Long before Hannah Soar and Olivia Giaccio found themselves competing in moguls for the U.S. at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, they were best friends who spent their weekends skiing at Killington.“I pretty much grew up on Bear Mountain,” says Soar, now 22. Her grandfather had bought property in Killington in the 1960s. Her dad TJ grew up skiing there and then bought his own condo. Her parents put her on skis when she was 18 months old. By three she was skiing all over the mountain. At age eight she entered the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge, the East’s premiere amateur bump competition held on Kilington’s Outer Limits. She finished fourth. Against adults.
Each weekend, Soar would climb in the car with her parents and drive from their home in Somers, Ct., to Killington. “My parents weren’t the ones who would say ‘you need to ski.’ I was an only child, and it was just what we did. My dad was a Div. 1 swimmer, and my mom is an awesome amateur triathlete, but they weren’t pressuring me to ski,” she says. “I did spend a lot of time lapping Outer Limits, but there were also some days where I’d show up, I’d do a run, take my boots off and sit in a snowbank and throw snowballs at this little scoundrel Ian,” she adds. “He’s now my boyfriend.”
Bear Mountain quickly became Soar’s playground—albeit one with few walls. “My dad would say, ‘I’m going to ski until 4 pm. Here’s a sandwich. Fend for yourself. You know a lot of people here.’ My dad trusted the community there.”
Soar would tag along, following her parents, or other groups. “There were all these different groups who would ski Outer Limits and it would be really fun to sit on the chair and watch them come down,” she remembers. “I’d call my parents’ group the Stoner Group – even though I’ve never smoked weed a day in my life – but they were just really into The Grateful Dead (literally the only band I knew growing up) and tie-dye, like I am now.”
Soar joined the Killington Ski Club and there she met another girl from Connecticut, a year younger, who was as passionate about skiing as she was. Her name, Olivia Giaccio.
“I think we both really owe our skiing to this guy Bob Fisher,” she says of her ski club coach. “He was in charge of the 8- and 9-year-olds. He didn’t so much ‘teach’ us, as corral us. He wasn’t so much instructing us – like saying this is where your ski should go – as just shepherding us around the mountain and instilling this passion for skiing and friendship,” Soar says.
“He’d bring us in for hot cocoa breaks and waffles and then we’d all go back out and get lost. And then we’re like, ‘Oh my God, we need to find Bob!’ and the whole thing was this discombobulated experience that was awesome. He let us make him the butt of our jokes, which was just so much fun. I still see Bob to this day at the mountain. I’m like, ‘Bob got all your kids? And he’ll usually say ‘No, no I don’t.’ Some things never change. I love that.”
Giaccio, a year younger, was part of that group. Her parents, both snowboarders, also commuted to Killington from Redding, Ct., on weekends before they moved to Chittenden. .
By the time they were teenagers, both girls had outgrown the ski club and enrolled at Killington Mountain School where they were coached by Matt Gnoza.
“We come at skiing really differently,” says Soar. “I’m more like the tie-dye freebump mentality and Liv’s more like the aerialist. She’s all about precision.” The two often trained side by side. “They had brought in this airbag one day and we were doing back fulls and I remember turning to Liv and saying, ‘I want us to do back fulls in the Olympics someday together,’” Soar recalls.
Giaccio ended up moving out West and Gnoza was tapped to coach the U.S. Ski Team. “When I was 14, a freshman, we were at a training camp at Whistler in the summer and it was raining so Matt [Gnoza] lent me his Patagonia jacket one day.” Soar remembers. “Matt had just been called up to be a coach at the U.S. Ski Team. When it was time to give the jacket back, he said ‘Give it back to me when you make the U.S. Team,” Soar says. “He really believed in me and he just seemed matter of fact about it.” (Note to Matt Gnoza, Hannah Soar still has your jacket.)
In 2016, still a junior in high school, Soar made the U.S. Ski Team. A year later, Giaccio did too. Both were soon competing on the World Cup circuit and earning podium finishes. The 2019/20 season looked to be promising for both women. Giaccio had become the first woman to throw a cork 1080 in a FIS Moguls World Cup competition and had been training at the highest degree of difficulty for women.
But there were challenges for both.
For Soar, anxiety was something she had to overcome. “I don’t love competition, but I’ve learned to embrace it. It’s very stressful having to perform like that for one moment, each time,” says Soar. “Back in my Bear Mountain days, I didn’t even know what pressure was. I just put on a paper bib and had a good time.”
For a while, Soar says she was able to get away with having natural talent. “I had to learn how to deal with my anxiety and also how to get myself to perform at my highest level,” she says. She worked on mindfulness and meditation. “It’s taken me a lot of time to learn and not throw up before competition. But now I can sort of put everything out of my head and focus.”
That mindfulness has put her in a good place. Soar was at the top of the run at the World Cup in Thaiwoo, China in December 2019 when she learned Giaccio, who was at the event as well, had fallen and torn her ACL and meniscus. “I was really upset for her, but I just had to put everything out of my head,” Soar said. Soar skied her run, earning her first World Cup podium, a bronze.
Channeling her Killington/Bear Mountain days helps Soar deal with the stress, remembering the way she skis Outer Limits in the spring, tie-dyed t-shirt, ponytail flying, Grateful Dead playing in her head.
“A few weeks ago, at Deer Valley I was standing in the gate and there was a big crowd, and I could only think, yes, I’m nervous but when all is said and done, that moment when you are in the start gate and someone is saying to you, “Three, two, one…” I’m going to miss that feeling when I hang up my bib,” she says.
That day, she would hear the announcer, far below, echoing in the loudspeakers: “It’s time to SOAAAAR!”
Soar smiles, “I heard that and said, ‘Damn right, it’s time to soar and I could see all these tie-dyed shirts at the bottom, and they were all yelling. And before I pushed off, I thought ‘this, this makes it all worth it.”
MASTER THE MOGULS
While every mountain has moguls, Killington celebrates them and if you want to become a better mogul skier, spring there is the time to do it. Killington, after all, has produced such legends as Olympic gold medalist Donna Weinbrecht and current Olympians Hannah Soar and Olivia Giaccio. Mogul Weekends, aimed at adults (over 18) who are intermediates or above, took place Feb. 5-6 and March 19-20 and included video analysis and coaching ($329). For women, five-time World Cup winner Donna Weinbrecht and some of Killington’s top female instructors host two weekend-long Women’s Moguls Camps this season, Jan. 29-30 and Feb. 26-27 for intermediate skiers and above, ages 18 and up. Cost is $429 and includes coaching, lunch and video analysis. Feeling like you’re ready to show the world what you got? The Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge takes place on Killington’s Outer Limits on April 2. The event pits amateurs (yes, amateurs only) against each other in a dual moguls format. It’s worth it to go just to watch – costumes and antics are encouraged — and the party in the parking lot is legendary. So much so that Killington once issued “party tips,” to spectators and at one point shut down the event because it got too rowdy.