East Coast training has advantages, Shiffrin says
By Lisa Gosselin and Polly Mikula
Mikaela Shiffrin has become one of the world’s most recognized athletes and a major force in the powerhouse of women who make up the U.S. World Cup ski team. She is also the only one of this group who grew up skiing in New England. Therefore, the World Cup event in Killington will be somewhat of a homecoming for her, as it will be for WC ski racing, which hasn’t had an East Coast stopover since 1991.
“I’m excited to bring World Cup racing back to the East and hopefully spark even more interest in the sport,” Shiffrin said. “I also love racing in front of a home crowd because I can really feel the support carrying me down the mountain.”
“New England ski fans are awesome,” she continued.
At age 11 Shiffrin left her tiny home hill (Storrs Hill, elevation 300 feet) near Hanover, N.H., and enrolled at Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, which has turned out 33 Olympians in the past 46 years. In 2015, eight Burke Mountain Academy graduates were on the U.S. Alpine Ski Team and two were on the Nordic team, including Shiffrin, a 2013 graduate.
“One of the reasons New England has turned out so many top racers is that we have maybe 30 ski mountains within a two- or three-hour drive,” explained Tiger Shaw, president of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. Shaw has known Shiffrin since she was born and watched her train from an early age.
“Mikaela would be out there from the minute the lifts ran until they closed, and sometimes five days a week,” remembered Shaw of her days at Storrs Hill. “Think of it: How do you get in 10,000 hours of practice time in? I tried to figure it out: I was 26 when I hit 10,000 hours. I bet Mikaela did that by the time she was 18… Even at age 7 Mikaela was beating kids four years ahead of her. Just watching her ski, you knew she was something else.”
Shiffrin remembers her first trip to Killington when she was about 9 years old. While the weather was very cold and wet, she remembers “having a blast skiing” and “the waffle shack at the base of the mountain.”
“In general, I think technically strong racers tend to prevail in the East, and Killington will be no different,” said Shiffrin. The New Hampshire native and 2013 Burke Mountain Academy, Vt., grad, has began turning heads almost instantly when she finished top 15 at her first two NorAm Cup races. But the heads started spinning when she won a Super Combined in British Columbia two weeks later. Shortly thereafter, she landed a World Cup podium during her rookie season—at age 16—then blew the world apart with a World Championship Slalom gold medal and the World Cup Slalom title during her sophomore year.
Shiffrin posted her first World Cup starts as a 15-year-old and nearly scored her first points on the circuit. Her first podium happened a year later (2012), then she let loose. Shiffrin nabbed World Champs Slalom gold, four World Cup Slalom wins (six podiums) and capped the winter with a legendary come-from-behind victory in the final race of the season to clinch the Slalom title. The round-up: Shiffrin became the first U.S. Slalom World Cup champion since Tamara McKinney in 1983-84; the fourth youngest woman to win a Crystal Globe and the sixth youngest woman to win any World Cup title; and the first non-European to win four World Cup Slalom races in a season.
Off snow, Shiffrin enjoys reading and playing tennis and soccer with her athletic family—Dartmouth-racer Dad, Masters-racer Mom, and collegiate-racer brother Taylor. She now lives and trains in Eagle-Vail, Colo.
1st – Olympic Slalom 2014
1st – World Cup Slalom season title, 2013, 2014, 2015
1st – World Championship Slalom 2013, 2015
Photo by Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski Team