Mikaela Shiffrin competes during the 2019 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup women's giant slalom on March 17, 2019 in Soldeu, Andorra.
Mikaela Shiffrin starts her ninth season on the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup tour with a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Saturday. And she knows this season can’t possibly be as good as last.
Or can it?
During the 2018-2019 season, the now-24-year-old ski racing phenom broke records almost every weekend. The highlights:
- She won 17 world cup races, shattering the 30-year-old record of 14 in a single season held by Swiss skier Vreni Schneider.
- After claiming her first super-G win in Lake Louise, Alberta, last December, Shiffrin became the first athlete in world cup history to win all six alpine ski disciplines.
- With her slalom win at the 2019 world championships last February, she became the first skier ever to win four consecutive world titles in a single discipline.
- Shiffrin is the youngest ever to win 50 world cup races, and by season’s end, she had hit the 60 mark — putting her 22 shy of Lindsey Vonn’s all-time record for women and 26 shy of Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who holds the high water mark of 86 world cup wins.
- She won her first giant slalom and super-G world cup season titles, along with her sixth slalom title and third consecutive overall crystal globe.
“Last season was this sort of standalone,” she said in a media call from Europe. “Obviously, very fond memories. But I’m like, who in their right mind could possibly expect to just keep repeating that forever?”
Then she laughed and added, “I’m maybe not always in my right mind, so if anyone would expect that, it would be me. But I tend to set more realistic expectations.”
In fact, Shiffrin sets standards, not expectations — a high standard for her skiing. It was perhaps the key to her record-breaking season. With that mindset, she enjoyed racing instead of feeling as if she had “to perform to a certain level of expectation.” And, with that joy, came results.
With the recent retirement of other alpine superstars, such as Lindsey Vonn and eight-time world cup champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria, Shiffrin will likely ski in an even brighter spotlight this season. But little will change, except with no world championships or Olympic Winter Games on the calendar this season, she will likely enter more world cup races. With 46 world cup races on the women’s calendar this season, she has plenty to choose from.
“I’m likely going to do more speed than I’ve done before,” she announced. “But I probably won’t do a lot more racing.”
Last season, she entered 26 world cup races, plus three at world championships, where she won the slalom and super-G titles and took the bronze in giant slalom. In the 29 races she entered, she finished on the podium 83 percent of the time and won 66 percent of the races — across all the alpine disciplines.
If she enters 29 world cup races this season and maintains the same record, she could bring her season world cup tally to 19, breaking her own record. And she would surpass both Vonn and Stenmark in total world cup wins.
The biggest change this season? The debut of women’s parallel giant slalom, another alpine discipline that Shiffrin could add to her ‘win’ column. In the past two seasons, she has won two parallel slaloms.
But Shiffrin is not motivated by records or stats. She is motivated by the joy of improving — feeling her turns improve every year.
“As long as that’s there, I’m ready to keep going,” she said. “I don’t really have a timeline. I don’t know if I’ll make it until I’m 30. But if I’m at that point and I’m still having an absolute blast and still reaching my own standards of skiing, then I’ll keep going.”
Will Shiffrin ever race a full world cup schedule, like her childhood hero Bode Miller once did?
The world cup schedule expands every year, so racers continue to specialize. Hirscher, who dominated the men’s world cup (and just retired), won eight consecutive overall world cup globes by entering primarily slalom and giant slalom races.
To race a full schedule, athletes have to manage training for the six disparate alpine disciplines (including parallel slalom and giant slalom) while also maintaining their energy and focus, as well as their bodies, over a five-month season. Shiffrin has never had any significant surgeries, although a knee injury forced her to miss two months of the 2016 season. But like most alpine skiers, she has to manage back issues — from the strain of maintaining a quiet upper body against the torque of carving high-speed turns.
“I know I’m only 24, but at the same time, I feel like I’m already 24, and I can feel it,” she said, laughing at the absurdity of her comment.
She maintains a tricky balance of training and racing throughout the winter, skipping races (usually speed races) when training or rest would be more beneficial. While some racers do the majority of their training during the off-season, with an emphasis on rest between races, Shiffrin is a student of the sport. And the best students do the extra credit.
“I’m an athlete who relies on preparation in order to feel confident on race day,” she admitted. “That’s always been how I roll.”
If she becomes more comfortable racing speed (downhill and super-G), she may add more races to her already loaded schedule. But for now, slalom and giant slalom remain her primary focus.
After a full summer of training and moving into a new house — a “Euro mountain modern” home in Edwards, Colorado, that she helped design and feels “nice for the soul” — Shiffrin answered the same question she has faced every year for the past nine years: Is she ready?
“I’ve always said I don’t know if I’m ready right now,” then she added brightly, “but I will be on race day.”
An award-winning freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.