Incline Village alpine skier aims for the Olympics | TahoeDailyTribune.com
Cassandra Walker| cwalker@sierrasun.com

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Incline Village alpine skier aims for the Olympics

ncline Village local, Lila Lapanja, is a World Cup alpine ski racer who’s earned such accolades as her two-time North American NorAm Cup overall Slalom Champion titles, as well as podium performances in every National Championship she’s attended.

This gal can ski; not to mention speak Slovene fluently, on top of studying German, and holding a 4.11 GPA through her scholastic career.

“I’ve always wanted to strive to achieve,” Lapanja said. “And skiing was a great platform for that.”

Winter 2017 in the books

Lapanja is coming out of a winter season that taught her much about herself and strength as an athlete.

“I had a challenging season,” said Lapanja of her first year competing in the World Cup Slalom circuit. She called it a challenge since she holds herself to such high standards, but now looks back on her challenges fondly, as learning experiences.

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“It seemed like the end of the world while I was in it, but in hindsight it was part of the growth I need to get to the next level of my skiing and take a more professional step forward,” Lapanja said.

She explained that overcoming hurdles in her career is one of her biggest motivators, constantly reminding her how much she loves skiing and how driven she is to give whatever it takes.

“Even if it’s challenging I always want to keep skiing,” Lapanja said. “I am focused in moving toward my dream and I will never give up.”

Eat, train & wake-up like an Olympian

There are songs that instantly take people back to a place in their childhood, for Lapanja that’s the “Olympic Fanfare and Theme”.

“I’ve always dreamed of being an Olympic skier and was just filled with emotion at 6 or 7 years old hearing the Olympic theme song,” she said.

“It didn’t matter which sport I’d be watching I just loved watching athletic movement in sport; whether it was track, swimming, gymnastics it didn’t matter, it was just the Olympic feeling that drove me.”

Lapanja’s dedication shines through each passionate word she speaks of skiing. The theme song is even currently set as her morning alarm clock, which she says she will wake up to each day until February 2018, when South Korea hosts the Winter Olympics.

“The Olympics encompass the feeling of being a pure athlete,” Lapanja said. “You get to be part of something that brings the world together and that’s the purest form of athleticism.”

Lapanja’s early start on the slopes

Growing up, Lapanja lived four minutes from Diamond Peak ski resort and her father, a former Slovenian ski racer, coached her since she made her first tracks on snow at just 2 years old.

“My parents just started putting me on snow and it was so natural, it just always was naturally part of me,” Lapanja said.

She’s always led an active lifestyle, participating in other sports like tennis and soccer, but always considered herself first and foremost a ski racer.

“I’ve always been part of the nature-culture we have here in Tahoe,” Lapanja said. “As kids, my friends and I would always be playing outside, it’s just what we did.”

Her investment in nature and being outside is still a huge part of her life to this day.

“Now, whenever I need time to myself I go outside,” Lapanja said. “I’ll go for a hike or a walk, stand-up paddleboarding on the lake — anything I can do just to connect to the natural world, that’s where I find my peace.”

What’s it like to train for the Olympics?

“My day is all about maximizing my body’s performance for on-snow,” Lapanja said.

She described her morning routine as waking up, eating a really fulfilling breakfast like scrambled eggs and a green smoothie.

“My job is to take care of my body and make my body strong so I workout most of the day,” she said.

Lapanja’s days revolve around strength and conditioning or ski programs. 50 percent of Lapanja’s training is done in a gym and the other 50 percent is done outside.

She credits the accessibility she had growing up to top-level facilities like the Incline Village Recreation Center, for helping make her so successful. She was able to play tennis and enhance her conditioning program at a facility within walking distance to her home.

“I love training outdoors. As a kid in Tahoe I need to, to be happy,” she said. “Outdoor cardio, mountain biking, trail running, just being outside is very important to my routine.”

In the gym, Lapanja’s training program is through Barton Health in South Lake Tahoe and was designed by Dr. Terrence Orr in Incline Village to maximize her performance while minimizing her risk of injury — which is among the highest priorities of an athlete of Lapanja’s caliber.

“I’m a believer in doing things that build the body over time and don’t trash it,” Lapanja explained.

“I don’t go through workouts to try and make myself feel super sore, I listen to what my body wants on a daily basis, and right now I have an awesome conditioning coach with Barton Health who knows when to push and when to rebuild gently.”

What’s on the horizon?

Lapanja has her eye on the Olympics so her next move will be to start what she affectionately calls her “nine to five” — strength and conditioning on top of some more strength and conditioning.

Following her training program off snow, Lapanja will get ready for heavier demand training during the second half of summer when she will be traveling to ski camps for on-snow training.

“I’ll be traveling to ski on snow for three weeks to a month at a time, which is why it’s so important for me to be strong when the season starts and I leave Tahoe to follow whichever circuit I’m on,” she said.

Last season, Lapanja was only home in Tahoe for two weeks and says it’s important to her to find a sense of home while she’s on the road, which is why she brings her pillow and certain things she needs to have to keep from feeling homesick.

Sometimes her mother is able to travel with her, which she says definitely helps her feel closer to home; she joked that she wishes she could bring Tahoe with her.

“I definitely get homesick of the lake,” she said. “It’s like filling up your batteries when you can be near it and feel its power.”

Fun facts about LAPANJA

Lapanja’s training schedule is demanding to say the least. Everything she does and even eats plays a part in her success as a professional athlete.

So, when asked what she would do if she was given one free day, completely void of calories and responsibilities, where she could do absolutely anything she wanted without it ever coming back full-circle, one might think she would choose something outrageous.

“I would probably fly to Disneyland … and what would I eat?” She pondered. “Ok. I would eat all the sweet potato fries I could.”

This athlete has her head firmly planted on her shoulders.

What a positively pristine cheat-day; this will not do. Upon further coaxing, Lapanja really let her hair down, saying, “I could definitely go crazy with cookies and ice cream but I would put my head under a Godiva chocolate fountain,” she said with a straight face.

“I could just bathe in it. That’s it, I’m adding that to my bucket list,” she said.

Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at cwalker@sierrasun.com, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.