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As defending NCAA national champions, the University of Colorado ski team began this season looking for its 20th title, the eighth under head coach Richard Rokos. After losing six seniors from last year’s team, Rokos secured a strong recruiting class to add much needed depth to the team. One of those recruits is freshman Tanner Mottau.
Mottau was born a skier. His father, Glen Mottau, was a member of the US Ski Team and now serves as an inspiration for his son.
“My dad inspired me to be a [ski] racer,” Mottau said. “He put me on skis for the first time when I was 3 years old at Berthoud Pass. When I got older, he’d take me to Okemo every weekend and I learned all the basics. He taught me everything I needed to know.”
Mottau attributes his talent not only to his father, but also to where he learned to ski. Although he was born in Colorado, Mottau grew up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Skiing conditions on the East Coast are much different than Colorado. While Vail is blessed with powder and blue bird days, the mountains of Vermont are plagued by bitter cold, flat light, high winds and sheets of ice.
“Learning to ski on the East Coast made me a better skier,” Mottau said. “The conditions at Stratton were always windy and overcast so I had to learn to be balanced because you don’t know what’s gonna catch you on the course. When I lived there, I hated it. Now I ski at Vail where it’s sunny and always perfect so when I’m racing, I can just focus on skiing and not worry about adjusting to the conditions.”
Another reason for Mottau’s success is his training at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont. Instead of getting up at 8 a.m. to go to school, Mottau and his classmates spent their mornings skiing. This extra time on the mountain in combination with world class coaching helped Mottau become a Division I skier.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t go to a ski academy,” Mottau said. “I got the best coaching and the opportunity to train before school. That extra skiing and coaching is what got me where I am today.”
Coming into his first year at CU, Mottau was meant to add depth to an already talented team.
“I didn’t have any big expectations going into my first race,” Mottau said. “I never raced on the collegiate level so I didn’t know what to expect. I just wanted to make an impact to help my team because in the end, it doesn’t matter how I do; all that matters is how we finish as a team.”
In his first race, the Pat Miller Invitational in Utah, Mottau burst onto the scene with a third-place finish in his best event, giant slalom. He finished with a time of 1:58.51. Even though his run did not count toward the Buffs’ overall score, Mottau made a statement by appearing on the podium in his first collegiate race.
“I always ski well when I have no expectations,” Mottau said when explaining his first race. “I just relaxed and managed to string together two solid runs. I was stoked; it was a sweet way to open the season.”
While he has yet to make a second podium, Mottau has had a strong debut season for CU. He currently has three top 10 finishes this year.
“I did really well in the giant slalom,” Mottau said. “I had 20 races this year. Out of those races I had five good scores so it was a solid year.”
His season is especially impressive when considering Mottau’s small size. At 5-foot-8-inches and 150 pounds, Mottau is considered one of the smaller skiers in the NCAA.
“I’m by far the smallest on the [CU] team,” Mottau said. “When I’m skiing on my 195[cm] skis it feels like I have two by fours on my feet. I have to throw everything I got into each turn.”
The one blemish on Mottau’s season was trying to tie two strong runs together. At the Spenser James Nelson Invitational, Mottau posted the second best time in his first giant slalom run. On the second run, however, he fell while vying for a first place finish.
“I just ate it,” Mottau said. “I had a killer first run, but I really wanted to send my second run to get first, and it didn’t work out. I was disappointed but it happens.”
While skiing is usually looked at as an individual sport, Mottau makes a point to emphasize the importance of the team.
“Everyone on our team is a key player,” Mottau said. “I don’t think any other team pushes each other as hard as we do, whether it be in the training room, on the hill or in the classroom. It’s not just about the skiers though. You have to give credit to Coach Ritch. He’s been here for 27 years so he knows what it takes to win. All we have to do is execute.”
With the NCAA championships coming up next Wednesday, the Buffs will have to execute their best if they want to defend their title and achieve the goal they set at the beginning of the season.
“The theme of this year has been the quest for 20 [championships],” Mottau said. “It’s been our goal since day one and hopefully we can get it done next week. Go Buffs.”
As much as Tanner wants to win, his biggest goal is to have the most fun doing the sport he loves.
“Skiing is like an escape from the world. While you’re on the mountain you can forget everything and lose yourself in arcing turns. At the end of the day, even when you’re racing, it’s all about having fun.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sean Kelly at Sean.firstname.lastname@example.org.