Paula Moltzan may have been considered a slalom specialist coming into the season, but with a second-place result in the parallel GS, which comes on the heels of a 10th-place finish in the Sölden GS opener, the Buck Hill and UVM alumna is making the ski world think twice.
Last week in Lech/Zürs, Moltzan started the day as one of 68 athletes hoping to ski into the top 16 from the qualifying rounds. She hadn’t previously raced any World Cup parallel events and had just two days of training before the race.
Going into the qualifying round, Moltzan had her mind set on removing expectations and having fun. Scoring World Cup points would have been a big enough accomplishment, but after landing in fifth in qualification, Moltzan knew she had nothing to lose and decided to go all out.
Between qualifiers and the race, the entire U.S. team went back to the hotel to enjoy some lunch, card games, and relax before rebooting for Round 2. Justifiably nervous, Moltzan appeared wide-eyed and uneasy during interviews, but she made a point to remind herself that she had already gone farther than expected; it was time to ski hard and have fun.
Fighting her way through the round of 16, which included close take-downs of Marta Bassino and Lara Gut-Behrami, Moltzan was pleasantly surprised to find herself squaring off for the win against current overall leader Petra Vlhova — but she wasn’t shocked to be there. After the first run against Vlhova, Moltzan found herself 0.21 seconds back, and — under the new parallel rules — was now given a chance to switch courses and go for the win. She was optimistic switching over to the blue course, which she believed was skiing more direct and could give her the opportunity to make up the deficit against Vlhova.
Many viewers thought she did.
In the head-to-head final run, Moltzan appeared to be catching Vlhova, perhaps even squeaking ahead for the win — that was, prior to the crash. Six gates from the finish, she made a mistake in her transition, causing her to get off line and lose control of her skis. Moltzan plummeted to the ground, sliding through the third-to-last panel as Vlhova crossed the finish line for her third win of the season.
“I obviously was pushing it to the limit,” said Moltzan. “When you are in a position to race against the current best in the world, you really have to put everything on the line, and sometimes mistakes and errors happen. It did, and thankfully just walked out with some bruises.”
Moltzan earned her first World Cup points in 2015 before attending the University of Vermont in 2017. She set a school record for the most carnival wins and was a two-time NCAA First Team All-American in slalom during her 2017 and 2018 college tours. After two years away from the World Cup, she rejoined the circuit in the 2018-19 season.
“It’s been a pretty long road, and it hasn’t been a traditional route by any means,” said Moltzan. “I’m just pretty excited that this podium validates what I have done in the past. Although it’s not really the event I ever thought I would podium in … it’s nice to be a figurehead for young athletes that shows it doesn’t have to just be one way; there’s lots of ways to the top.”
Moving into the remainder of the World Cup season, Moltzan is happy with the progression her slalom is taking. Going into the slalom opener at Levi, Moltzan knew her skiing was there. With some mistakes and the entire field skiing fast slalom this year, it was hard to put her best results down.
Closures and lack of snow have made Europe a challenging place to be for training opportunities. For Moltzan and her teammate, Nina O’Brien, coach Magnus Andersson has taken stress and responsibility off their shoulders to find the best training across the region. The two ladies will take the next three weeks of training in Europe before Moltzan returns to the GS start gate in Courchevel on Dec 12.