With the Alpine skiing World Cup returning to North America for the first time in two years, Mikaela Shiffrin can’t wait to race in front of a home crowd again.
This weekend’s two races in Killington, Vermont, are the only women’s World Cup events on American snow this season and for Shiffrin there is both a personal unbeaten streak and an all-time record on the line. She has won all four previous World Cup slalom races in Killington and the event had become a bit of annual signpost for Shiffrin before they were canceled last year because of the pandemic.
“I don’t know how to quantify it, but it doesn’t feel like the season has officially started without Killington,” Shiffrin said. “To have that first race or the beginning-of-the-season races in the U.S., that’s been a huge hallmark of every season that I’ve ever had.”
This season officially began in Sölden, Austria, in October, and Shiffrin already shares the lead in the overall World Cup standings with Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, with both on 260 points after the first four races.
In Killington there is a giant slalom scheduled for Saturday and a slalom on Sunday, where Shiffrin can match yet another record. The two-time Olympic champion has won 45 World Cup slaloms, leaving her one short of the record for most wins in a single discipline, set by Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark with 46 giant slalom victories in the 1970s and ’80s.
While the 26-year-old Shiffrin hails from Vail, Colorado, she can almost consider Killington a hometown race as she honed her skills nearby at the Burke Mountain Academy as a teenager.
“It’s really exciting, probably because I spent so much time in the East Coast and I know how passionate people are about the sport there,” Shiffrin said. “We definitely missed it last year and it’s very exciting to be looking forward to it this year again.”
Shiffrin won the season-opening giant slalom World Cup in Sölden but finished second to Vlhova — her biggest rival — in both the slalom races in Levi, Finland last week. Both Shiffrin and Vlhova skipped a parallel event in Austria.
Shiffrin’s success has come despite an ongoing struggle with back pain that has interfered with her training schedule. And that could affect her this weekend too.
“She’s had huge success in the slalom, and knock on wood I think she’s won it every time they’ve put it on (in Killington). But she definitely has something to prove with that GS hill,” said Shiffrin’s coach, Mike Day. “With a back injury shortly after Sölden, we haven’t been able to produce any GS volume at all. … So we’ll be, I guess, running on fumes, so to say, as far as GS goes. But we’ll see what she’s able to put together.”