THE INTREPID LOCALS of Squaw Valley, California—legendary extreme skiing sanctuary, and site of the 1960 Winter Olympics— don’t allow their hallowed ski-runs to be renamed after any old person who straps a pair of planks to their feet and points them downhill. Standards are very, very high.
‘Julia’s Gold,’ the Squaw Valley run formerly known as ‘Exhibition’ is a testament to the incredible achievements of local-born Julia Mancuso, the four time Olympic medalist who won Gold (Torino, 2006), two Silvers (Whistler, 2010), and a Bronze (Sochi, 2014) in four different Alpine ski-racing events.
However, at this moment, Julia Mancuso isn’t ripping up fresh powder on a mountain, she’s sitting canal-side at a beach-house in Venice, Los Angeles, waxing lyrical, “I’m the biggest believer in the power of positive thoughts and imagining what you want to achieve and putting that out into the universe. I imagine myself having the perfect run, crossing the finish line, and feeling really good about it. Then I let it go, try not to think too much, and just go for it.” While alpine is her bread-and-butter, Mancuso’s coffee is most comfortably taken on a sunny back porch, her offseason spent in Hawaii. Oftentimes during the summer months she can be found snorkeling or surfing, repelling lethargy but also coolly appreciating a daily life off the slopes and on the beaches.
Still, the constancy of such a high adrenaline activity can make downtime a challenge. “When I relax it’s almost like I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m so used to always moving and having something that keeps me busy. [In] my off-season I love to travel and train and be in a moment for a long time.”
The typical day during competition is intense. But it’s clearly an intensity she relishes. She is animated as she describes her routine: “Since skiing is a winter sport, [the typical day] means waking up well before the sun rises and getting my body going. I like to stretch. I travel with a foam roller and some bands to warm up my body and get it centered. I like to do Pilates to wake and of course eat breakfast. I’m an athlete that doesn’t enjoy eating too much when they’re competing on the hill. If it’s a two run race or an afternoon style race, I like to either get some eggs, or it’s really easy for me to make oatmeal on the road with nuts and dried fruit. Then I get ready to go out on the hill and typically leave around sunrise.”
Behind the house, the afternoon sun is setting in the west, and while it’s not mentioned, there is an old adage that sunrises are for the disciplined, sunsets are for those of us with a more casual disposition.
Far from casual, Mancuso’s 2006 Olympic gold medal-winning run saw her exit the gates into heavy snowfall, before racing down the mountain at a blistering pace. An entire young career’s worth of slow and tedious preparation—of analysis, and reanalysis, and training, and training, and training, all culminating rather dramatically into a minute and eight seconds. And Mancuso is the consummate champion. Her two subsequent Olympics, and her relentless, ongoing regimen distinguishes her as that rarer breed of athlete for whom discipline and competition is not so much her vocation, but is her lifeblood.
“I head out on the hill and do a few runs,” she says, speaking to this tireless regimen, “We don’t get to train on the actual racecourse but we get to lookatit.Soafewwarmup runs, a look at the course and then just sitting in the lodge waiting around until its time for competition. Then I compete and then depending on how you do, you’ve got the afternoon. Our coaches will take video and we will analyze what we did that day and then we will go to the gym again.”
In the gym? “I like to spin every day,” she responds, “I think it’s really good to get the ski legs out. It’s really nice to get the blood circulating and skiing is a really anaerobic sport so we build up a lot of lactic acid and doing that and some core exercises—to just make sure I stay balanced and keep my spine healthy.” Mancuso’s description of a typical day lightly skates over the fact that in competition she can hit speeds above 85 miles per hour. But when the day-to-day is so extreme and dangerous, normalizing it into the routine is essential. Even when asked about the more terrifying elements of her job, her response is incredibly level-headed: “[Competing] at such high adrenaline, high speed, everything is good until it goes bad [in] a split second decision—it just reminds you that staying safe and knowing where your limits are— being right on the edge of your limits and staying on your feet—is so important.”
Mancuso is quickly on her way out the door—maybe she’s off to surf a few waves before flying back to the snowy hillsides, maybe she’ll jog on the beach for a bit, something she’d do back home in Hawaii. In reality, Mancuso is catching a red-eye to her next temporary digs—her suitcase packed and ready to go. The life of a professional skier; chasing sunrises rather than casual moments, staying on your feet, and travelling rather than transfixion.