KILLINGTON, Vt. — Mikaela Shiffrin came East to win. In Killington Resort’s world cup debut — a giant slalom held on their marquee Superstar trail — she fell short, finishing fifth. But the 21-year-old Olympic and world champion was still a “superstar” in front of a crowd that grew to at least 16,000 — more than the competitors have seen at a women’s world cup perhaps anywhere outside Austria.
On a course that quickly became rutted in the 34-degree weather, France’s Tessa Worley, the 2013 giant slalom world champion, survived the bumpy courses to win in a two-run combined time of 1:59.26. Norway’s Nina Loeseth, the first-run leader, finished second in 2:00.06, with Sofia Goggia from Italy in third, 2:00.37. It was the Italian’s first world cup podium finish.
Shiffrin climbed from eighth after the first run to fifth with a two-run combined time of 2:00.50.
“I’m pretty disappointed today,” Shiffrin said, visibility deflated. “But I’m happy with the second run and taking steps forward.”
“One of these days, I’m actually going to ski some fast GS,” she added with a frustrated laugh.
Shiffrin finished second in the season’s first giant slalom held a month ago in Soelden, Austria. Then she won a slalom in Levi, Finland, earlier in November. She came to Killington ranked first in the overall world cup standings, 80 points ahead of Swiss skier Lara Gut, the defending world cup champion. Shiffrin still holds the lead going into tomorrow’s slalom, with 225 points to Worley’s 140. Gut was leading the first run when she hit a rut and skied out; she fell to eighth overall.
“I’m happy to have finished another GS,” said Shiffrin. “Last year, my DNF rate was like 100 percent in GS pretty much, so I’m happy to have finished. I’m happy to have scored some points, and second run, I can definitely build off of that.”
Shiffrin started with bib 10 the first run and admitted that she was nervous. The crowd was already packed into the finish area, with 1,000 local kids from the Vermont Alpine Racing Association parading in and lining the side of the finish corral. Every time a skier came onto the steep finishing pitch — no matter her nationality — the crowd let loose with a deafening roar.
“Sometimes, I hear the crowd and back off a little bit because I’m like maybe I’m in the lead,” said Shiffrin. “Sometimes I hear the crowd and I’m like I must be losing, I have to go harder. Right now, I’m just trying to hear them and take their energy and not think about what it means. The second run I did a better job of that.”
The competitors were impressed with the crowd, especially winner Worley. She was expecting 5,000, and it was over three times that. “It was awesome,” she said.
This is the first time an event of this caliber has been held at Killington, and the first time an alpine ski race has been held on Superstar, a trail that Herwig Demschar, a former U.S. Ski Team coach turned executive for Powdr Corporation (owner of Killington), identified as a great race venue over five years ago. The trail is steep, has great lift access, and spectators can view almost the entire course from the bottom. Normally, Aspen hosts early season women’s world cup races. But the resort is now hosting World Cup Finals in March. With an opening in the schedule, Killington stepped in, also marking the first time a world cup was held on the East Coast of the U.S. in 25 years.
Shiffrin was hoping to win her second world cup giant slalom in front of such a huge crowd, including friends from Burke Mountain Academy, her alma mater that is about two hours north of Killington. Her grandmother also made the trip to Killington.
But nerves and a bumpy course slowed her first run. With the temperatures above freezing, the snow was soft and developed big ruts and holes as the skiers carved around the gates. Shiffrin watched the skiers in front of her get bounced around on the course and thought she could ski a better line. But it was a slower, more conservative line, and she fell 1.15 seconds back.
Second run, she knew that she had to ski the same line as her competitors.
“You just have to stand on your outside ski and don’t make stupid mistakes,” she said. “All the other girls are like, ‘Yeah, bring it on.’ I’m like I just want to ski this prettier than everyone else and see if that helps. I keep learning this lesson over and over [in GS], it doesn’t work like that.”
Second run, she was “more pissed off” and she found her flow, finishing right in with the race leaders. But it wasn’t enough to erase her first-run deficit.
She now hopes to find redemption in tomorrow’s slalom, which will also run on Superstar. And a huge crowd will likely fuel her.
“When I’m a little bit nervous in slalom, I can still find some energy from the turn,” she said. “But in GS, my timing gets off. I totally miss the pressure, and it’s just getting really frustrating.”
Asked if she could give the young racers in attendance any advice, she said to enjoy the sport.
“Have some fun with it,” she said. “It’s a hard sport. If you can smile, it’s good.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.