Olympic athletes are famous for chasing their dreams as they travel the globe. For the US Freestyle Ski team aerials athletes, however, there’s no place like home.  

“My first visit to Lake Placid was in the summer of 1996,” says US Aerials Coach Vladimir Lebedev. “After that I spent more and more time here. I came here every year. We trained summer and winter, and in my last seven years as an athlete I pretty much lived here.” 

Though it’s home to the Elite Aerials Development Program (EDAP), the Olympic Jumping Complex hasn’t hosted an aerials competition since 2019, the season just prior to Vlad’s appointment as Head Aerials Coach. He’s excited to be back in Lake Placid. “I was 12 years old when I first came, and that water ramp for summer training really scared me back then,” he says. “But we trained here for a very long time. It’s a great place. A historical place. And the center for aerials really. I believe our athletes and coaches are all happy to be back.” 

Three members of the U.S. Aerials Team (from left: Winter Valecki, Head Coach Vladimir Lebedev, and Christopher Lillis) together smiling at the camera with a wall that reads in giant letters "Team USA" directly behind them.
From left: Winter Valecki, Head Coach Vladimir Lebedev, and Christopher Lillis inside the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Lake Placid.

Born and raised in Uzbekistan, Vlad competed for the Russian National Ski Team from 2000 to 2010, earning a bronze medal at the 2006 Winter Games in Torino. After a knee injury, he made the transition to coaching and worked first as the Russian development coach before serving as its World Cup coach. Following his team’s impressive successes, he was offered a role as U.S. Moguls coach where his aerial expertise was instrumental in helping many U.S. athletes improve their performances. Vlad was then named Head Aerials Coach for the U.S. Ski Team in the summer of 2019.  

For many on the U.S. Aerials Team, regardless of how much they’ve traveled, Lake Placid holds a special place in their hearts. Christopher Lillis – a member of the U.S. National Team for 10 years and gold medalist in Mixed Team Aerials in the 2022 Beijing Winter Games – considers his return a homecoming. “I’m from Rochester, not too far away, and Lake Placid was our summertime spot. I lived here for years as an athlete as well. Definitely, the longest period not coming to Lake Placid was the last four years. It’s a great town, and it’s good to be back.”    

Click here to read the full story on the U.S. Aerials Team, including head coach Vladimir Lebedev and athletes Christopher Lillis and Winter Valecki.