LAST WORD: Big Airs, Big Heart

World Championship Freestyle Skier Avital Carroll and her family members reflect on the pivotal role that Stratton played in her athletic journey

When Avital Carroll claimed her well-deserved Bronze Medal in Moguls at the 2023 FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships in Bakuriani, Georgia, her mother, Deborah Shimko, was standing close by and proudly watching. It was a hard-earned personal triumph that was decades in the making, and the years that Carroll and her family spent at Stratton played a pivotal role in her athletic journey.

Born Avital Shimko, Carroll began training at Stratton when she was only six years old. A prodigious skier, Carroll honed her athletic skills in Stratton’s illustrious seasonal training program. She also built mental resilience and executive function skills at every stage of the trips that she took there with her family. Deborah Shimko and her husband, David Shimko, fondly remember driving to Stratton with Avital and her four older siblings, Arielle, Zev, Eitan, and Ephraim, who also participated in Stratton’s seasonal freestyle training program. “We would take the kids out of school on Fridays during the winter,” recalls Shimko. “We packed the car up at 6PM sharp every Thursday evening, and everyone would have to make sure that they had their ski gear properly packed. It got them into the right mindset before they ever reached the mountain.”

Carroll learned many valuable lessons under the tutelage of Olympian and mogul pioneer Bruce Bolesky and other knowledgeable ski instructors at Stratton. “There were great coaches there that helped to build my skills,” notes Carroll. She remembers attempting her first front flips with ‘Stevek’ (The late, beloved Stratton instructor, Stephen Kenney) at the water ramps at Lake Placid during the summer. “The coaches taught me to love the sport of skiing,” adds Carroll.

Carroll’s parents also found a supportive community through the Stratton Mountain Club. “We had to figure out logistics in terms of lodging and transportation when we traveled to different mountains to watch our kids compete,” says Shimko. “The parents helped each other out, and we were all down at the bottom of the hill cheering for everyone. It’s a great community that made the ski competition experience much more enjoyable.”

Carroll experienced several devastating accidents while climbing the ranks as a freestyle skier, but she didn’t give up hope. In 2018, her career reached new heights when she was crowned the Overall Nor-Am Grand Prix Champion, which earned her a spot on the U.S. ski team. Unfortunately, right after this major accomplishment, Carroll tore her ACL before the start of the next season. Undeterred, she spent the next several years building back her strength through rigorous training. “It was pretty tough,” shares Carroll, “but I continued the grind and took baby steps every day.”

Her hard work paid off when she was presented with the chance to ski for the Austrian national team. “The Nationality Act granted direct descendants of everyone forced out by the Holocaust Austrian Citizenship,” notes Carroll. “It was a great opportunity for me.” By joining the Austrian team, Carroll was able to honor her roots while pursuing her dreams. She also got to play a central part in building up the Austrian team’s Moguls program. Carroll adds that her husband, Bobby Carroll, served as her coach in the two years leading up to the World Championships. “His help was invaluable during the training process.”

Avital and her Oma (Elfi Hendell) at the Stratton Nor-Am.

After her medal-winning run, Carroll returned to Stratton to cheer on her friends who were participating in the 2023 FIS Nor-Am Cup. “I’m grateful to be able to keep my connection going with Stratton,” she says. “I’ve done Stratton Mountain Ski Camps with Tim Massucco, and I would love to continue to do that and inspire the next generation of skiers.”