National Team nominations are always a mixture of excitement and disappointment, eliciting the gamut of emotions from jubilation to astonishment to heartbreak. In rereading this article from 2017 and this one from 2018, I realized there is no need to rewrite the preamble to a piece on this annual ritual: “It’s always a mixture of clear calls and tough calls, cool calls and missed calls. Some people are grandfathered onto the team indefinitely. Others can put forth heroic independent efforts, fall a whisker short, and never get the nod. As a U.S. Ski Team executive once reminded all of us athletes: Gravity is fair. That’s about it.”
So there’s always that. This year, as usual, some of the top names in American skiing are notably absent from the US Ski Team nomination list. The good news for American ski racing fans is that these athletes are still committed to the sport, and moving full steam ahead on their own programs to maximize their talent. Here is where you can follow them and how you can help them next season.
The Pioneer – Lila Lapanja
Lila Lapanja is used to striking out into new territory. She first made the U.S. Ski Team at age 16. By age 22, in 2017, having scored World Cup points in her third World Cup start the previous season, she found herself outside the age bands to qualify for the US Ski Team. That next season, Lapanja went out on her own, forming Team CLIF Bar Racing, an independent team aimed at Olympic and World Cup Alpine Skiing. After this season, Lapanja’s circuitous path has brought her away from that revolutionary corporate team, but one step closer to her mission. By winning the NorAm slalom standings, Lapanja — ranked 24th on the FIS slalom list — secured starts in all of next year’s World Cup slaloms, and she’s using them.
Lapanja spent her time in quarantine enjoying extra time at home, and focused on building her fitness base, planning her season, creating sponsorship portfolios and taking online classes at Sierra Nevada University. Team CLIF Bar Ski Racing is now disbanded, but CLIF Bar remains her headgear sponsor and her Dad (former Slovenian national team racer Vojko) will again be her coach.
Her immediate challenge is to find a sponsor to fund her tech, Eric Dasko. The trio hopes to join forces with other athletes to prep for the season and to be back on snow by the end of July or middle of August. After what Lapanja calls one of her strongest seasons — one where she stayed healthy and motivated throughout, and learned much about preparation and recovery — her goals are high: top-15 World Cup finishes and to qualify for World Championships and World Cup Finals. “I’m exactly where I want to be,” says Lapanja.
Follow contact Lila at lilalapanja.com.
The Dream Team – Storm Klomhaus and Tricia Mangan
When Jim Tschabrun explains the vibe Team X strives to create, he describes it as “a happy place within a super-competitive world.” After two years, Park City’s Team X has proven to be just that, providing its small group of female athletes with support in all the critical aspects of athletic performance, from physical and on-snow training to sports psychology and positive culture. Storm Klomhaus and Tricia Mangan — both with U.S. Ski Team and NCAA racing experience — are eager to embrace and exploit all that Team X offers.
Klomhaus had a busy year. She started the season with her first ever World Cup start in Soelden and then had another in Killington. After winning the 2020 NCAA GS title — the only alpine race in the 2020 championships to conclude before the COVID cancellations — and winning the NorAm title in Alpine Combined, Klomhaus graduated from DU with a degree in biochemistry. With full recognition for the critical role school played in her development, she is excited to finally be able to focus full-time on skiing. Joining her is Tricia Mangan, U.S. Ski Team veteran turned star Dartmouth skier. Even while going to college full time (she has one term left at Dartmouth for her engineering degree) Mangan managed to secure a World Cup start for next season in super G and alpine combined.
Mangan and Klomhaus are no strangers to each other or the ski racing elite. Both were early recruits for the U.S. Ski Team — Klomhaus at Team Academy and Mangan while a junior at her high school in Buffalo, NY. Klomhaus went directly to college, entering DU at age 17, while Mangan worked her way up the ski team ranks, to the 2018 Olympic Team. In 2019, Mangan switched gears to attend Dartmouth full-time and race on the NCAA and NorAm circuit.
Beyond having the highest regard for each other, and enormous appreciation for the value of team culture gleaned from their college racing experience, Mangan and Klomhaus are also athletically well-matched. Both have the knack for speed and tech, and are focused on earning fixed World Cup spots in as many disciplines as possible.
For the upcoming season, based on NorAm results, Mangan has earned World Cup starts in super G and alpine combined, while Klomhaus has a World Cup start in alpine combined. Adding tech starts is a goal they share. They are thrilled to join each other and Aussie Madi Hoffman, in a fully supported and supportive environment. Until they can all get on snow together, Mangan will help her brother run Camp Mangan, the dryland camp Tricia started in 2012 to help pay for her ski camps. Klomhaus, the graduate, will spend time in Colorado with boyfriend River Radamus until she gets the green light to move to Park City.
Follow Team X @teamxalpine
The Survivor — Brian McLaughlin
If they awarded frequent flyer miles for trips on and off the U.S. Ski Team, Brian McLaughlin would have platinum status. Unfortunately that status does not come with many advantages.
First named to the team in the spring of 2011, at age 17, McLaughlin was cut after one year. He was then renamed for the 2014 season as a speed skier, and, after being cut again, switched back to tech skiing to attend Dartmouth. There, he spent his sophomore and junior years racing for Dartmouth and the N-Uni team. Before his senior year, when the Uni team disbanded, he joined Team America to supplement his training.
McLaughlin then won the 2018 NCAA GS title and a World Cup start for the following season. He graduated from Dartmouth with an engineering degree, ranked 31st in the world, but at age 24 was too old to be considered under U.S. Ski Team criteria. He was instead offered invitee status, which came with a $100,000 price tag. He kicked that season off with an 18th place at the Birds of Prey World Cup GS. In May 2019, having again secured a World Cup start for the next season, McLaughlin was nominated to the U.S. Ski Team for the fourth time.
It seemed he had finally gotten his break, but then came what he described as a “turbulent season” where he was sorting out his equipment and technique while making the huge step to the World Cup. Nevertheless, he finished 33rd in Soelden, to barely miss qualifying. He sustained shoulder and knee injuries at the NorAm parallel in February, and was once again bounced off the U.S. Ski Team.
McLaughlin still has the chops and the drive to crack the World Cup code. He spent the spring quarantine getting healthy, and recently joined Global Racing, an international group of peers who will push each other in GS, his specialty. His first order of business is to shed FIS points and reclaim decent start orders, which he is confident will happen quickly. Then he will be in position to vie for World Cup starts, and get back where he belongs. McLaughlin is in search of sponsors and private donations.
If you can help, contact [email protected]
International man of mystery — AJ Ginnis
Perhaps the most interesting path is being blazed by the former U.S. slalom phenom, AJ Ginnis. As a bronze medalist at the 2015 World Junior Champs (right behind Henrik Kristoffersen and Marco Schwarz and right ahead of Clement Noel, Loic Meillard and a who’s who of current World Cup stars), Ginnis was on an early fast track.
He nabbed the U.S. national slalom title in 2017, just ahead of his longtime mentor David Chodounsky. When the US cut its entire slalom team in 2018, both athletes had nowhere to go. Chodounsky retired, but Ginnis, then just 23, joined Team CLIF Bar. A knee injury (his third) derailed his first season as an independent before it got started, but Ginnis roared back.
After returning to snow in October, he won his first race — a stacked NorAm slalom — in November. Ginnis then earned World Cup starts in Schladming where he missed qualifying by two-tenths of a second, and in Kitzbuhel where he was a DNF. Ginnis sped back from Europe to notch another NorAm win and race an NCAA carnival for Dartmouth before the season came to a screeching COVID halt. When he was not nominated to the U.S. Ski Team, Ginnis enacted his plan B.
Born in Greece, where he also learned to ski, Ginnis moved to Austria part time at age 12. There, in Kaprun, he started the ski racing career that led him to Vermont’s GMVS and the U.S. Ski Team. With his portfolio of talent, languages and relationships throughout the ski world, Ginnis has his pick of high-test training partners.
He also has his pick of citizenship, and will continue his World Cup and Olympic dreams as a member of the Greek national ski team. He will train chiefly with the Slovenian team, and other teams as possible, supported by CLIF Bar and his clothing/gear sponsors.
Having recently completed the spring term at Dartmouth, Ginnis is working his international connections to figure out his summer on-snow training, and sorting out the details to complete his move to Team Greece. He is looking for two more uniform sponsors and funding for his talented tech, former GMVS and U.S. teammate Sandy Vietze.
Help AJ and join his team of supporters @aj_ginnis.
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