Early in the University of Colorado's ski season, Norwegian freshman Tonje Trulsrud has made an immediate impact on the team while setting herself up for the record books.
Though she just started her career at CU, Trulsrud is already taking the mountain by storm. In her first four races, she's finished at the top of her team three times and won the giant slalom on the first day of the Montana State Invitational on Jan. 10.
She also placed second in the giant slalom and fourth in the slalom at the Utah Invitational and 10th in the slalom at the Montana State Invitational.
In the past 10 years, only four CU women's alpine skiers started their seasons finishing in the top five in their respective races, which means Trulsrud's second- and fourth-place finishes in the giant slalom and slalom early on place her in an elite group.
At a young age in Norway, Trulsrud learned to love skiing from her father. From there, she took on the sport competitively and hasn't looked back since.
"I didn't learn to ski, like training, until I was 8, and then I became really competitive quickly because my friends started earlier than me. And I was not happy with not being faster than them, so I remember that I just had to beat them," Trulsrud said.
Because she loved the thrill of the sport as a child, she decided to take her career to the next level as she delved deeper into different levels of competition.
"I think I just had fun training, but I always wanted to ski fast," she said. "But it just was like always so fun with the adrenaline when you're a little kid and you can ski fast, just having that feeling of being able to control it even though sometimes you're out of control. I think I just liked that, so I was more focused."
Since 2009, Trulsrud has competed in 284 FIS races, 189 of which she finished. Of those 189 races, she appeared among the top 10 finishers 86 times. She made it to the podium 26 times and won eight of her competitions outright.
"That's really fun because suddenly you competed against, like, older people and a lot more competitors, so it's like you had a bigger climb to make, if you understand what I mean. So I think that's really inspiring because once you start climbing up, you can have so many goals and you can check them off on the way up," she said.
In the years leading up to her career at CU, the 26-year-old freshman also competed in 28 European Cup races and 24 national championship races in Norway, but skiing alone wasn't enough to satisfy her. In the end, she chose to attend a school in the United States where she could both ski and receive a quality education.
After Colorado won its 20th national championship in school history last year, there's little doubt that Boulder houses an elite team. And because Trulsrud had always been interested in architecture, her decision to compete with the Buffaloes and pursue a degree in architectural engineering was easy.
"Obviously, it's a really good team, and I knew a girl from before so I talked to her and she talked positively about the team. And it has a really good engineering program too, and that helped me to decide because it's important for me to get a good education," Trulsrud said.'
Coming into the college sport, Trulsrud has had to transition from skiing for individual purposes to skiing for the good of a team. But from the start, she's seemed to adjust nicely.
"Obviously, the college skiing is a little bit different in terms of consistency and responsibility toward team," head coach Richard Rokos said. "It's no longer an individual affair where you can say, 'OK, I didn't do well and I can make it.'
"Now you're looking into the eyes of your teammates, and if you don't do well, say, 'Well, we didn't do well,' and include yourself into it. Anyway, that little adjustment for Tonje was actually very quick and she became an instant asset to our team."
Now that she has the first four collegiate races under her belt, Trulsrud is enjoying the excitement surrounding each event she competes in that wasn't necessarily present back in Europe.
"It's so good," she said. "Everyone's so much more happier in cheering on each other because over in Europe people are just so competitive and not really nice. Here, I kick out of the start gate and people are cheering even though they're not on my team.
"And I really like the team feeling. I ski for my team and not only myself. That's way more fun to do well then for yourself because you do well then for your team as well."
Next up for Trulsrud and her teammates will be the Spencer James Nelson Memorial Invitational, hosted by CU, Friday through Sunday in Steamboat Springs. It's the same site as the NCAA Championships, which Colorado will host March 9-12.
After her early signs of success, Rokos says that there's little doubt that Trulsrud would earn a bid to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
"Absolutely, I mean there is no question," Rokos said. "She already qualified. If odds put her in the top 10, top five or four girls, a qualification would be great and I think there's no question."
Alissa Noe: firstname.lastname@example.org