By Katy Savage
KILLINGTON—Nina O’Brien had a pit in her stomach.
She made it down her first run of the slalom race in 30th place with 15 racers to go at the Kilington World Cup Sunday, despite foggy weather, making it nearly impossible to see the course. If she maintained her spot, she’d have a chance at taking a second run.
“I didn’t think it was going to happen,” she said. “It was a tough run and I don’t think anybody felt great coming down at the end.”
But after several racers fell on Sunday, O’Brien made the cut with a time of 57.44. It was her first time earning any World Cup points. It was her first time ever qualifying to take a second run in a World Cup race. “It felt like a little bit of a breakthrough,” she said.
O’Brien, 20, a student at Dartmouth College, made her World Cup debut at the Killington World Cup in 2016. She placed 48th in her first run of the giant slalom and didn’t qualify to move to a second run.
Since then, O’Brien said she’s worked hard to make her skiing more smooth and consistent. She finished her second run with a time of 51.61, which put her in 23rd place.
“Going into that run, I found my next level of skiing,” she said.
O’Brien was one of three Dartmouth College students there. Tricia Mangan, from Buffalo, New York, and Foreste Peterson of California competed in the giant slalom on Saturday but didn’t compete in the slalom with O’Brien on Sunday.
Mangan, an engineering student, was disappointed after she finished the GS in 51st place with a time of 57.36.
“The snow was absolutely perfect,” she said. “I think I was a little too round and could have gone faster and could have charged more.”
Foreste Peterson, 25, who graduated from Dartmouth ln the summer, finished in 49th place with a time of 57.04 This was her first time skiing the World Cup in Killington.
“The course is definitely intense–real deal,” Peterson said. “Right out of the start, it’s super steep for about four gates. It’s in your face and then it comes into a compression.”
Peterson qualified for the event about a week before, at time trials in Colorado. Peterson grew up in California but her mother Barbara Edelston-Peterson grew up in Peru, Vermont and attended Stratton Mountain School.
“I’m very proud,” said Barbara. “For her, it’s huge. She has that champion mindset. It takes a certain kind of person—there’s no question about that.”
Both Mangan and Peterson were excited for O’Brien. Mangan and O’Brien take classes together at Dartmouth and regularly travel together for skiing. They also write a column together for skiracing.com called Trish O’Brien.
“She works super super hard,” said Mangan. “She couldn’t have deserved it more.”
O’Brien competed in Saturday’s GS as well, but fell at the bottom of the race. She had a make a quick turnaround between her first and second runs on Sunday. She was one of the last racers to go in the first run Sunday and the first to go in the second run.
This time, the course was fresh and free of ruts, allowing her to ski the line she wanted.
“It felt like a world of difference to me,” she said. “It felt amazing to ski a fresh course. I got to get a lot more response out of the snow.”
O’Brien is used to eastern skiing. She grew up skiing at Squaw Valley, California but moved to Vermont at age 14 to attend Burke Mountain Academy.
“Coming back and skiing in Vermont feels so comforting,” she said. “It feels a little bit like coming home. I have a lot of friends and connections in the east.”
O’Brien is two years younger than Mikaela Shiffrin, who also attended Burke and claimed the win in the slalom for the third consecutive year at Killington. Shiffrin finished her winning run with a time of 50.76.
O’Brien said she has long looked up to Shiffrin, who was already competing at World Cups in high school.
“All of us are in awe,” O’Brien said. “She always gets it done–that’s very inspiring. It’s fun and exciting to watch.”
This wasn’t her first success at Killington. In high school, O’Brien won second in a slalom run when she was about 15. She remembers the conditions to what she saw Sunday–wet and rainy.
“I might have some good mojo in in the ruts of Killington,” she said.
The World Cup is a much different experience, however.
“The race itself is in a league of its own in terms of the fans and the energy,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien hopes to maintain her early season success. “It can get discouraging when you’re working so hard,” she admitted.
She’s still trying to find a pre-race routine that works for her. She plans to compete in North American Cup races later this year..
“I’ve been consistently working and training everyday and getting better,” said O’Brien.