Vermont native Julia Krass might not fit the classic stereotype of the Dartmouth College undergrad.
Like her peers, Krass is pursing an Ivy League education, studying economics and environmental studies. But as a 22-year-old junior, she’s a year or two older than many of her classmates, the result of taking off the winter sessions at school to pursue her other “job.” That job happens to be with the U.S. Ski Team, as a freestyle specialist focusing in big-air competitions, and a sponsored athlete from products such as Kulkea ski gear.
“Dartmouth is on a trimester system, so I actually take the winter term off,” she said. “It works out perfectly where fall term ends before Thanksgiving and spring term doesn’t start until the very end of March.
“While I am at school, I stay in skiing shape by doing gym workouts every day,” said Krass. “That being said, I do still miss a lot of school for skiing during fall term.”
This autumn, Krass will skip three weeks of school due to training sessions and World Cup events in Europe. Despite those obstacles, and the added workload they require, she is looking forward to the upcoming season.
“I love the balance of pursuing my education and my ski career, but it is definitely challenging at times,” said Krass. “Of course, it’s challenging when I am missing so much class time, so I have to work extra hard to make that up.
“In addition, it can be challenging to think that I am on such a different path than others,” she said. “I watched all of the students and friends I started with graduate this spring and go into the real world, which was difficult, knowing that I have two more years left.”
Then again, not many Dartmouth students can lay claim to the exhilaration of winning a World Championship silver medal, which Krass accomplished with an exceptional run last March in Park City, Utah.
“It was in front of my home crowd in Park City, and my entire family was there, which is a rare occasion,” said Krass. “It was just amazing to be able to jump under the lights in front of so many people. To land the tricks I was hoping for was the cherry on top.”
Though Krass now calls Utah home, she was raised in Norwich, Vt., and first developed her skiing skills much closer to Dartmouth, at tiny Whaleback Ski Area in Enfield, N.H., alongside Interstate 89. It was at this local hill that Krass was first fitted with a pair of skis by her parents, Diane and Peter, when she was only 2 years old.
“My mom would take me there on the weekends, and I skied at Whaleback until middle school, and then I went to Waterville Academy,” she said. “Even at such a young age, I always loved the snow. My brother and I would always be in the backyard, either skiing, making a snow sculpture or sledding.”
That love affair hasn’t abated. Like many younger siblings, Krass credits her older brothers — Pierson and Alex —with playing an influential role during her formative years, especially on the slopes. She recalled following her oldest brother through the park, trying to imitate the tricks he was performing.
“Whaleback had an awesome terrain park, and a huge crew was always there,” said Krass. “I just remember hiking rails every day with the boys.
“Growing up, I never raced,” said Krass. “But when I first started competing, I did slope, pipe, aerials and moguls.”
Clearly, the sport spoke to Krass right from her first turns. It still does, 20 years later. “Skiing is always an escape from the rest of the world,” Krass said. “Once I’m out on the slope, it is the only thing that matters, which is why I love it so much.
“With slopestyle, there’s a lot of creativity,” she said. “And there are always things you can improve on and learn, so it is very addicting.”
Krass’s skiing addiction led to the freestyle program at Waterville Academy, and eventually to a spot on the United States Olympic Team for the 2014 Games.
“I’m very proud of going to the Olympics in 2014,” she said. “It felt so surreal to be there as a 16-year-old, and I am so grateful for that experience and all of the people I was able to meet. Interacting with all of the other Olympians from so many different countries was definitely the best part.”
Krass said the discipline’s physical and mental components, as well as the factors outside her control, are an intriguing and seductive test of her own abilities.
“It’s challenging because there are so many different elements to it,” said Krass. “You obviously need to nail down six tricks in the same run, so there’s a lot to think about.
“There are also variables such as weather that can play into it mentally,” she said. “There could be no wind when you drop in and then, all of a sudden, a gust could hit as you’re going into the last jump. So you really have to be zoned in the whole time.”
Add going up against the course and a select group of world-class competitors, and slopestyle hits all the exclamation points that Krass needs to get her blood surging.
“Competitions push me to be the best that I can, and I am always working hard to dial in new tricks and make old tricks more consistent so that I can perform to my best ability on competition day,” she said. “I know I need to put in the work if I want to win.”
Krass’ competitive streak led her to move west, to Park City, home of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Center of Excellence, the primary training facility for the freestyle team. It was a bold step for a teenager.
“I moved to Park City when I was a junior in high school,” she said. “I transitioned to online school so that I could take full advantage of the opportunities I had in skiing.
“When I moved to Park City, I actually hadn’t made the U.S. team yet. But it was the year of the 2014 Olympics, and I wanted to give it all that I had. At the end of that year, I made the U.S. team, and the facilities out there are a large reason I’ve stayed there.”
Krass also has drawn on the accomplishments of a certain French Canadian world champion and eight-time Winter X Games gold medalist from Quebec for inspiration.
“I always looked up to Kaya Turski growing up,” she said. “She was constantly pushing women’s skiing and trying to keep up with the men, which I admired so much.”
Throughout her development, Krass has kept her focus on the “big picture,” revealing a maturity that belies her years. After all, “having it all” requires sacrifices, including meeting the commitments of her sponsors. But the rewards are tangible.
“The biggest reward of this balance is going to be when I finish school,” said Krass. “I’m just so thankful that after skiing, I’ll be set up to have another career to pursue. You never know when skiing will be taken away, so it’s reassuring to know there is a lot more in life.”