U.S. Ski & Snowboard is highlighting HERoic trailblazers throughout our winter sports, both past and present. A HERoic trailblazer is a woman athlete who has gone above and beyond in her sport, moving the sport forward through grit and determination and inspiring the next generation of women athletes.
Jen Hudak, a notable presence and one of the OGs in the world of freeskiing, has helped pave the way for generations of athletes to excel in the sport she helped shape.
Born and raised in Hamden, Connecticut, Hudak’s love for skiing was found during the weekends spent in Vermont. Being a curious adventurer at a young age led her to skiing in her own backyard, where she honed in her skills using a homemade rope tow created by her dad. At the age of 11, Hudak enrolled in the Okemo Mountain Freestyle Team and things started to take off. First training in mogul skiing, her coach Elana Chase came on the scene and saw the potential for Hudak in the halfpipe. After a season competing in both disciplines, Jen decided to follow her passion and started to pursue halfpipe skiing exclusively.
Through years of hard work and endless determination, Hudak podiumed in her first major competition: the U.S. Freeskiing Open in Vail, Colorado in 2004. From there, her professional ski career skyrocketed. By 2010, Hudak had become a household name as the premier U.S. halfpipe skier in the world for women. She won five X Games medals, four U.S. Championships titles and two World Championship medals, and was nominated for one of the biggest awards in sports - the ESPY for “Best Female Action Sports Athlete.”
The tricks Hudak threw in competition were unique and were the result of her creative and dedicated practice. Many asked how she made it look so easy, and her answer credited fear management and visualization. When she entered the flow state, she was able to perform at her highest level.
Being at the top of your sport, setbacks are common. Hudak suffered a devastating final knee injury in December of 2013 at the first Olympic qualifier, which left her unable to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. It was her eighth knee surgery and ultimately the time that she would step away from competing professionally.
Hudak was bigger than her sport. During her career, and following, she was always an advocate for including women’s freeskiing in the competition circuit, writing letters to event organizers and sponsors and lobbying the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on behalf of women skiers around the world.
Hudak's impact isn't confined solely to her athletic accomplishments. During the 30th season of the Amazing Race, Hudak and former freeskier Kristi Leskinen teamed up and made history. Placing third, Hudak and Leskinen had the highest racing average out of every all-woman team in the U.S. version of the show.
On the creative and entrepreneurial side of things, Hudak and her husband Chris started an innovative teardrop camper company, Escapod in 2016, making handcrafted, durable and sustainable off-road campers meant to be passed down for generations to come. The Hudaks also put their energy and love into raising a family and in the spring of 2020, they welcomed baby Hudson into their lives and are soon to welcome baby number two!
Hudak’s journey is a testament to the power of mind-body connection, there is no doubt her career has inspired and set the bar for the new generation of female freeskiers.