Olympic Gold Medalist Julia Mancuso has been skiing on the World Cup circuit since she was 16 years old. The Lake Tahoe-native has done a lot since starting her World Cup career—she's seen the world, started her own lingerie line, opened a training center in California, filmed for Warren Miller and competed in three Olympics, a few freeskiing comps and countless World Cup events.
Mancuso recently took a break from training at the new U.S. Speed Skiing Training Center at Copper Mountain to talk tiaras, freeskiing and her favorite resorts with OTS. Check out the full transcript of the interview below or click here to watch video of the interview.
OnTheSnow: Tell me a little bit about Squaw, and your early days growing up skiing there.
Julia Mancuso: The Mountain was sort of my babysitter, it taught me how to ski. My parents would drop me off there in the morning. I was able to be very lucky, and enjoy the outdoors. Kind of one thing led to another and ski racing just became a natural part of my existence. I would just get up every morning and go skiing and racing and just have a lot of fun chasing my older sister around the mountain.
OTS: You clearly have a competitive edge, is that something—that sort of competitive fire—that's in your whole family? Is that innate in the Mancuso family?
JM: Yea, I think so. My parents are very athletic and just being able to go and spend time on the mountain with them [was big]. My older sister is four years older then me, so [she] was just enough to, you know, make me want to catch her all the time, and she was just enough older that she was always better than me. So it really pushed me to raise my level.
OTS: You seem to be evolving the Julia Mancuso brand, you have Kiss My Tiara Lingerie and a training center in Truckee. What inspired you to pursue these things outside of skiing?
JM: I think it is just something to keep me busy. I like to create things, and I don't know. Actually, when I look at it—I'm kind of like—"why am I doing all these other things?" Just one thing leads to another, and it's kind of the same thing in life. If I just look at what comes at me naturally and I really enjoy what I do and I hope I can take some of what the aspects of being a competitive athlete. And things like a training center, where I can teach people how to train like a top-class athlete, as well as providing just a great place for the community to go and treat their bodies good and be healthy. Starting the underwear line was just something that was always a dream of mine, [to] have some sort of creative clothing-line-design-thing going on. Working with Spyder is the same, designing things, just being able to have a little bit of creative input and it's fun and it gives me something to do when I'm on the road.
Well I definitely have tons of fun skiing at Squaw, I love that place because I grew up there. It's just the most-amazing terrain and it really feels like home for me. I guess my inspiration has always come from Squaw Valley, so I love skiing there.
OTS: Anything new... any new ventures coming up that you would like to let folks know about?
JM: I really want to focus on the things I've been doing. I really enjoy the gym—the Performance Training Center in Truckee. It's fun to see that evolve and just put some creative input and kind of make a cool place to train. It's a good place for me when I go home. I have a good spot to get into shape, and yea, I really just want to focus on the things I'm working on so I can actually make it something like the underwear, also make it something big that everyone can enjoy.
OTS: You have skied a lot of places. What is your favorite resort in North America to ski?
JM: Well I definitely have tons of fun skiing at Squaw, I love that place because I grew up there. It's just the most-amazing terrain and it really feels like home for me. I guess my inspiration has always come from Squaw Valley, so I love skiing there. Then of course Whistler/Blackcomb was a great mountain to compete in the Olympics, I like skiing there too.
OTS: I understand you did a little freeskiing there, when the races were canceled, is that right?
JM: Oh yea, I did a little freeskiing, a little tumbling, a little of everything.
OTS: Internationally, what is your favorite place to ski?
JM: I mean we have a lot of World Cups in really cool places, like Val d'Isère and Cortina. My Favorite is Cortina, it's just so fun to be in Italy and the mountains are really beautiful. The mountains are a lot like California, they get the big heavy dumps.
OTS: What are your goals and expectations going into this year's World Cup season?
JM: It feels really good to win on the World Cup Tour, so just having another win at the end of last season was really cool and kind of taught me that everything has to align and be perfect and so I'm looking forward to getting that dialed in and try and win some more.
It's tough to avoid the burn out of just living out of your suitcase all the time, but you just have to learn how to love it.
OTS: So you've been racing for a long time and competitively, at a high level since you were a teenager. So many ski racers get that burn out, I know you're clearly doing freeskiing and other things beyond the actual races, but how do you avoid that burn out?
JM: It's tough to avoid the burn out of just living out of your suitcase all the time, but you just have to learn how to love it. And I've definitely had my ups and downs. I think you become a little more mellow and accepting that my home is on the road and just take care of everything I can in the summer and try and get as much family time in. You know visiting friends, training and doing the things I really like in the summer so when winter comes along I kind of check out and accept my life on the road and just really embrace all the amazing places I get to travel to and enjoy it.
OTS: That's a really good attitude.
JM: I guess I'm lucky that I can check out!
OTS: So you have dabbled in freeskiing. In recent years you've done some filming for Warren Miller—you're in the current Warren Miller film—and also you've competed as a freeskier as well. How did that come about?
JM: A bunch of my friends that I grew up with in Squaw Valley compete on the Freeride World Tour, and so I decided to just go. I've skied the Bec Des Rosses another time and I thought it would be really fun to just kind of challenge myself and go try and compete. I mean I was not really looking to do very well, I was just trying to push myself to participate, so it was cool that I ended up even getting a podium position. But yea, I love to freeski and unfortunately I don't get a lot of free time to do it on the road when I'm competing and I've really learned that I need to really try and focus on what I'm really good at and what my actual job is—ski racing. So I really try and focus on that in the winter and then when I have a little bit of time in the spring and summer, just to get out and freeski and kind of go back to where my roots are.
OTS: After your race career winds down, will you follow your fellow Tahoe native, Daron Rahlves' footsteps, and pursue maybe freeskiing as a second career?
JM: I mean you never know what is going to happen. when one door closes, like when I'm done ski racing, I'll definitely be involved in skiing because I love it so much. I love spending time in the mountains, so skiing and that part of winter will always be a part of me, but I don't know to what extent. It's really difficult to compete, and I love freeskiing and if that involves more competition, it's definitely something I know I'll do. But to get back and compete, I don't know how many competitions I've done in my life so far.
OTS: What is on your bucket list? What have you not done, whether in skiing or beyond, that you would like to experience?
JM: I think heli-skiing in Alaska is on my bucket list to do, you know, some serious steep lines—"steep and deep" as they say. I've been up there a few times, but the conditions weren't great. It's like anything—it takes commitment, so you need to have the time and the mindset and really be committed to what you're doing. I await that moment.
OTS: Last season, you donated half of your World Cup prize money to relief in Japan. A lot of athletes do their job and that's kind of it, then some see their position as important and can affect change. Clearly you are one of those athletes, what inspired you to do that?
JM: Well yea, I just believe that as a competitor, especially in a sport where you depend on fans and people that are actually interested in the sport, you have to give back. And you know my way of giving back, is just to somehow work with the community and work with different charities and the instance of giving my prize money to the relief efforts in Japan is because a couple of my close friends are ski racers from Japan, and they just asked if I had something I could do. We also had bib auctions for Haiti and just little things like that. In this instance, I felt like I wanted to give back personally and I didn't want to ask for someone else's help. So if anyone wanted to join me in that effort, that would be great, but every cause has a different circumstance. It feels really good to give back.
OTS: If you were to give advice to a young competitor, what would you tell them having grown up in ski racing yourself?
JM: For me, when I grew up ski racing, it was about having fun and enjoying skiing. You know there are some things that people say, like "you need to be super hardcore and dedicated," but that's what can also burn you out. My best advice is to really do what you love, if you're having a really fun day skiing, have a really fun day skiing. If you aren't really feeling it that day, there is nothing wrong with going into the lodge and making sure your feet are warm. Just having fun is what makes the sport awesome, and being out with your friends. If you're not having fun, just take a break and take a look around.