Katie Hensien started her Rowmark Ski Academy career strong with a U16 slalom national championship in Sugarloaf, Maine, back in 2015. Rowmark Director Todd Brickson still remembers the middle of Katie's second run, when she suddenly and precariously skied on one foot as the other flew into the air.
"She didn't fall, but picture one ski on the ground and one ski near her head," Todd said, crediting Katie's flexibility. "It all happens in one moment and then she regains her balance and keeps going."
Katie, now a senior, laughed knowingly at Todd's memory. "I did that in Davos, too," she said, referencing her fourth-place slalom finish January 31 at the World Junior Championships in Switzerland.
Katie's incredible recovery to win that U16 title epitomizes her style, Todd said. "She goes all out, she attacks, but she's also a smart skier," he explained. Rowmarkers and their families know all too well that ski racing isn't a judged sport—it's simply about clocking the fastest time. "It doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't have to be pretty, and Katie gets that," Todd said.
Katie modestly paints her past year in ski racing as one of ups and downs. But her career has generally followed an upward trajectory, and she's performed in increasingly competitive races:
- She had a spectacular 2016-2017 season with her first NorAm top 10, plus four International Ski Federation victories in slalom and giant slalom.
- In May, the U.S. Ski Team named Katie an alpine C-Team member—the youngest American to qualify.
- This winter, she earned her first two World Cup slalom starts, one of which also entailed her first European competition.
- In Davos, her first World Juniors, she finished as the top American and fourth overall, a mere 0.71 seconds shy of a podium spot.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard Alpine Development Director Chip Knight told Ski Racing Media Katie had a great day in Davos and skied well in a heavily stacked event. "She more than held her own," he said, adding she finished third in her second run, and in both runs she was very fast on the bottom of the course.
Katie's World Juniors outcome is even more impressive given an unprecedented blow in her personal life: less than two weeks beforehand, she learned her grandfather, Gil Hensien, had passed away. The 18-year-old had never before lost a family member. "It was hard to deal with that and keep moving forward," she said. "He was kind of an idol of mine." Gil had always supported her racing—even if he didn't entirely understand it—but never got a chance to see her in action. So in Davos, she penned "♥ G. Hensien" on a piece of tape and stuck it on her helmet, front and center. With that dedication, he joined her in spirit on the slope. "Now that he got to watch me, I'm happy," she said.
The positive Davos result initially left Katie "speechless," she said with a smile. But beneath the surface, the new career highlight stoked her motivation. "When I can put two solid runs together, nothing is impossible," she reasoned, "just more hard work."
Her determination and ability to learn from past races paid off February 16 in Whiteface, New York. She landed second in the slalom and secured her first NorAm podium, achieving a primary goal for the season.
"It feels great as we head into NorAm finals to recognize that I have the speed needed to challenge for the top of the podium," she wrote on her blog.
She certainly has the speed, and she also has the support. Katie's devoted parents moved their family to Park City from Seattle so she could attend Rowmark. She looked at a few other ski academies, but one chat with Todd and she was hooked.
"I knew right away that was what I wanted," Katie said of meeting Todd and hearing about Rowmark in person. "He's really confident in his athletes and he's determined to make them as successful as possible in school and skiing."
So her folks made it happen, and now they love Utah just as much as their daughter does. The Hensiens, naturally, are known for their optimism. "Katie's parents are the two most positive people I think I've ever met, and she has that same personality trait," Todd said. "It just helps her in so many ways."
Katie said her down-to-earth mom sparked her love of athletics and always told her she could play any sport she wanted, as long as she enjoyed it. Accordingly, Katie still makes time for mountain biking and hiking with her new German Shepherd, Jess. Her passion for skiing, appropriately enough, started with a family trip to Whistler, British Columbia. As reported in the Park Record, the Hensiens put three-year-old Katie in ski school for the day: "When they dropped her off, she cried because she didn't want to ski," reporter Ben Ramsey wrote. "But by the end of the day, she cried because she didn't want to leave."
As a senior set to graduate in June, Katie will soon leave Rowland Hall—but not without happy memories and lifelong friends, many of whom are Rowmarkers. Though she applied to college, Katie is keeping her options open for next year. Dreams of competing in the Olympics occupy the back of her mind, but she's taking a zen approach to it all. "I'll keep striving for it," she said. "But wherever my path takes me, I'm just going to go with it."