The FIS Alpine Ski World Cup tour starts this weekend with a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria. It’s one of many races that Mikaela Shiffrin hopes to win this winter.
When asked what her goals are for the season, the 21-year-old slalom phenom said that they are not mapped out in detail. She admitted that she likes being No. 1. But “that could mean so many different things, I’ll take any of it!”
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Here are some of her choices:
Will she regain the world cup slalom title?
After winning three straight world cup slalom titles from 2013-15, Shiffrin lost the crystal globe last season after she injured her right knee. She tore the medial collateral ligament and suffered a bone bruise in a training crash in December and had to take off two months.
She only competed in five world cup slalom races last season (two before her injury and three after) — but won each of them and still finished fourth in the slalom standings. In fact, her streak of world cup slalom victories dates back almost two years.
Chances are that she will add another crystal globe to her trophy cabinet in March.
Will she go for the giant slalom world cup title?
Shiffrin started last season by finishing second in the Soelden World Cup giant slalom — after tying for the win the previous year. Then she finished the 2016 season by winning her second national giant slalom crown.
Her primary focus, she said, is on the tech races — slalom and giant slalom. And yes, she is going for the world cup giant slalom title as well as her fourth slalom title.
Will the slalom specialist enter more speed events (super-G and downhill)?
Last December, Shiffrin entered her first speed event on the world cup — the Lake Louise World Cup super-G. She finished 15th. Then, after she returned to racing in February, she entered another super-G, finishing 29th (still earning world cup points by finishing in the top 30).
“Last year was my year to explore speed a little bit more,” she said. “Because last year was put on hold with the knee, I feel like this year is more of that focus.”
In September, she trained in Portillo, Chile, for 12 days in super-G and downhill. With more mileage on the long skis (used in the speed events), she now feels more comfortable with the faster speeds of super-G and downhill, as well as jumping and working the rolling terrain and steep pitches.
“I feel like when I race speed races (this year), I’m going to be a little bit more in contention maybe,” she hedged.
She might even enter a few world cup downhills — or at least a few downhill training runs (required before every official downhill).
But she won’t prioritize the speed events over her bread-and-butter tech races.
“If I feel like I need more tech training, then I’ll scrap the (speed) races and do more training,” she said. “It’s going to be decided at the last minute.”
What about the overall world cup title?
Before her knee injury last year, Shiffrin’s name was mentioned as a possible overall world cup contender — given to the skier who earns the most world cup points throughout the season. Winners usually compete in all five alpine disciplines (slalom, giant slalom, super-G, downhill and combined), but Marcel Hirscher from Austria has won it a record five times competing primarily in the tech events and Lindsey Vonn has won it while focusing mostly on the speed events.
Two years ago, Shiffrin finished fourth in the overall standings after racing only slalom and giant slalom. Now adding a few speed events, she could once again be in the running.
“When we get to mid-season, we’ll be able to tell if I have a shot at it,” she said. “It’s not my main goal, but it is there. It’s a thought.”
Will she peak for the three world cup stops held on U.S. snow this year — Killington, Squaw Valley and Aspen?
For the first time in 24 years, the world cup tour is going to the East Coast, where Shiffrin spent her formative years — training gates after elementary school on nearby Storrs Hill in Lebanon, New Hampshire, then attending Burke Mountain Academy, two hours north of Killington Resort in Vermont, host of a women’s world cup slalom and giant slalom over Thanksgiving weekend.
Although Shiffrin has skied Killington, she has never skied on the trail where the race will run.
“It’s more of an East Coast advantage than a home hill advantage, if that makes sense,” she said.
After Killington, the women’s world cup tour heads to Lake Louise, Canada, then to Europe. In March, the tour will head back to America. Squaw Valley, California, will host a women’s world cup slalom and giant slalom before the men and women conclude their respective tours in Aspen, Colorado.
“It is important to all of us U.S. racers to try to perform as well as we can when we’re racing at home in Killington, Squa, and Aspen,” Shiffrin said, “Then every other race during the season is also important. There’s a lot to peak for.”
Will she prioritize defending her slalom world title?
St. Moritz, Switzerland, is hosting the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in February — on a hill where Shiffrin has won before. If she wins a third consecutive world slalom title, her name will be listed along with legends Ingemar Stenmark, Ted Ligety, Christl Cranz, Marielle Goitschel and Erika Hess — the only alpine skiers to have won three consecutive world championship titles.
“World championships are huge, especially the world championship before the Olympics,” Shiffrin said. “It’s like the event that decides who’s really going into the Olympics strong and ready.”
With so much on the line this year, Shiffrin is remarkably calm. With quiet confidence that has already led her to an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and three world cup crystal globes, she feels as if the pressure is gone.
“I feel like the more success I have, the less I have to succeed for anybody else,” she said. “It’s just for me, for me and my coaches and my family who have all worked so hard to get me to the point where I can win races. But it's a very small field of pressure, if that makes sense.”
Then she added, “I could stop today and still be one of the most successful racers on the world cup circuit. So I’m OK.”
Coming from Shiffrin, it doesn’t sound like bragging.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.