika said she loves the adrenaline that comes with soaring in and out of the halfpipe, and how the sport is constantly changing and evolving. “You can always do something new with it,” she said. “It’s never going to be exactly the same, which I really like. There’s such a variety.”
She added that she is working on getting more amplitude out of the pipe and developing more off-axis tricks with more flips. She knows she is fortunate to be a child of two former ski bums who have supported her skiing aspirations from the start.
“I’m super lucky that my parents are super supportive and have been in the sport and share the same passion for skiing,” Annika said.
Kari Paz called her daughter’s schedule the “craziest” she has ever seen.
“She handles it with grace,” said Kari, reached via phone in Park City this week. “It’s way more than I’ve ever done. But we’re just so proud of her and so excited for her. I kind of feel like she’s just getting started on this adventure. We’re a family of skiers so we couldn’t be more happy. It’s kind of a way of life for us.”