For the first slalom series of the season, Copper Mountain put the young women competing on the NorAm circuit to the test on a brand new venue. The hill and the surface set new demands, but Lila Lapanja of Team Clif conquered the course and the hill both days as the series overall victor.

It’s been a while since the 24-year-old has skied in a tech race and won. In fact, she’s been on a four-year slalom win dry spell. Earning two wins ahead of U.S. Ski Teamer, Keely Cashman, Team X Alpine’s, Foreste Peterson, and Denver University’s, Andrea Komsic, has shown Lapanja that the hard work is paying off and she’s headed in the right direction.

“I couldn’t have asked for much more at the beginning of the season,” Lapanja said. “I was just so process-oriented going into the season, switching equipment being on Stoeckli skis and had no idea what it was going to be like going back into race mode, but I’m just in a better place physically and mentally so it paid off. It was challenging to keep the faith and keep wanting to pursue ski racing but I feel like I have a renewed sense of motivation and inspiration to just keep fighting.”

Lapanja described the venue as world-class. Looking back on her past World Cup starts, she isn’t sure she’s ever skied anything so steep on the tour. The difficulty of the new venue showed in the results. On day one, nineteen women were unable to finish their second runs. On day two, a similar situation – seventeen women did not finish the second run. After a couple of weeks of sunshine, the snow came in fast, although Lapanja said she welcomed the adversity.

“When you’re skiing well and you’re feeling confident, you’re not really looking back, you’re looking through the track, so it didn’t really phase me much,” Lapanja said. “NorAm overall title and U.S. Nationals are on my mind.”

Cashman also came out strong in the first series of the year, finishing third on day one and second on day two. The 20-year-old also topped the junior podium on both days. Coming off of a week of training speed at Copper with the U.S. Ski Team, a strong slalom performance was exactly what she needed to feel confidence in her all-round skiing.

“Last year I finished the season on a pretty good note, so you know there’s always stress that creeps in over the summer to continue that,” Cashman said. “To come out of the first two races with two podium finishes is a pretty good booster going into Killington [World Cup], so I’m pretty excited.”

While she is not yet sure if she will compete in the slalom at the Killington World Cup, Cashman will definitely be making a showing in the giant slalom. She had her first giant slalom World Cup start in Soelden back in October but did not qualify for a second run. She’ll also be making an appearance in Lake Louise, after earning a downhill spot on the World Cup via NorAms last season.

“I’m hoping to pop into the top 30 for some World Cup at some point and I’m shooting for a NorAm overall, so I’m hoping to keep podiums across the board in all events,” said Cashman.

Peterson and Komsic both found their way onto the podium during the slalom opening series as well. Peterson, 26, has been competing and training under the Team X Alpine umbrella over the past season, and is coming off of multiple injuries that she fought to combat during the summer off-season, the biggest being a tibial-plateau fracture, which she suffered at the Stowe NorAm series in March. Peterson, who used to represent the U.S. Ski team, feels proud of her results in Copper, not only because it demonstrates the perseverance and grit it takes to stay in the mix coming off of an injury, but also because she got to stand next to another ex-national team member on the podium.

Team Clif’s Lila Lapanja stands at the top of the podium for the second day in a row, followed by the U.S. Ski Team’s Keely Cashman in second, and Denver University’s Andrea Komsic in third. Photo: Claire Brown

“Lila and I, we’re both from Tahoe and used to be teammates on the national team and now we’re both on independent teams,” Peterson said. “So it was pretty cool to go one, two on the podium outside of the national governing body and show everyone that you can still be competitive, even if we’re not on the national team.”

Komsic, on the other hand, represents the Croatian national team as well as Denver University and is riding a wave of successful finishes at the NCAA level at the end of last season after being named a two-time All-American.

“Getting third and fourth in the NorAms at the beginning of the season is a great push for the rest of it,” Komsic said. “It’s always nice to score some points and to know I can be as fast as the other girls are.”

One last racer to keep an eye on after the first NorAm series of the year would be Storm Klomhaus. The Denver University senior fought her way into the top ten on both days after struggling a bit on the first run. On day two, she was finally able to put together a clean run and won the second run of the slalom by 0.46 seconds, allowing her to jump from 17th into sixth overall. Klomhaus is another athlete who has been battling a series of injuries. Over the past couple of years, she has fought through six surgeries to get back on the NorAm circuit, and to her surprise, this year she was also skiing well enough to earn her first World Cup start in Soelden, Austria.

“If you had asked me five weeks ago if I would be starting in Soelden, I would have told you were insane,” Klomhaus said, laughing. “I almost had to have a killer mentality to make it back to this point, coming back from so many injuries, you kind of have to. The last run was just clean. It is making me hungry for what is to come.”

All in all, kicking off the season on one of the most demanding hills on the NorAm circuit, and being able to put on a strong performance, indicates that these women have the capacity to keep the heat coming throughout the rest of the NorAm and World Cup season. The next set of NorAms will be a downhill and super-G series taking place in Lake Louise post-World Cup. The men of the NorAm circuit compete in their first slalom series of the season on November 21st and 22nd at Copper Mountain.

November 19th Slalom

  1. Lila Lapanja (USA) – 1:37.41
  2. Foreste Peterson (USA) – +0.24
  3. Keely Cashman (USA) – +0.38
  4. Andrea Komsic (CRO) – +0.39
  5. Leona Popovic (CRO) – +1.47

For full race results from day one, click here.

November 20th Slalom

  1. Lila Lapanja (USA) – 1:35.91
  2. Keely Cashman (USA) – +1.16
  3. Andrea Komsic (CRO) – +1.21
  4. Clara Direz (FRA) – +1.85
  5. Leona Popovic (CRO) – +1.89

For full race results from day two, click here.