Father & daughter compete in national ski competition

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

Phil Harris and his daughter, Kennedy, took a once-in-a-lifetime trip last month. They both qualified for the United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association (USASA) Nationals, which is the world’s largest ski competition. It is held annually at Copper Mountain, Colorado. 

Phil is in his early 40s and has always dreamed of skiing competitively. Kennedy is only seven years old. 

“She was one of only a handful of seven year olds competing,” Phil says. 

“I got pushed to the limit everyday,” Kennedy adds. “But I pushed through it.”

‘Never too old to chase your dreams’

Phil & Kennedy Harris riding the lift at Copper Mountain during USASA Nationals 2024.

“Phil was really talented when he was young,” says his wife, Deb. “He taught Kennedy how to ski when she was two. She’s very much like him, but he didn’t have this kind of opportunity at that age.”

“Yeah, I dreamt of this kind of thing,” Phil says. “We both are chasing our dreams together. That’s what Deb mentioned and it really hit home for me: You’re never too old to chase your dreams.”

Every weekend this winter from December through March, Phil and Kennedy left Charleston to hit the slopes at Snowshoe, Wintergreen, and Massanutten.  

“We were in five different regional competitions,” Phil explains. “We stood in the rain a lot. Subzero temps sometimes. Whatever it took to compete.” 

Kennedy is on the Forever Wild Freestyle Team, which is based at Snowshoe. “I have two coaches–Seth Ruckle and Bradin Baum, aka B-Dog. They both really encourage me!” 

“To qualify for nationals, we had to compete in all the regionals to earn points ,” Phil explains. “Kennedy qualified for three events–rail jam, slopestyle, and ski cross.” 

Kennedy was one of a handful of seven year olds out of hundreds of competitors. She competed against kids up to age 10. When she arrived at Copper Mountain she told her dad, “It looks pretty gnarly, and I’m gnarly, so let’s do it!” 

After a week of competition in her first trip to nationals, Kennedy made it all the way to the quarterfinals in ski cross. Additionally, she placed 7th in rail jam and 13th in slopestyle. 

“It was hard, but I took a couple of breathers and I got through it all,” Kennedy says. “My dad helped me turn nerves into superpowers.” 

Phil smiles and explains that he helped Kennedy understand the power of adrenaline, which can “make you feel sick at first” but then helps your body achieve “superpowers.” 

Kennedy certainly feels at home on the slopes. She says, “I love catching air, doing a spready, grabs, spins, all of it.” 

Phil says the hardest part for him is “keeping up with her.” 

“I’m probably gonna do it again next year,” she says. “I practice all summer.”

Dad’s turn 

After Kennedy competed, it was Phil’s turn. He competed in ski cross on the same course as Kennedy. 

“I gave him some tips,” Kennedy adds. 

“She did,” he says. “She told me how to handle the dragon’s back.”

With Kennedy cheering him on from the crowd, Phil showed off his skills by taking home a bronze medal in ski cross. 

“I loved seeing him up there,” Kennedy says proudly about watching her dad on the podium receiving his medal. “It was amazing!”

Phil said his competition exhibited th e utmost professionalism. “They had a a pit crew, speed suits, legit race skis. The two guys who beat me are from Alaska, but I was able to keep up with them.”

Like Kennedy, Phil is already looking forward to next year. But he says he will make at least one adjustment, “Next year, I gotta cut out the fries.” 

‘Overwhelmed by gratitude’

Phil found himself overwhelmed by emotion throughout the week, realizing the magnitude of the experience he shared with his daughter. 

“I was on the verge of tears twice a day, all week long,” he remembers. “Just overwhelmed by gratitude to take a trip like that with my daughter. Just to be in a position like that was amazing.”

Both Phil and Kennedy are quick to thank Deb for all her hard work in allowing them to pursue their dreams, saying she went with them every weekend of training and sold baked goods in order to financially support their competitions. “She’s our biggest sponsor and cheerleader,” Phil says. 

Deb and Kennedy Harris enjoying the lights at GoMart Ballpark in late 2023.

Phil and Kennedy are eager to continue their training throughout the summer, in hopes of making it back to nationals again next year. 

“We both are chasing our dreams together,” Phil says. “We’re going for gold next year.”

To follow Kennedy, visit her Facebook page

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