Born the daughter of two ski instructors in Prior Lake, Minn., just 15 minutes from Buck Hill, Paula Moltzan was well-positioned to be a great racer. However, at an early age, it wasn’t skiing, but soccer and gymnastics that occupied most of her time. She skied as a weekend warrior up until the age of 11 when she finally joined the Buck Hill Ski Team on a full-time basis. There, she trained under the watchful eye of legendary Austrian coach Erich Sailer, who’s been churning out world-class racers from his perch in Minnesota for more than 60 years.
Moltzan flourished in the full-time program for five seasons, but she also remained focused on academics, motivated in part by an injury she sustained falling off a jungle gym at the age of eight. She suffered a compound fracture and a dislocated elbow, which required surgery, but the short-term discomfort sparked a lifelong interest in medicine.
Moltzan remembers thinking, “These people are so cool, and they can fix me no matter how far I break myself.”
Then and there, the third-grader decided to become a person who could fix people. She attended an excellent public high school in Lakeville, Minn., but her ski racing demands created an academic challenge with too many days of missed school. Like many ski racing families, it came time to prioritize Moltzan’s ski racing career and her academic ambitions, and they realized she needed a school that could accommodate both.
Moltzan chose Vail, Colo., because of her attraction to the state and the fact that Kristina Koznick’s former World Cup coach, Dan Stripp, would be her mentor. Academically she would have the opportunity to attend Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, a tuition-free public school that caters to the busy schedules of athletes involved in sports; it was a perfect match.
The decision proved fruitful. After a single season working with Stripp, Moltzan earned her first nomination to the U.S. Ski Team and wore the national uniform as a senior in high school. Moltzan spent the next five seasons, from 2012 to 2016, developing as a national team member. During that time, she would get a win in the Junior World Championship slalom and earn 17 World Cup slalom starts. She achieved her first World Cup points score, 25th, in 2016 in Flachau. However, skiing in the World Cup is not easy, and after five seasons, the U.S. Ski Team decided not to nominate her for the 2017 team.
Disappointed but never deterred, Moltzan reached out to her friend, University of Vermont assistant alpine coach Jimmy Cochran. With Cochran’s help and without skipping a beat — four days after learning she would not be renamed to the national team — Moltzan interviewed with UVM head coach Bill Reichelt and secured a roster spot as a Catamount.
“I had new reasons to be excited,” said Moltzan. “After five years of paying to be a member of the U.S. Ski Team, I had become a scholarship athlete, and in addition to having someone paying for my ski racing, they would pay for my education.”
Organizing summer training has always been one of the most significant challenges for ambitious collegiate racers, so how did Moltzan tackle the problem? She didn’t. Instead, Moltzan worked at her boyfriend’s family rafting business in western Massachusetts. No skiing from the end of spring series until the UVM program began its on-snow training in November. No skiing out of competition season before her freshman, sophomore, and junior years.
Not skiing in the summers is undoubtedly an unconventional way to produce extraordinary results, but it worked for Moltzan. Before her successful 2019 World Cup season, the UVM junior talked her way into the U.S. Ski Team’s Killington slalom time trial at Copper. With only five days of skiing prep, she won that time trial and earned her entry into the World Cup. Her Killington result, finishing 17th starting with bib 36, would ignite her most successful World Cup season to date. Moltzan competed in six of the ten slaloms contested and finished 27th in the World Cup slalom standings. Her success earned her a fresh nomination onto the U.S. Ski Team, where she remains a member.
According to Moltzan, the breaks provided an opportunity to decompress from the stresses of competitive skiing and gave her an excellent fitness-training block. Moltzan believes her life away from skiing helped energize her, and she was, therefore, better able to take full advantage of the limited time she did have on snow. During the 2019 season, her commitment to schoolwork and collegiate racing created a healthy reprieve from the World Cup’s pressure, Moltzan says.
Moltzan is determined to find an alternative to school that will serve the same positive balance in focus. Moltzan says from her experience, “School is more stressful than skiing, and the less I think about skiing, the better a ski racer I am.”
Moltzan entered UVM with only three seasons of eligibility. But she cherished all three. She described NCAA racing as “the best thing since sliced bread.”
“You are friends with the other national team members and are happy for them when they succeed, but at the end of the day, they are your competition, In collegiate skiing, you compete together as a team. You may be better than me, but I want you to ski well because it makes my team better. The most nervous I have ever been in a start was before the second run of the NCAA nationals GS my freshman year. You are skiing for a team. If I had another year of eligibility, I would have used it.”
“I am grateful for the second chance (with the national team), and I feel incredibly fortunate to be working with my coach Magnus Andersson,” she added. “He is not only a great coach; he is hugely supportive. He knows how fast I am and believes in me.”
Another essential part of Moltzan’s dream team is her serviceman and boyfriend, Ryan Mooney. She feels very fortunate to have someone she fully trusts, servicing her skis, and says it is comforting to know her skis are perfect every time.
Her current priority is clear: Moltzan is pursuing her dream of becoming the best ski racer she can be. If history is any guide, with the help of people she trusts, she will find a unique way to get that accomplished.
To achieve her ski racing dreams, Moltzan has put her biology/pre-med degree on hold, but someday she knows there will be a return to the challenges of becoming a medical school student.
Until then, she will continue to ski as fast as possible.
Date of Birth: July 4th, 1994
Hometown: Prior Lake, Minnesota
Senior University of Vermont
United States Ski Team
Junior World Champion SL
Hafjell Norway 2015
SL Champion 2017
SL 2nd Place 2018
GS 3rd Place 2018
First Team All-American SL 2017, 2018
First Team All-American GS 2018
National Collegiate All-Academic Team 2017
30 SL Starts
1 GS Start
7 top 30 SL results
Best finish 12th Flachau, 2019