ASPEN, Colo. (AP) – It’s the beginning of the World Cup alpine ski season and already U.S. athletes appear to be finding a way around new team policies.

The reforms, set last May, include an alcohol policy and requirements that athletes stay at official team lodging at competitions. They are meant to improve performance, but also look like an effort to shake the image that team executives had lost control over their most talented athletes.

However, Olympic gold medalist Julia Mancuso, racing in the season’s opening giant slalom this weekend in Aspen, is hoping to live out of a personal vehicle again this year instead of in team accommodations. She is currently looking at renting a converted bus with a professional driver.

“Sometimes rules are put on paper because it sounds right, but the people who develop those rules aren’t around to experience the drain and the reality of things,” the 22-year-old said. “It’s silly. This is how I see my season going: I go back to the bus after a race, stay in the bus then go to the team meeting at the hotel, then return to the bus. Then at 10 o’clock I go to the hotel to sleep and at 7 I get up and go back to the bus to dress. But I’ll abide by the rules.”

Bode Miller, for whom some of the new policies seemed to have been designed, plans to travel in his RV for the fourth consecutive year.

“Bode definitely will have the RV with Jake (Sereno) driving it,” Miller’s agent, Lowell Taub, told The Associated Press. “Bode and the ski team still have to work out whether he’ll be living on it. But 100 percent he’ll have the RV.

“The team is making sure he’s bonding with his teammates. And Bode has to make sure he’s in control of his environment, his diet and his comfort levels. Not be in some (hotel) room with his feet dangling over the edge of the bed.”

All racers stayed in team hotels until 2003 when Miller, then emerging as a dominant figure on skiing’s top circuit, began traveling in a personal motor home with childhood friend Sereno acting as both driver and cook. The move gave him the freedom to eat what he pleased and the ability to sleep in a bed that accommodated his 6-foot-4 frame.

The now-retired Daron Rahlves, the most decorated U.S. speed event skier in history, followed suit, acquiring his own RV two years later. Mancuso got hers last season.

Though the team claims to have nothing against the use of RVs, its new rules require athletes stay at official World Cup housing during training and competition.

“We didn’t make a policy directly toward RVs,” said Jesse Hunt, who as Alpine director has inherited the burdensome task of enforcing the new policies. “Our policies are directed to the athletes staying in the hotel, that’s our stance. We feel pretty strongly about it. We have a policy we are driving and our goal is to manage that policy.”

Hunt declined to say how that policy would be enforced, or whether athletes would be monitored to make sure they stay in the hotel rather than slip out back to their RVs.

Other rules state athletes and team staff may not drink alcohol in one another’s presence and consumption of alcohol is not permitted at team activities such as meetings, dinners, video sessions, training sessions, etc.

“Our policy is focused on athletes’ use of alcohol in and around the workplace,” Hunt said.

Team spokesman Tom Kelly called the new rules “consistent with what you would find at any American professional or collegiate sports organization.”

“It’s good to set some alcohol policies but the fact you can’t have a glass of wine with your coaches is a bit extreme,” said Lindsey Kildow, the U.S. team’s top speed event skier and the winner of two downhills last season. “You can’t even drink in the same restaurant even if you’re not at the same table.

“It’s difficult because my coaches are my friends, too. I think you should casually be able to sit down and have a drink. We’re not going out and getting wasted.”

Mancuso hoped the team would soften the new policies next season.

“There’s always a balance people are looking for and sometimes they start with something extreme,” Mancuso said. “I’m hoping things will mellow out.”

Team officials wanted to tighten the leash on athletes following a tide of bad publicity at the Olympics – where the USOC sent home freestyle aerialist Jeret Peterson for his involvement in a drunken fist fight, Miller partied as enthusiastically as he raced and the team failed to meet their “Best in the World” slogan conceived by USSA president Bill Marolt.

The team’s lack of leverage over Miller was apparent in the fact they couldn’t even produce him at the finish for routine interviews with the huge numbers of media who came to see him. The famously uncensored skier instead jumped the security fencing and escaped to his awaiting RV.

In May, the team came up with new guidelines in an attempt to reassert their authority but that led to opposition by athletes, who resented not being consulted about the changes.

AP-ES-11-24-06 1904EST

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