Paula Moltzan poses for a portrait during the Team USA Beijing 2022 Olympic shoot on Sept. 12, 2021 in Irvine, Calif.
In 2016, Paula Moltzan thought her ski career was over. She had not been renamed to the U.S. Ski Team so decided to use her talents to earn a college degree. She enrolled at the University of Vermont as a pre-med student. Her freshman year, she won the NCAA slalom title.
Then in November 2018, she surprised everyone when she finished 17th in the Killington World Cup slalom and earned a trip to Europe with the U.S. team. There, she continued to finish in the top 30 and score world cup points in slalom. At the end of the 2018/2019 season, she was renamed to the U.S. Ski Team.
Since then, Moltzan has rarely finished out of the points in slalom, and in November 2020, she earned her first world cup podium (second place in a parallel event). Then at the Killington World Cup this year, the 27-year-old matched her best slalom finish ever (seventh). Even with a broken wrist, she has persevered on the world cup this season to maintain a good start number.
Originally from Minnesota, Moltzan now calls western Massachusetts home, where she trains in the off-season and works at her fiancé’s family’s rafting business. Her fiancé, Ryan Mooney, is her wax tech, and he no doubt helped her stay happy and focused on the world cup tour. Moltzan hopes to be a factor in the Olympic slalom.
From the Sierra hamlet of Strawberry, California — population 68 — Keely Cashman was on snow early. Her dad is a ski coach, and Cashman learned to ski fast and technical at Palisades Tahoe. A three-time junior national champion, Cashman competed in five events at the 2016 Youth Olympic Winter Games. Her best finish: tenth in super-G against girls a year older.
By 2019, Cashman finished just off the podium at junior world championships in both super-G and combined. Then the following season in 2020, she won a bronze medal at junior worlds in combined. She also took fifth in downhill and eighth in super-G.
Cashman made her world cup debut in 2017 and began competing regularly on the tour during the 2019/2020 season. She was rising in the rankings, especially in super-G. But in early January 2021, while training in Germany for an upcoming world cup, Cashman crashed in super-G and lost consciousness. She strained a knee and was badly bruised, but her head injury was the most concerning. She spent eight days in a local hospital, then returned home to recover. She also enrolled as a freshman at the University of Utah.
Back on snow in mid-April, Cashman, 22, returned to the world cup circuit in October. She is one of three women on the U.S. Ski Team competing in both tech and speed events and hopes to compete in multiple events in Beijing.
When Nina O’Brien was a high school student at Burke Mountain Academy, a ski-racing academy in northern Vermont, she dreamed of joining the women competing on the world cup tour. A year after she graduated from Burke, that dream came true — and in the best of all places. She competed in the 2016 Killington World Cup in front of former Burke classmates watching from the stands.
Two years later, O’Brien finished in the points in a world cup, again at Killington, with 23rd in slalom. In the past two seasons, she has finished more regularly in the points in both slalom and giant slalom. Most recently, after recovering from a positive COVID-19 test, O’Brien battled to 25th place in a world cup slalom.
An economics major at Dartmouth College, O’Brien, 24, is originally from San Francisco, and honed her racing talents at Palisades Tahoe.
Bella Wright, 24, grew up making big turns on the big slopes of Snowbird outside Salt Lake City, Utah. A talented ski racer, she contemplated going the NCAA route and skiing for a Division 1 university. But she loves speed, and college races do not include downhills or super-Gs. She had also recently torn her ACL and needed several months to get her skis back under her. So she moved to Aspen, Colorado, and spent two post-graduate years training with the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club. Near the end of her second year, she was named to the 2018 junior world championship team.
Wright made her world cup debut in November 2019 and wrapped up her 2019/2020 season with the NorAm super-G title. Last year was her first full season competing on the world cup, and she began steadily finishing in the points (top 30), making her a candidate to compete in the Olympic downhill and/or super-G. A vegan and big animal lover, Wright hopes to attend culinary school one day.
Maureen "Mo" Lebel
From Truckee, California, Mo Lebel grew up in a family of skiers. Her mom taught skiing at nearby Northstar, and her three older siblings all ski raced as well. As a teen, Lebel was named to the U.S. Ski Team’s National Training Group, and in 2018, she competed in all disciplines — slalom to downhill — at the world junior championships. That year, she also won the national downhill title and finished third overall in the NorAm downhill standings. Her ski career was about to take off. But injuries would stand in her way.
Lebel had surgery for compartment syndrome in both legs in November 2018, then broke her leg skiing in spring 2019. She enrolled at the University of Utah that fall but injuries kept her from competing for the school that winter and the next.
Now 23, Lebel was finally ready to jump back into the gates this season. Then her father, Jay, passed away on October 30 in a car accident due to a medical emergency. Grieving, Lebel was unable to make her world cup debut in the Lake Louise speed races. Lebel finally competed in a world cup downhill on January 14, 2022, and dedicated it to her dad.
Californian AJ Hurt grew up on the slopes of Palisades Tahoe and by age 16, was the top junior born in 2000 in NorAm points in both the speed and technical races. Two years later, in 2018, she made her world cup debut in the Killington slalom.
Since then, Hurt, a multi-event skier, has scored points in four disciplines (slalom, GS, downhill, and parallel). In 2019, she finished second overall in the NorAm standings, first in the downhill and combined NorAm rankings, and second in GS and super-G.
Last season was a banner year for Hurt. She kicked off the 2020/2021 season by winning the 2020 slalom national title (postponed from the spring due to the Covid-19 pandemic). Then over the next four months racing in Europe, she earned world cup points in four disciplines. She concluded the season by earning a slalom bronze medal at 2021 world junior championships. Then back home in the U.S., she finished runner-up in downhill at the 2021 national championships.
This season, Hurt is focusing on slalom, GS, and super-G. She began the Olympic season by finishing 20th in the opening world cup GS. She is one of three women on the U.S. team competing in both speed and technical races.
A student at Dartmouth College, Hurt attends classes during the off season and does not compete for the Big Green. As for her name, AJ stands for Amelia Josephine.
Katie Hensien, 22, is one of a handful of alpine skiers who is balancing college (and collegiate ski racing) with world cup races. A Washington state native, Hensien grew up skiing at Crystal Mountain, then attended Rowmark Academy in Park City, Utah, graduating in 2018. It was a busy year, as Hensien was also named to the U.S. Ski Team that spring, after finishing fourth in slalom at the 2018 world junior championships. With world cup races on her radar, Hensien stayed committed to the college path. She entered the University of Denver (DU), where she is now a senior, and competed for the Pioneers in NCAA racing for three of her four years there. She also raced internationally and in 2019, won a world junior silver medal in the team event. Most recently, this month Hensien returned from world cup racing in Europe and a week later, finished fifth in a collegiate GS.
Hensien has finished in the world cup points in slalom three times so far, and she competed for the U.S. at the 2021 world championships. At DU, Hensien is pursuing a computer science and business degree with a minor in innovation and entrepreneurship. One day, she would like to become a product planner and designer.