Juli Furtado was born on March 4, 1967, in New York City. When she was a girl her parents divorced and her mother moved the kids to Vermont. There Furtado attended the Stratton Mountain School ski academy. She joined the U.S. junior ski team in 1980 and was well on the way to fulfilling her dream of skiing in the Winter Olympics. When offered a skiing scholarship to the University of Boulder, Juli took it and, at 18 years old, moved west to train in the Rockies.
In 1987, a series of knee operations left Furtado unable to compete on the slopes. She left competitive downhill skiing. As part of her physical therapy regimen at the University of Colorado, however, she was told to ride a bike. She immediately fell in love with the sport and began to train as a cyclist. Soon she was back in winning form as a road racer.
Realizing that she would rather be back on the slopes, however (although this time on a bike rather than skis), Furtado made the transition to from road racing to mountain biking. Her first full season in the sport was in 1991. She took first in most of the events in which she participated, and by 1993 Furtado had become a force to be reckoned with. She won each of the six NORBA nationals she raced, and nine out of ten Grundig World Cup races. In a little under eight months, Furtado collected 17 first-place finishes in 18 events.