As a slopestyle skier, Keegan Kilbride is used to catching big air.

But flying all the way to Italy?

That was something of a surprise.

An 18-year-old Portland native who is a senior at Carrabassett Valley Academy, Kilbride beat out a field of 16 to win the Junior National slopestyle championship two weeks ago in Park City, Utah.

A week later the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association named him one of 22 athletes to compete at the Freestyle Junior World Ski Championships in Valmalenco, Italy.

“I knew that it was a competition, but I wasn’t really sure how one would qualify for it,” Kilbride said by phone from Carrabassett Valley. “It all just kind of happened.”

In addition to slopestyle, the world championships include halfpipe and skicross events. Kilbride is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday and compete on Thursday.

“I’m excited to get over there,” he said. “Canada is the farthest I’ve ever been.”

Before leaving, Kilbride will head to Bethel for the sixth annual Dumont Cup at Sunday River, where the three Olympic medalists from Sochi – Americans Joss Christensen (gold), Gus Kenworthy (silver) and Nick Goepper (bronze) – are scheduled to compete. Qualifying for the two-day slopestyle competition is scheduled for Friday. On Saturday, 40 amateurs will compete with the professionals in morning semifinals before afternoon finals.

“It’s a really, really big event,” said Kilbride’s coach at CVA, Jake Payson. “I have a feeling that Keegan will make it to Saturday, but we’re going to play it smart. The weather hasn’t been perfect and it’s one of the more risky events. I want him to make it to Junior Worlds.”

Slopestyle made its Olympic debut this winter in Sochi. What originally began as an event for snowboarders crossed over into skiers, who negotiate railings, boxes and jumps on their way down the mountainside. Skis with tips curled up at both ends allow for takeoffs and landings facing either uphill or downhill.

“It’s kind of a newer event for the general public,” Kilbride said, “but ski mountains have always had jumps and rails up. It’s been growing for a while.”

Kilbride said an aunt first took him skiing when he was 2. His two older sisters and brother skied, and he followed into a weekend program at Sugarloaf. He attended Lyman Moore Middle School and spent his freshman year at Portland High (playing lacrosse and football) before transferring to CVA.

“I just like to free ski,” he said. “I always thought it was kind of cool, hitting big jumps. I just found that really fun.”

Payson said Kilbride’s success this winter is the culmination of years of hard work and overcoming injuries that include breaking the humerus bone in both upper arms and breaking an ankle. The past two years, however, have been relatively healthy, so Kilbride was able to take part in a three-week CVA trip to Colorado in early December.

“That’s where he put down a lot of his money tricks,” Payson said. “He was happy and healthy and raring to go.”

Kilbride’s signature move is a switch double cork ten. As he described it, “You take off the jump skiing backwards, you do a couple spins and then two flips over and land back on your feet,” he said, pausing slightly, “most of the time.”

That trick helped Kilbride win The North Face Open Park and Pipe Open Series event (and $2,000 in prize money) last month in Stratton Mountain, Vt. In early March, he placed 15th of 71 slopestyle skiers at a U.S. Revolution Tour (for aspiring juniors) in Sun Valley, Idaho.

“A lot of kids are doing (that trick),” Payson said, “but the way he does it is very, very different than the rest. He’s been able to develop his own style, to create his own layer on top of the stock tricks.”

After Sunday River and Italy Kilbride has one more event out west before calling it a season. He said he plans to move to Colorado in the fall, take classes at Colorado Mountain College and continue skiing.

“I should be able to qualify for the Grand Prix or the Dew Tour,” he said. “There’s a series of smaller slopestyle competitions in the East, but most are out West.”

Beyond that, if Kilbride remains healthy, the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea beckon.

“He’s a smart kid, very mature and wise,” Payson said. “I could see him being an Olympic qualifier at some point.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or:

Gjordan@pressherald.com

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH