The World Cup sets high demands on its athletes, physically and mentally. It’s all-consuming, particularly for athletes representing North American national teams. After the initial races of the season in Killington, Beaver Creek, and Lake Louise end, teams hop back across the pond to continue competing in Europe until mid-March when World Finals rolls around. Once in Europe, an athlete’s schedule varies based on what disciplines they choose to ski, a choice that can either increase or decrease their load. For example, Mikaela Shiffrin, a skier competing in all disciplines, will race at least once each weekend for the remainder of the season depending on her energy levels.
Collegiate athletes actively competing on the World Cup take on this schedule and then some. Actively commuting back and forth between the United States and Europe to ski for both their school and the national team. From an outside perspective, it’s easy to ask why would anyone want to bear that extra burden? Well for a majority of those athletes, the NCAA played a key role in helping them get where they are going, whether that be a spot on the national team or the first couple World Cup starts of their career.
There’s been a certain stigma that surrounds the collegiate circuit from the perspective of the national team, according to some athletes and coaches. The idea is that choosing to race in college signals the end, or at least a veering from an upward trajectory through the ranks in an athlete’s career. But as of late, more and more athletes have risen through the ranks of the NCAA circuit to prove that the collegiate track can lead to success, in some cases great success on the World Cup.
Take Canada’s Roni Remme for example. Remme hails from Collingwood, Ontario and competed with the National Ski Academy while in high school and participating in other sports. Her first year out of high school, she chose to compete solely for the Canadian national team and immediately knew it was not for her. Four years later, the now 23-year-old is a senior at the University of Utah. She will be skiing a majority of the World Cup circuit while simultaneously juggling her final collegiate season.
“I wasn’t loving my life on the national team and I wanted more in my life,” said Remme. “I think I was looking for something to fill that extra time or to fill that mental void, whatever it may be. So I started contacting schools. I was in such a dark, frustrating place at the end of that season, and honestly, I had no other option in my mind.”
Her freshman and sophomore year of college, Remme competed on both the collegiate and NorAm circuit, climbing her way up through the World rankings. During the 2017/18 season, her junior year, Remme opted not to compete collegiately to focus on the Olympics, then returned to the collegiate circuit in 2019, earning one win, four podiums, and All-American honors in the giant slalom and the slalom which helped lead Utah to the NCAA Championship title. That same season, Remme stood on her first World Cup podium in the alpine combined in Crans Montana and finished fifth in the combined and 12th in the slalom at the FIS World Championship races in Are, Sweden.
Given the immensity of her schedule, it’s easy to ask, how exactly did she do it? Well, those were skills she learned in college.
“One thing that I took away from college was knowing myself better, knowing my limits, knowing how much training I need, and how much rest I need,” says Remme. “That’s one thing that’s tough to learn on the national team because they set the schedule. It’s a lot less like that in college – you set your own schedule. That’s a unique position to be in as an athlete, and it’s a learning experience. That’s a big thing that school taught me as an athlete was self-management. It really opened my eyes to how much I needed, to what was too much, and what was not enough.”
Self-management is key, as is time-management, balancing training, classes, racing, physical fitness, and social life. But Remme says skiing on the NCAA circuit also made her a better competitor and a better teammate.
“At the World Cup you’re racing for you, your coaches, your technicians there all there and they all care but your result is for you,” says Remme. “But when you’re in college your result is for the team and that’s really unique. If you’re so devoted to your team and the results of the team then you’re going to find a lot more success in your day and in your career. ”
Remme dubbed the college circuit a healthier environment due to the team atmosphere. She knew that when she was representing the Utes, that if she had a bad day, but one of her teammates had a good day, taking that positive energy and building on it was going to help her more in the long run than internalizing defeat and beating herself up about her failure. In her mind, she races the fastest if she is happy, and skiing in college alongside her teammates help her foster a healthy relationship with her skiing.
Without the skills she gained while competing on the NCAA circuit, Remme says she would not be where she is today. And she’s not the only woman who feels this way.
Paula Moltzan, a recent graduate of the University of Vermont, is kicking off her first year competing solely on the World Cup circuit after experiencing some success in the 2019/20 season. She has always been an outspoken advocate for the NCAA option, claiming that the team dynamic and collegiate atmosphere helped change who she was an athlete. After multiple years skiing on the U.S. Ski Team, then leaving the team to ski for UVM for three seasons, Moltzan returns to the national team with a new set of teammates and an entirely new mindset that she spent years developing while in school. Had she stayed on the national team, she says she would absolutely not be where she is today.
“I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone more at school than I would have ever been pushed on the U.S. Ski Team,” says Moltzan. “It’s probably hard for a lot of people to hear that, but I think school is the best thing that’s ever happened to me and I would not have traded it for 3 more years on the U.S. Ski Team.”
Right out of the gate, Moltzan wasn’t sure she could achieve long-term goals within the sport by leaving the national team, mostly because she had yet to see anyone before her do it. In the 2018/19 season, she traveled the World Cup tour solo with the help of her coach and technician, boyfriend Ryan Mooney, while hopping back and forth between continents to race in college. In fact, she skipped the last World Cup of the season to compete in NCAAs and ended up coming up slightly short on points to qualify to ski at World Finals. Either way, she was satisfied with her season. She was the only American ski racer (aside from Mikaela Shiffrin) to finish in the top ten at a slalom race last season, and she did it all on her own.
“Sometimes people get into the mindset that college ski racing is the end of your career and I’m pretty happy that I’m breaking that stigma because I don’t think it should, I really think it should be the stepping stone,” says Moltzan. “The success I had last year is really going to prove to more people that I can do it and others can do it, especially on the female side.”
Dartmouth graduate, U.S. Ski Team alumni, and current Team X Alpine racer, Foreste Peterson, agrees with Moltzan’s sentiment. As a girl, she believed the U.S. Ski Team was the best and only option for her if she wanted to have a career in ski racing. But after having an experience on the national team, and leaving that space to compete on the collegiate circuit, she soon realized that skiing full-time in college helped make her into a better athlete.
“Going to college and racing at a high level is not easy,” notes Peterson. “It definitely takes a unique person to achieve high-level ski racing goals while going to college. But, that being said, I think going to school offers so much in an overall life balance. I was just so much more engaged in life as a whole as soon as I started school.”
Peterson represents a group of athletes that have used their NCAA experience to help them regain confidence in their careers as ski racers, and use that confidence to continue earning World Cup starts while competing on the NorAm circuit. After spending multiple years on the national team, and realizing that the overtly competitive and high-stakes format didn’t suit her well, Peterson chose to compete full-time at Dartmouth College. After her junior year, things started to click for her again in her skiing, because she was gaining skills that she lacked while competing on the national team. Rather than focusing on the consequences of success and failure, Peterson was more focused on the process and how she could best support her teammates, which took a weight off her shoulders that she hadn’t experienced when actively competing for World Cup spots. She soon realized the success of another girl was not to the detriment of herself.
“There’s just a lot of growing up that takes place in college that I don’t think you get when you go directly to the ski team,” says Peterson. “There is so much maturing to do still, and college is literally the best way to do that. I hope that women’s ski racing is evolving in such a way where more and more girls are going to school and they find that they can keep getting better. You can make the most of going to college and still go after your goals.”
Then there are athletes like Denver University’s Storm Klomhaus, who never made the national team prior to collegiate ski racing. On top of that, Klomhaus did not compete for two seasons during her collegiate career due to injury. This past fall, she earned her first World Cup start in Soelden and competed yet again in the World Cup Killington. This season, she looks to continue build up that momentum and build a name for herself, as she is incredibly proud to have taken a non-traditional route to reach the World Cup circuit.
“Going to school and skiing in school and making the national team after is a relatively new path, not a lot of people are really taking it yet,” explains Klomhaus. “And on top of not ever being on the national team, and not ever getting that mental validation and being recognized nationally as good enough to make it to the [World Cup] level, I just haven’t gotten the last two years of my skiing. Five months ago, if anyone would have asked me if I would be starting in Soelden I would have told you you were crazy. Although deep down it was a goal, it wasn’t something I can project out into the world and get a whole lot of validation back.”
The list of women that have competed, or are actively competing on the NCAA circuit that are pursuing World Cup dreams does not stop here. What the likes of Remme, Moltzan, Peterson, and Klomhous hope is that list continues to grow despite negative pushback.
Remme knew that her decision to choose school over the national team would not go down without a fight from her coaches and her organization, which made the decision that much harder. She didn’t want to close the door the national team, or somehow offend them by not following the original game-plan set out for her as a young athlete. But at the time, she knew that she couldn’t go on living and competing the way she was and that if she wanted to reach her long-term goals, she had to trust her gut, and take the road less traveled.
Would it be a logistical nightmare? Yes. But would it take her to new heights as an athlete? Absolutely. And somewhere along the way, she would gain an adopted family that would show her there is more to ski racing than individual success, opening doors she never could have imagined.
“I don’t think there’s a limit, you set limits on yourself,” says Remme. “If you think you can do it, and you have people around you that believe in you and you prove to them that you can do it, the options are endless at that point.”