Allie Johnson competes at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. (Photo: Joe Kusumoto)
Even though Allie Johnson is a Paralympian, she didn’t really know what to expect this world cup season, her first as a member of the U.S. Para alpine skiing team.
Last year at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, she placed 12th in the giant slalom and 14th in the super-G. But this is her first full season on the world cup circuit.
“So, it was a pretty big jump for me, which is really exciting,” said Johnson, who competed in one world cup last year independently. “It’s difficult going from our smaller ski community in the U.S. You don’t really know how you stack up against the best in the world.”
As it turned out, Johnson, who turned 28 on Dec. 23, stacked up rather well in her world cup season opener Dec. 8-11 in St. Moritz, Switzerland, turning in fourth-place finishes in the slalom and giant slalom events in the women’s standing classification.
“I was expecting maybe a couple of top fives this season,” Johnson said. “I really am just trying to focus on how I’m skiing and not really results as much. But it is kind of fun to see that I’ve already surpassed that goal.”
The results prompted Johnson, who is a congenital amputee of the right arm, to reset her season goal.
“I’m hoping to podium at a world cup this year,” Johnson said. “I still have a lot of work to do, but (I’m) pretty excited with where my skiing is. I have all these new resources now.”
Johnson, who is originally from Western Springs, Illinois, is relatively new to ski racing. Though she skied as a kid, she didn’t start racing until the 2018-19 season. She also lost development time when she broke her left leg during a February 2020 downhill race in British Columbia and needed three surgeries to repair the damage.
“I didn’t really know if that was going to be the end of my career,” Johnson said. “It just showed me how much I do love ski racing and how (worthwhile) it is to me.
“It was about a year’s-long recovery to get back on skis, and I still have to work a little bit harder on my strength and conditioning on my left leg side. It’s still not 100 percent, but it’s getting there.”
Johnson worked diligently over the summer to prepare for this season. She attended camps with the national team for the first time, adding those to her normal strength and conditioning regimen.
“I’m really excited where I’m at progression-wise,” she said. “I’m really excited for this season to show what I’ve got.”
Next up for Johnson is an event at the beginning of January in Winter Park, Colorado, where she currently lives and trains. The world cup schedule resumes Jan. 10-14 in Veysonnaz, Switzerland.
“I guess I’ve never felt more prepared for a season,” said Johnson, “so I’m excited to see all that happens.”
Johnson, who began skiing at age 4, only started racing after she graduated from Colorado State University. A certified therapeutic horseback riding instructor, she was working at the National Sports Center for the Disabled when co-worker and now coach Scott Olsen suggested she try competing.
“And then I fell in love (with ski racing) really quickly and really hard,” Johnson said. “I just want to be the best skier I can be. But of course, winning a gold medal would be cool.”
Johnson said that she wants to push herself to see what she can achieve physically and mentally.
“It’s more of like becoming the person that I am meant to be as an athlete and then also as a person,” said Johnson, “to be able to learn my strengths and work on some of my weaknesses and be able to be an advocate for women in sports, especially disabled women.”
Having been born with a disability, Johnson knows people sometimes have low expectations for the disabled.
“I’m out here proving that I can and also trying to grow the sport because it’s given me so much empowerment,” she said. “I’d love to see more women in this sport gaining what I’ve gained.”
Johnson may have gotten into the competitive side of alpine later than some of her peers, but she plans to be involved with the sport for the rest of her life, even once she’s done racing.
“I know that it will always be a part of who I am,” she said. “You can take … Allie out of ski racing but you can’t take the ski racing out of Allie, I suppose. It’s become such a vital part of who I am and really one of my favorite parts of myself now.”