Three years ago, at the 2018 Killington World Cup slalom, something remarkable happened. Paula Moltzan, then a 24-year-old junior at the University of Vermont, finished seventeenth. It wasn’t a spot on the podium near her teammate Mikaela Shiffrin. But it was still a big deal.

The best skiers in the world fight hard for the coveted top 30 spots in World Cup races, where they can earn points toward the season’s overall title. Finishing seventeenth was like being called up to the major leagues and scoring an RBI on her first at-bat.

It was not Moltzan’s first game, though—just her first time finishing in the top 30 in front of a home crowd. The 2015 junior world slalom champion, Moltzan had competed in quite a few World Cup races already, but none in the past year. When her ski career had not taken off as expected in 2016, she had enrolled at UVM to study biology, with a chemistry minor. After working as both a raft guide and a nanny during the summer of 2018 (not training, like most top skiers), Moltzan had not expected much from skiing. In her 18 World Cup starts to date, she had only earned a second run once (by finishing in the top-30 first run). She had only been on snow for a couple of days that fall and earned the 2018 Killington World Cup berth only after doing well in a time-trial the week before. But she told herself, “All right; we’re at home; I’ve got to give it my all.”
“You’ve got to attribute it to all the great American fans who cheer on everybody at Killington.
—Paula Moltzan
From Minnesota, Moltzan now considers Vermont a home of sorts, and her UVM teammates were at Killington to cheer her on—as well as Canadian Laurence St. Germain, a senior at UVM who had scored her best World Cup finish ever in the Killington slalom the year before (fourteenth), then matched that result at the 2018 Killington slalom. From just north of the border in Québec, St. Germain also considers Killington a “home” World Cup.

For Moltzan, the hometown crowd played a part in her great result. “Having so many people cheer for you and having so many people be so happy for you, and having my friends come down from school to watch me, it was huge,” she said. “I’ve never had that kind of support system at the bottom of the hill cheering me on, wanting the best for me. Killington is like this big atmosphere that’s so happy and so special.”

FEEL the NOISE

“Never in a million years would I have expected that result,” she added. “You’ve got to attribute it to all the great American fans who cheer on everybody at Killington.”

Moltzan and St. Germain weren’t the only North Americans to finish in the top 30. St. Germain’s Canadian teammate Roni Remme finished just ahead of her in thirteenth (not her best World Cup finish ever but close to it). And Nina O’Brien, a then-20-year-old Burke Mountain Academy graduate competing in her thirteenth World Cup, scored her best World Cup result ever at the 2018 Killington slalom. After the first run, she had held on to thirtieth place, meaning that she would, for the first time in her career, qualify for the second run. (In World Cup skiing, only those finishing in the top 30 on the first run get to compete in the second run.)

Athlete: Paula Moltzan

Athlete: Nina O’Brien

Athlete: Laurence St. Germain

Athlete: Ali Nullmeyer

Athlete: Mikaela Shiffrin

“Skiing into that top 30 on the second run in front of everyone was probably my best ski racing memory ever,” said O’Brien, who made her World Cup debut at Killington in 2016. “I was proud of myself and so happy that I could do it in Killington, and there were so many friends, family and fans watching. It felt like a best day.”

Although Moltzan and O’Brien—and, of course, Shiffrin—are the only American ski racers to have ever scored World Cup points at Killington, other U.S. racers feel similarly about the events. Racing at Killington is an honor—as O’Brien said, “It’s pretty cool to show off to the world and remind ourselves that ski racing is alive in the U.S.”

Moltzan echoed O’Brien’s thoughts, adding that “ski racing is thriving and alive in the U.S., and everybody wants to be part of it.”
“It’s pretty cool to show off to the world and remind ourselves that ski racing is alive in the U.S.”Nina O’Brien
The 2018 Killington World Cup slalom helped Moltzan and O’Brien launch their ski-racing careers to another level. It was the breakthrough that both needed to prove to themselves they belonged racing with the world’s best.

“It was a big confidence boost,” said O’Brien, who scored World Cup points in two more races that season, earned a world championship berth, then burst into the 2019/’20 season with more top-30 results, including twenty-eighth place in the 2019 Killington World Cup giant slalom.

Thanks to her great finish at Killington in 2018, Moltzan also earned herself more World Cup starts during the 2018/’19 season. But it required some juggling. A full-time student at UVM, she returned to campus to complete the fall semester (and could not skip even one class to celebrate her great finish at Killington, but her team did throw a party for her and St. Germain). With exams finished, Moltzan took an unexpected trip to Europe over the holiday break that year. Between late December 2018 and early January 2019, she competed in four more World Cup slaloms, finishing as high as twelfth, and earned herself a chance to compete at alpine skiing world championships in February 2019.

Then began the crazy part. Once second semester started, Moltzan had to balance a full course load, racing for the UVM Catamounts in the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association races (called carnivals) and competing for the U.S. at the world championships in mid-February in Åre, Sweden, plus another World Cup race leading up to worlds.

“I did everything,” said Moltzan with a laugh. And she did it well, taking eighteenth in the world championship slalom in Sweden. Then, back home at Stowe in early March for the 2019 NCAA Ski Championships, she traded her USA speed suit for green and yellow Catamount colors and finished third in slalom and fifth in GS—behind teammate St. Germain, who swept both races. The two World Cup racers helped UVM take the runner-up spot at NCAAs, the team’s best finish in five years.

Now Moltzan has put school on hold and is back ski racing full time with the U.S. Ski Team. She is not the only one who has balanced college and World Cup racing. At the 2019 Killington World Cup, almost a dozen women who compete or have competed on the NCAA circuit were on the start lists, including Moltzan, St. Germain and Roni Remme (University of Utah). (Nina O’Brien attends Dartmouth College but does not race for the Big Green.) Although only O’Brien and Remme finished in the top 30 in the 2019 Killington races, all were still thrilled to compete in front of the raucous, happy crowd that gathers below Superstar.
Although she hoped to do better in her Killington debut in 2019 (she finished thirty-sixth on her first run), Ali Nullmeyer was impressed by the roar of the crowd.
Another Canadian competing at Killington for the first time, Ali Nullmeyer started as a freshman at Middlebury College last year. Injured three years ago, she had a tough transition back to high-level skiing and decided to try racing in a team atmosphere—“to have a nice solid team to hang out with,” she said, “and to take her mind off things.” Like many of the college athletes who pursue elite racing, Nullmeyer is looking for a balance, so skiing does not become the sole focus of her life.

Although she hoped to do better in her Killington debut in 2019 (she finished thirty-sixth on her first run), Nullmeyer was impressed by the roar of the crowd.

Katie Hensien, fourth in slalom at the 2018 world junior championships, made her World Cup debut at Killington in 2017. From Redmond, Washington, she attends the University of Denver and competes for the Pioneers while also balancing a spot on the U.S. Ski Team. She selected DU for its strong academics but also because the ski team has been home to several top World Cup competitors, including Norway’s Leif Kristian Haugen and Canada’s Trevor Philip and Erik Read. At Killington, Hensien is particularly grateful that her family has an opportunity to watch her race at the highest level without having to jump more than three time zones.
At Killington, Katie Hensien is particularly grateful that her family has an opportunity to watch her race at the highest level without having to jump more than three time zones.
For most of the women, NCAA skiing actually helps them deal with the pressure of competing in front of family and friends. In NCAA skiing, three skiers from each school must finish every race in order to score points for the team, and while individuals can win NCAA titles, the most coveted prize is the overall team title.

For St. Germain, nothing compares to the nerves she experienced at the 2019 NCAA Championships. She had already won the 2019 NCAA giant slalom title, coming from fifth after her first run to win. Then she was in the lead after her first run of slalom. If she won, she would become the first UVM skier to sweep the NCAA alpine events, and the Catamounts would finish runner-up in the team standings to the University of Utah. 

“I don’t even know if I’ll ever top how nervous I was,” said St. Germain, who held on for the NCAA slalom win.

For Moltzan, being happy and relaxed in skiing is a key to her success. And she found that happiness while competing for a team at UVM. In 2018, she brought that feeling to Killington. What did she have to lose? With seventeenth place, she ended up gaining more than she imagined: more World Cup starts and a ticket back to the U.S. Ski Team.

In 2019 in the Killington slalom, Moltzan was on her way to an even better finish—perhaps even top 10. But then bedeviled by a sore back, she crashed. The crash, however, did not shake her confidence. She had been skiing well coming into the Killington races, even keeping up with Shiffrin in training. And again, the crowd kept her spirits high.

“Obviously, finding the finish line is fun, and to not find it today is a bummer in front of this awesome crowd,” Moltzan said with a smile. “But they gave me a great welcome back.”

— Peggy Shinn
photos by Brooks Curran, Chandler Burgess, Justin Cash




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