According to Kirk Dwyer, who coached her at Burke, Shiffrin probably owes her solid fundamentals to her mother, Eileen, who raced on a master’s circuit when Mikaela was little. Her parents instilled self-discipline from an early age.
“She has this personal humility that tells her that great skiing does not make someone a superior person,” said Dwyer. “I’ve seen lots of talented young ski racers, but I’ve never worked with anyone who has such consistency. She has such patience, and the kind of focus that lets her see just one step ahead of where she is. That’s how she progresses.”
And progress for Shiffrin, who enters her next event with a 336-312 points lead in slalom over Croatia’s Veronika Velez Zuzulova, means becoming a four-event skier, with the addition of the speed disciplines downhill and Super-G. But while Shiffrin talks about progressing into speed eagerly, Pfeifer advises not moving too fast.
“She is so talented that she will someday ski all four events,” he said. “She is a very hard worker and she will be an accomplished downhiller, but I don’t at this point know when. As her coach, I don’t want her to push too early and risk getting her hurt.”
Shiffrin insists she loves speed events, though her sense of discipline brings her back to the idea of improving technical skiing as far as she can. Yes, a title would be great, she said, but many competitors have a shot at this point, and she wants to remain focused on the essence of skiing. This leads to her description of “the zone,” in which one feels nearly invulnerable on skis.
“I was in the zone [during the Zagreb slalom],” she said. “It felt like you’re skiing well, but then suddenly you feel almost unstoppable.”
And judging from the assurance with which the teenager has taken hold of this season’s World Cup slalom, “unstoppable” may be the word that describes her best.