Park City Olympic aerialist Mac Bohonnon retires after 12 years on skis
Mac Bohonnon is an aerials skier no more. The 24-year-old Parkite recently announced he won’t be rejoining the U.S. team for another season.
After 12 years of intense training and competition, over which he won the overall World Cup title, traveled to two Olympic Games, picked up three World Cup victories over eight podiums, and was named FIS Rookie of the Year, Bohonnon said it’s a good time to step away from aerials — happy, healthy and at the top of his game.
That idea started to sink in as last summer started cooling.
Bohonnon took a planned year off after the 2018 Winter Games, in which he finished 17th, and said he waited for that familiar sense of anticipation that accompanies each new season to set in. But that thrill for traveling and competing never returned.
“That’s when I started to get a little bit scared,” he said, thinking back to last fall. “I definitely spent some time hoping it would come back. But as I spent more time away from aerials and got into school more — retirement life — I began to feel more comfortable with the fact that it was totally cool to be done.”
So that’s it.
Bohonnon announced his retirement earlier this month.
Now, he’s focusing on school projects while finishing the degree at the University of Utah he started five years ago between ski seasons — a bachelor’s in entrepreneurial studies from the David Eccles School of Business. His courses this semester include business statistics, business algebra and an accounting class.
“It’s funny how it’s changed; I’ve never been much of a quantitative guy,” he said.
Not that he all of a sudden loves crunching numbers, but he’s excited about the prospect of joining the business world, even if it means setting aside his work on the slopes.
Bohonnon first started skiing at 18 months old when he, his parents, his two siblings and their two dogs would pile into their car and leave their hometown of Madison, Connecticut, for the family cabin near Bromley Mountain in Vermont for the weekend.
It was on those slopes, in the exotically named town of Peru, that Bohonnon first built a love for freestyle skiing as he grew older. He briefly dabbled in alpine classes before listening to his 8-year-old heart and joining the area’s newly formed freestyle program. He loved jumps.
“My brother, cousin and I, we would always go build jumps on the side of the trail,” he said. “Also, we had a trampoline at our house, so there was always a bit of freestyle acrobat in me.”
When he was 12, Bohonnon went to a freestyle camp in Lake Placid, New York, to learn how to do flips into a pool. He was spotted by coach Dmitriy Kavunov, who was heading the U.S. development team.
Bohonnon recalls that it was lucky timing. The program was in its infancy, and was on the lookout for kids with some experience in the sport and the will to go big.
Kavunov recruited Bohonnon, who moved to Lake Placid and joined a generation of aerials skiers who would become the stars of today’s U.S. team, including Ashley Caldwell, Jon Lillis, Kiley McKinnon, and Alex Bowen. Bohonnon finished his eighth-grade education online — one of many digital semesters to come, and moved to Lake Placid at 13.
Bohonnon loved living in Lake Placid, where he stayed in the Olympic Training Center with other national team athletes.
“It’s like going to college but everyone’s there to train for the Olympics,” he said.
He lived among people his age and up to 25 and 30 years old, all of whom either aspired to be Olympians or had already earned that title.
“I was aspiring to be them, to live with them and be taken in by them,” he said. “And to see what they did, to see them achieve what they wanted to achieve, was definitely pretty inspiring as a young teenager trying to do the exact same thing.”
He made friends all over, forging relationships with the aerialists, and with athletes in the other disciplines of luge, skeleton, bobsled and biathlon.
After four years in Lake Placid, he was named to the U.S. national team, and moved to Park City in 2012 at the age of 17.
By that time he was already a consistent top-10 finisher on the NorAm tour and had competed in his first three World Cups, thanks to open spots on the U.S. team. He had taken fifth in the Junior World Ski Championships at Chiesa in Valmalenco, Italy, that year, and placed third at U.S. nationals in Stratton, Vermont.
He showed some improvement through the 2012-2013 season, finishing slightly higher in his three World Cups, and placing well in the Europa Cup in addition to his success in North America. But nothing in that season hinted at the one that followed.
In the 2013-2014 season, he took first in back-to-back NorAms to start the season, earning starts at the domestic World Cups — one in Deer Valley and one in Lake Placid. Then, a teammate was injured before the Val St. Come World Cup in Quebec, Canada, allowing Bohonnon to join the U.S. team there.
Coincidentally, those were Olympic qualifying events.
Bohonnon placed 17th at Deer Valley on Jan. 10, 2013 — not a bad finish, but he’d been there before. Then he exceeded everyone’s expectations in Canada, placing second overall behind Liu Zhongqing of China. It was the highest any American male aerialist had placed all season.
He placed 13th four days later in New York. Up until that point, neither Bohonnon nor his Team USA superiors had considered him for the Winter Games. But his Val St. Come silver qualified him to go.
“That first Olympics was a bonus Olympics for me,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to go to that, which was an amazing experience.”
He came into the Games with no expectations and no record to defend as the only American male aerialist. He took fifth overall.
Sochi was an unexpected joy for Bohonnon, and one of his fondest memories from his time on the team — especially bumping into other underdogs he knew from his Lake Placid days who had squeaked into the competition.
But if 2014 was his big break, the season that followed was like an ongoing victory lap, with his teammates joining in.
In 2014 Bohonnon had USA’s lone aerials World Cup podium — men’s or women’s. In 2014-2015, the circuit flipped. Team USA was at the top every week.
Bohonnon and Kiley McKinnon, who had been in the same first-grade class, went on to take the men’s and women’s overall World Cup titles. Caldwell was just behind, finishing second overall.
“All the accolades were amazing, but it was such a fun season and such a fun group,” Bohonnon said. “We were all just young punk teenage kids who didn’t have much experience competing internationally.
“We just went out and had the time of our lives and in doing so managed to win a whole lot of World Cups and a whole lot of crystal globes.”
The next season, Bohonnon finished 10th overall, then took second overall in 2017, leaving him poised for another Winter Games — the one he and his coaches had planned on him competing in all along.
“Korea was, not only for myself, but basically my entire team, we all had the ability to win there,” Bohonnon said. “Two World Champions, three overall World Cup winners. It was really cool to go to Korea with the confidence in my ability that I could definitely come home with a medal.”
Unfortunately for Bohonnon and the U.S. team, it didn’t pan out that way.
The camaraderie was still high, but it had been a long, trying season. The team was dinged up. Women’s World Champion Caldwell suffered an injury in Korea. Men’s World Champion Jon Lillis was still reeling from the death of his brother a few months earlier. None of the Americans took home a medal.
“In terms of results, it was a wild disappointment,” Bohonnon said. “It was just a really tough season for our team, for a lot of really unfortunate reasons.”
He said it felt like a victory just to make it through the season, which was frustrating after working toward it for so long.
“But that’s kind of what these sports are all about,” he said. “You get one shot every four years. It feels like an eternity to get there and wait for it, and it’s over in the blink of an eye.”
Even so, Bohonnon said he looks back on his career fondly.
He wishes he had an Olympic gold medal, but overall, he said he thinks his aerials career panned out well.
“There’s little things you wish you could change, but in the grand scheme of things, no, it was an amazing career, one I’m very proud of and one that I’ll look back on for a very long time and remember how much fun I had,” he said.
Bohonnon plans on staying in Park City through next spring when he’s scheduled to graduate, then it’s anyone’s bet where he’ll end up for work. You might say his life is up in the air, but it’s not. At least, not like it was.