During this World Cup season, Paula Moltzan has won her first slalom medal, cracked the top 10 in 10 races and put together the best results of her ski racing career. But there's one thing the Prior Lake native hasn't been able to do.

"I can't explain it,'' she said. "I can't think of one reason why I'm skiing well, or why the season is so much different than last. I'm just extremely happy and excited.''

Like the courses she skis, Moltzan's path to a dream season has been loaded with twists and turns. Since making the Olympic team last year — and racing to a trio of top-10 finishes at the Beijing Winter Games — she's picked up speed, a good sign as she prepares for the Alpine World Ski Championships in Courchevel Meribel, France.

Moltzan, 28, is scheduled to race in four events next week during the second half of the championships. While record-breaking Mikaela Shiffrin remains the megastar of the U.S. team, Moltzan has been its second-most consistent performer. She earned a silver medal behind Shiffrin in a December slalom race in Semmering, Austria, the second World Cup medal of her career, and sits 12th in the World Cup overall standings.

A few things have changed. Moltzan is healthy following surgery to repair the broken hand she skied with for most of last season. In September, she married her boyfriend of 10 years, Ryan Mooney, who assists her during the racing season in Europe.

She's also convinced that her time has come. After losing her spot on the U.S. Ski Team, winning an NCAA title and working her way back to the World Cup, Moltzan is relishing the hard-earned view from the top of the mountain.

"There's a difference in how I'm approaching races,'' she said. "I believe I belong in the top 10 every single day. That's important, and it's hard to instill that confidence in yourself. It's something I've been working on.''

Moltzan has become known for her never-give-up spirit, established during that long climb back to the top level of ski racing. A prodigy developed by the Buck Hill racing program, she made the U.S. ski team at age 17 and started competing in World Cup events.

She lost her spot after five seasons, when her results didn't measure up to expectations. Moltzan continued her career at the University of Vermont, where she won the NCAA slalom title in 2017. After qualifying for a World Cup race in Killington, Vt., in 2018 — and performing well — Moltzan got the opportunity to return to the circuit in Europe, though at her own expense.

The following year, she was back on the U.S. team. Last season brought a breakthrough when Moltzan made her first Olympic team, leading the American women in slalom (eighth) and giant slalom (12th) while finishing fourth in the mixed team event.

She did that despite a broken left hand that required her to duct-tape her ski pole to her glove. This season, with two fully functioning hands, Moltzan made another big leap: a silver medal in slalom, her first World Cup podium in that discipline. The 1-2 finish by Shiffrin and Moltzan on Dec. 29 in Semmering marked the first time since 1971 that American skiers finished first and second in a World Cup slalom.

"That was one of those moments in my life I'll never forget,'' Moltzan said. "Coming down the second run, knowing I was going to have my first slalom podium ever, was huge. And to share it with Mikaela was very special.''

She also got to share it with her parents, Robyn and Mark Moltzan, who were in Semmering for the milestone race. Robyn Moltzan credited Paula's determination and belief in herself, which kept her going through the difficult times.

"It was so exciting to be there and see her joy,'' Robyn said. "Paula is a fighter. She puts 100% into everything, and she has a great support system.

"This has been a long, consistent build. She's worked very hard and earned everything she's gotten.''

This season has unfolded much like Moltzan's career. She did not finish her first two slalom races, but she didn't get discouraged. She's rarely been out of the top 10 since.

In Meribel, she will race the slalom, giant slalom and two parallel slalom events — individual and team — in her fourth appearance at the world championships. Her best previous result at worlds was fourth place in individual parallel in 2021.

To get on the podium, Moltzan said, she will have to "put it all together at the right time.'' This season has shown her what's possible, even if she's not exactly sure how it happened.

"I don't think there was ever a moment where I said, 'It's going to be a great season, a really successful season,''' Moltzan said. "It just came together.

"It's almost sweeter that it wasn't the smoothest path to get here. I'm really happy to finally be peaking at the right time."


When: Feb. 6-Feb. 19

Where: Courchevel Meribel, France

Who: More than 600 skiers from 75 countries will compete in 13 events. In addition to men's and women's slalom, giant slalom, downhill, super-G and combined, there are parallel giant slalom events for men and women, along with a mixed team parallel event.

TV: The Peacock streaming service will show all races live. NBC will air highlights Saturday (1:30 p.m.) and Sunday (2 p.m.), as well as Feb. 18 (1:30 p.m.) and Feb. 19 (2 p.m.).

Following Paula: Prior Lake's Paula Moltzan is expected to race in four events. Watch for her in the mixed team parallel (Feb. 14, 5:15 a.m.); women's parallel (Feb. 14, qualifying, 10 a.m./Feb. 15, finals, 5 a.m.); women's giant slalom (Feb. 16, run 1, 3 a.m.; run 2, 6:30 a.m.) and women's slalom (Feb. 18, run 1, 3 a.m.; run 2, 6:30 a.m.)