ASPEN - The Ghent family's ties to Aspen run deep. Abby Ghent, a 20-year-old member of the U.S. Ski Team's Alpine C squad, has been racing on Ajax since she was a J4. Her mother, Karen, a former ski racer and alpine director at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, recorded her best World Cup finish - fourth place - on the famed Strawpile course in the early 1980s. A poster commemorating the event hangs in the television room in the Ghents' Edwards home.
This will be different. Saturday, a dream nearly 14 years in the making becomes a reality.
Saturday, Abby Ghent is slated to take part in the Aspen Winternational giant slalom. It will be her first World Cup start.
"I don't want to get my hopes up too high, but I think it's going to be very exciting," a beaming Ghent said after Friday's freeski. "This has been the goal basically since I started ski racing, and it makes it that much better that it's in Aspen. I know this hill well, and I feel comfortable on it. I enjoy skiing here, and my whole family gets to come watch.
"I'm going to stick to the normal routine today, but it's going to be tomorrow morning that the heart will be pounding when I'm waking up knowing I'm about to start a World Cup. Wow, it's crazy just to even say that."
Paula Moltzan knows the feeling.
The daughter of ski instructors, the Lakeville, Minn., native has been dreaming of competing on skiing's top circuit since she was a youngster carving turns at diminutive Buck Hill - a ski area on the outskirts of Minneapolis that has produced some of the country's top talent, including Kristina Koznick and four-time Overall champion Lindsey Vonn.
Like Vonn, Moltzan relocated to Vail two years ago to advance her career. The plan has paid immediate dividends.
One day after watching fellow Ski and Snowboard Club Vail standouts Vonn and Ghent tackle Ajax, Moltzan will get her first taste of World Cup competition in Sunday's slalom.
The weight of the moment was beginning to sink in Friday morning.
"I'm a little nervous. There are a lot of hotshots and big guns out here," the wide-eyed 18-year-old said. "It's been fun watching all the older girls ripping turns down the hill - they're all really big role models for me. Of course, I've followed Kristina and Lindsey but also Maria Hoefl-Riesch, too.
"I'm so excited to get to watch Abby tomorrow. It's like having family travel with you. This whole team is like family."
Moltzan's successful 2011-12 winter - her second on the Development squad - was highlighted by a second-place GS finish in an International Ski Federation race in Pozza di Fassa, Italy. She closed out the season by winding up third among juniors and fifth overall in slalom at the U.S. Alpine Championships in Winter Park.
While she harbored dreams of making a World Cup start this season, Moltzan admits it really wasn't on her radar - at least not until about a week ago, when she topped other Development athletes in a training-session time trial in Vail.
She was informed that she had clinched a spot in the Aspen field soon after.
"I was so happy that I started crying," Moltzan recalled. "I was so excited. This is finally coming true. My dream is finally coming true."
Ghent, meanwhile, knew she was in line to start at next week's World Cup stop in Lake Louise, Alberta. That much was assured after a stellar 2011-12 campaign in which she finished in the top five in four NorAm categories, including runner-ups in the final downhill and super G standings.
Her World Cup debut was bumped up a week following last week's stellar finish in a FIS GS at Copper Mountain. Ghent took seventh overall and second to Stacey Cook among U.S. competitors. The effort was good enough to secure her a spot in today's race.
"For it to be my first World Cup and be in GS is exciting, because tech races are difficult," Ghent said. "As of this summer, I'm a little more speed-oriented, but I love GS, and I think it's a really important part of my skiing. When I'm skiing well in GS, I know I'll be skiing well in other events."
Ghent served as a forerunner at last year's Winternational. She can already tell that this experience is going to be quite a departure. About a dozen friends and family are expected to make the trip. (Her father, Brad, is serving as a technical delegate at the men's World Cup races in Lake Louise and will not be able to attend.)
"It's completely different when you're forerunning compared to racing. Preparation and being in the start up there is a completely different sensation. ... You get kind of light-headed and excited. It's hard to explain.
"I'm just going to ski. This is a whole new field, and I don't know where I stack up with all these girls. I'll probably have a huge smile on my face regardless of how things go."
Moltzan echoed that sentiment.
"Making the top 30 and getting a second run would be nice, but if I don't, I'll be happy, too," she said. "My parents are flying out from Minnesota. I'm so excited to have them be able to experience this with me."