Olympic hopeful Mikaela Shiffrin eyes Killington’s World Cup event as a familiar test

The early season East Coast conditions are a challenge Shiffrin knows all too well.

Mikaela Shiffrin after a race in Finland in November, 2017.
Mikaela Shiffrin after a race in Finland in November, 2017. –AP Photo/Giovanni Auletta

Almost exactly a year ago, a crowd of 30,000 fans lined the side of the slalom course on Killington’s “Superstar” trail. While clearly excited to see the first FIS World Cup race to be held in New England in a quarter century, those in attendance were there to see one racer in particular: Mikaela Shiffrin.

The 22-year-old American is already an established star in the world of alpine ski racing. She’s won 31 races so far in her short professional career, as well as the 2017 overall World Cup title. That’s not including her performance at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where Shiffrin – then 18 years and 345 days old – became the youngest to ever win an Olympic slalom gold. And befitting the name of the trail she was racing on at Killington in 2016, Shiffrin delivered victory to her adoring fans:

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New England is a place that – for a variety of reasons – Shiffrin is connected to. Her parents both have ties to the area, while Shiffrin herself attended Burke Mountain Academy before becoming a professional. Her grandmother still lives in western Massachusetts, and got to see Shiffrin win at Killington in 2016.

The formative years spent on the icy conditions of the East Coast had a profound effect.

“Those East Coast racecourses prepared me for the World Cup circuit because the snow in Europe and the racecourses there are very much like the snow and the racecourses in the East,” Shiffrin explained in 2014 the New York Times. “If I hadn’t come east as a kid, I might still be a World Cup racer today, but I wouldn’t be the same World Cup racer. And there were cultural or geographic conditions in the East that helped me, too.”

A year after her thrilling win on the slopes of Killington, the stakes are even higher.

Not only will Shiffrin ski to defend her slalom title on Nov. 26, but she will also look to improve her performance in the weekend’s other event: giant slalom. In 2016, Shiffrin finished fifth. Improvement in other disciplines beyond slalom has clearly been on the agenda, especially as the 2017-2018 season is highlighted by the Pyeongchang Olympics.

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Already, she’s being cast as one of the central United States hopefuls for gold in the 2018 Winter Games. Given her dominance over the last four years, it’s easy to see why.

Still, pressure is a concept that Shiffrin is having to become increasingly accustomed to. As she continues to assert herself as the established power in her sport, more eyes – both of fans and competitors – seem to fall on her. That was highlighted in the Killington race a year ago.

“Killington was a lot of pressure, and I didn’t realize it till I was there,” Shiffrin said in a recent profile for The New Yorker. “I was kind of freaking out.”

Of course, Shiffrin still won the slalom, just as she won in the pressure-packed Olympics. If nothing else, her background in New England ski conditions ensures she’ll be ready for whatever Killington throws at her.