Keaton McCargo

Telluride’s Keaton McCargo (center) collects the gold medal for the moguls event at the U.S. Freestyle Championships in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, March 20-24. The medals were created by Ridgway’s Lisa Issenberg, a McCargo family friend. (Courtesy photo)

 

Telluride Olympic mogul skier Keaton McCargo put an exclamation point on her historic season by winning her second consecutive U.S. national championship.

McCargo, who skied and jumped her way to an eighth-place finish at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, captured her national title at the U.S. Freestyle Championships in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, March 20-24.

In the final round, the 22-year-old McCargo came from behind to post the top score ahead of runner-up Avital Shimko, of Steamboat Springs. Olivia Giaccio, of Redding, Connecticut, won the bronze medal in the single moguls.

“The medal … was the coolest part of the whole experience,” McCargo said in a phone interview recently. “I was all the way across the country; and the medal I won was made by one of my mom’s friends.”

Lisa Issenberg, a longtime friend of McCargo’s mother Jenny Page, created the medals for the championships at her Kiitella workshop in Ridgway. Issenberg also made championship medals for the 2018 U.S. Alpine Skiing Championships, which were recently held in Sun Valley, Idaho.

“And I have always been interested in art,” said McCargo, who channels the creativity of art into her mogul skiing and aerial maneuvers.

“Needless to say, I’m thrilled that my friend Keaton — whom I have watched grow up since she was 2 — won a medal I created,” said Issenberg, also known for her Mountainfilm award creations.

McCargo said the event in New Hampshire was an exciting finish to the season in a competitive atmosphere without the relentless pressure of the buildup to the Winter Olympics.

“Actually, I felt there was a lot less pressure at the end of the season,” McCargo said, adding that the pre-Olympic World Cup events were jam-packed with pressure. 

But after a consistent season with a handful of Top 10 World Cup finishes, McCargo finished third in an event in Japan to secure her position on the U.S. Olympic Team.

“Then, I could take more risks,” she said. “I skied very aggressively (at the U.S. Championships). I’m a calculated risk-taker. Obviously, it worked.”

McCargo is a three-time gold medalist in the Junior World Championships. This season was her fourth on the U.S. Ski Team.

In addition to her national title in singles moguls, McCargo finished third in dual moguls event, behind fellow Olympians Tess Johnson and Jaelin Kauf, both of Vail.

The Olympic experience, McCargo said, remains the highlight of the year — her most successful international season of competition.

“Making it to the Olympics is really important to me,” McCargo said, adding that it was a shared family goal. “Making (the Olympics) put the fun back into skiing.”

She finished eighth in the historic PyeongChang Games — ecstatic to share the experience in South Korea with her family, including Page and father Grant McCargo.

She said it was surreal, at the Olympics, to be surrounded by so many incredible athletes.

And, McCargo added, she grew to appreciate her hometown support even more while she was skiing moguls on the Korean Peninsula.

“Telluride is such a supportive community. I have to say thank you,” said McCargo, who came up through the Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club. “I was overwhelmed with the support. I was so proud to represent my community … to be there with my family.”

True to the legacy of Telluride locals, young McCargo started skiing early.

“Growing up in Telluride, you learn to walk and then you learn to ski,” McCargo said. 

And, if you grow up in Telluride, you ski bumps.

Moguls — infinitely more interesting than racing gates — always intrigued McCargo.

“I found moguls … artistic … self-expressive,” she said.