From 1991 to 2016, the World Cup ski racing tour did not visit the eastern United States, home to the country’s greatest concentration of youth ski racers.
Growing up in New Hampshire and spending her high school years at a Vermont ski academy in the 2000s, Mikaela Shiffrin never got to watch her heroes race nearby.
But in 2016, the World Cup returned to the Killington ski resort in Vermont, and so did Shiffrin. The combination has attracted some of the biggest crowds for any recent women’s World Cup race in North America or Europe — nearly 35,000 fans for two races over the weekend — and they witnessed the precocious Shiffrin edge that much closer to a career milestone.
Shiffrin, 23, earned her 34th World Cup slalom victory on Sunday, moving her one win from the record for career Cup slalom wins held by Marlies Schild, one of Shiffrin’s childhood idols. Shiffrin, a two-time Olympic champion, overpowered the field after two runs to win by a hefty 0.57 seconds and remain undefeated in three consecutive World Cup slalom races at Killington.
And Shiffrin thanked a raucous Killington crowd, filled with thousands of young ski racers, for spurring her to victory.
“I could hear the crowd in the second run from the start to the finish,” said Shiffrin, who was the leader after Sunday’s first run. “They were so loud, but sometimes they would get quieter and I’d think, ‘Oh, no, I’m not fast enough; I have to push harder.’ They took me down the mountain.”
Racing amid fog and slicing through choppy, wet snow softened by rain, Shiffrin did indeed lose her first-run lead in the middle of the second run, when her skis seemed to catch in the snow at a few of the course’s 59 gates. But as she often does, in the final 10 to 15 gates, Shiffrin’s precise technique and her confident, attacking style allowed her to charge past her rivals.
As for the victories record, Shiffrin refused to compare herself to Schild, whose World Cup race videos Shiffrin had watched nearly every night as a teenager.
“I still watch her videos,” Shiffrin said of Schild, whose last World Cup slalom victory was in 2013. “She’s the greatest slalom skier of this generation because she pioneered a new style of skiing and she did it first. And she’ll always be the greatest to me.”
Shiffrin’s win was also her 45th World Cup victory in any race discipline, a total she has amassed in just six years. That puts Shiffrin on a pace to surpass the record for career World Cup victories held by Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden, who needed 15 years to collect 86 World Cup wins.
Shiffrin, however, will have to continue to work on the other World Cup disciplines. She is the defending Olympic champion in giant slalom, but in a giant slalom Saturday at Killington, she was more tentative than the other top competitors in the first run. That miscalculation that led to a fourth-place finish, as Federica Brignone of Italy claimed the win.
For Brignone, the victory was part of an inspiring comeback — three months ago, she was not sure when she would be able to race again after injuring her left knee in a training crash. But Brignone is vaulting up the season World Cup giant slalom standings, having finished second in the season-opening giant slalom last month in Austria.
In Sunday’s slalom, Petra Vlhova of Slovakia was second to Shiffrin. Frida Hansdotter of Sweden was third, 0.51 seconds behind Vlhova.