Surfboards, bikinis, and coconut water are hardly the things you'd imagine an elite ski racer would need to train in the off-season. But for three-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso, stripping off her ski suit and swapping snow for sand is exactly what she needs to get podium-ready for the 2014 Winter Games.
The 29-year-old Reno-native, who generally splits her time between her homes in Squaw Valley, Calif. and Maui, Hawaii when she's not traveling the world chasing fresh powder, loves to do her dryland training somewhere, well, dry—and incredibly breathtaking. On the tropical island of Maui, surfing, biking, hiking, and free-diving are all part of a hard day's work. "I don't know what I would do if I had to sit down and write emails or be in an office all day," Mancuso says. "For me, I just love being outside. And to be able to say that I'm go surfing because it's my job is so cool."
We recently caught up the 29-year-old superstar, who has more Olympic alpine skiing medals than any other female athlete in America, before she dives back into the snow in New Zealand, where she'll continue on the road to Russia for her third Winter Games and possibly second gold medal in one of four events: downhill, Super-G (her fave), combined, and giant slalom. Here, Super Jules, as her teammates and fans call her, talks off-season training, nutrition, and how it's all helping her get closer to Sochi.
SHAPE: What brought you to Maui?
JULIA MANCUSO (JM): My dad. He's my neighbor—he literally lives down the street from me in Paia. And my awesome and inspiring coach, Scott Sanchez, also lives in Maui. I've been training with Scott for two to three months every summer for the last seven years. He's a former Olympic ski racer who founded a windsurfing team (Team MPG) after marrying Rhonda Smith, a five-time world champion windsurfer. He started a gym out of his garage, which is where we're currently training again while we wait for his new property to open.
SHAPE: So how do you ski train on the beach?
JM: People always ask me, how can I live in Maui and ski race? The truth is, the sport of skiing takes so much effort, setting up and traveling with equipment, that you can only train for a certain number of days in the summer. Most of my peers ski between 40 to 60 days. I ski about 55 days. When I travel, I always have about 40 pairs of skis with me, plus a ski technician and a ski coach. We'll go meet my team, which is made up of about six girls from all over the U.S. It takes a lot of effort, time, and money for people to get together. So we all do our own thing—in my case, it's train in Maui—and work really hard to get physically fit so that we can make those days that we're together count.
SHAPE: Without snow, what do you do?
JM: The best part about Maui is that I can spend a lot of time outside. My off-season is April, May, and June. It's still snowing in Squaw then and all I want to do is get out of my ski suit. I come to Maui and go surfing, standup paddling, slacklining, swimming, and free-diving. I just took a performance free-diving course, where I learned to plunge down 60 feet and back. Next, I want to learn how to spearfish.
SHAPE: What about nutrition? Any go-to foods you use to fuel your training sessions?
JM: I've been drinking coconut water for a really long time, including on the slopes. I've always been a Zico girl, and it's actually really important to my training because I have a hard time drinking enough water to stay hydrated. I love to drink the chocolate flavored one after a workout or add it to my shakes. I'll mix an 8-ounce Zico chocolate, 1 scoop of vanilla protein powder, 3 ice cubes, 1 tablespoon almond butter, 1 tablespoon raw cacao nibs, and ½ cup frozen blueberries (optional).
SHAPE: Are you working to improve anything in particular this ski season?
JM: Being more consistent is important to me. I had a great season last year, but I never won a race. I won two the year before that. I'm right there, on the verge of a breakthrough. I know everyone says that they want to win more races, but it's not just about standing on the podium for me. I really want to win and I'm so close. To be consistent, I need to train consistent. It's about learning how to ski in different conditions and mentally being prepared to stay in the game on a challenging course. We have about 35 races per ski season. I need to use all my past experiences to make sure that when I'm at the start gate, I have the mental power to stand there and say to myself, 'I can win this race because of all the work I've done to lead up to this moment.' If I get it right in the off-season, I know that I have something to look back on to give me confidence.
SHAPE: Do you feel like you're coming into this Olympic year as a new person?
JM: Definitely. Every Olympics has been so different for me. I've come in as a completely fresh-faced underdog and as an experienced skier coming back from injury, still trying to prove myself. This year I'm coming in a healthy, strong favorite. I've been injury-free for three years now, thanks to neuro-kinetic Pilates, a form of physical therapy that focuses a lot on body movements. I practice about seven hours a week, often in my ski boots to train my brain to remember the correct position. It's kept me healthy and strong. I've never been at the top of my game going into the Olympics, so it's going to be interesting.
SHAPE: Who's your biggest competition?
JM: Lindsey Vonn is queen of the downhill, so if she's skiing well and healthy, she's the one to beat. There's also Tina Maze from Slovenia. She had an incredible season last year. We were always neck and neck in my best event, the Super-G. That's the girl to beat for me.
SHAPE: If you win gold, will you break out the tiara again?
JM: Of course! I'll break out the tiara for any podium finish. A good friend of mine, who coached the World Cup team right before we were going into the 2006 Olympics in Torino, wanted to give everyone a little good-luck parting gift at the end of training camp. He gave each of us a really funny present and mine was a little princess kit, including that toy tiara. I guess I was acting like a princess.
Even if a snow-capped mountain isn't in your future, you can still benefit from Mancuso's training style. Click here to see an actual workout routine she does with Sanchez that's guaranteed to challenge your body in a whole new way.
Want to see Julia Mancuso and her fellow Olympians in action? Click here to enter to win a trip for two to Sochi 2014, courtesy of ZICO!