Do Women Peak Earlier?
“We still have a long way to go toward equality in ski racing,” said Moltzan when we caught up a few weeks after the Killington World Cup, and before she left to compete in Europe. “Just look at the criteria to make the U.S. Ski Team: Women have to perform better two years earlier than men do—which means there’s not a lot of room for women like me who want to ski race at the World Cup level and attend college to do so.”
To make the B team, for instance, a woman born between 1991 and 1996 (Moltzan was born in 1994) has to achieve a top-25 World Cup start list rank (based on World Cup points). For younger athletes, the criteria are a top 30 or top 45 rank, depending on year of birth. Men have two more years to reach that same criteria.
A man who was born in 1996, for instance, would only have to post one top-45 WCSL ranking, whereas a woman the same age would be required to have a top-25 WCSL to make the B team (though in both cases, there is an allowance for “coach’s discretion”).
For Moltzan, the path on and off the U.S. Ski Team has been a bumpy one. In 2015, she scored her first World Cup points and was the first American to win the World Junior Championships in slalom. Two years later, based on the criteria, she missed qualifying for the U.S. Team. So she enrolled at UVM. “I basically found out in May I wasn’t on the team anymore and wouldn’t be racing World Cup, so I scrambled to apply to colleges.” UVM took her.
In 2018, on a lark, she tried out for a spot at the Killington World Cup. Despite only a few days of training on snow, she got it and at Killington secured a 17th place, which qualified her to compete in other World Cups. “I wasn’t on the U.S. Team or anything, but my boyfriend and I just took off to Europe over our Christmas break. He served as my ski tech and I raced as many World Cups as I could.” And she had one of her best seasons ever.
Tiger Shaw, head of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) defends the criteria. “If you look at the data objectively, women develop and peak at an earlier age than men do,” he said.
The data, gleaned from a study that helped establish Project 26, the U.S. Ski Team’s development program, certainly establishes an historic pattern. Whether or not it should be used to determine future team selection is another question.
“Look at me,” says Moltzan. “I’m a better ski racer now because I’m older and I’ve had to juggle college and competing at the World Cup level. Not everyone is the same and I’m not sure you can say that all women peak early.”
And there’s another factor: “Having to post those top results at a younger age means if you get injured—and many young women who are pushing themselves super hard do—you don’t have much chance of taking a year off and then coming back,” notes Marina Knight, the head of the T2 Foundation, which supports promising skiers, and the former editor of Ski Racing.
“If Steve Nyman or Ted Ligety had to meet the criteria that young women have to meet, I’m not sure they would be where they are now.” Nyman, who was injured at 27 and took a year off, came back and had his best season ever at 33, placing 4th in the overall World Cup downhill rankings. He was injured again in 2018, took another year off and now, at 37, is still competing.
Continued on the next page: The Last Olympic Sport Closed to Women