World Cup ski racing returns to Vermont this weekend, with Mikaela Shiffrin once again headlining a talented field at the Killington Cup.
The two-day event, featuring women’s giant slalom Saturday and slalom Sunday, offers New Englanders a rare opportunity to see the European-focused circuit. For those who can’t attend in person, each day’s second runs will be shown on NBC and streamed on Peacock.
Held each year since 2016 (with the exception of 2020 because of the pandemic), the Killington Cup regularly draws some of the largest crowds of any women’s World Cup event.
“I think they love coming to Killington,” US skier Paula Moltzan said of the international field of racers. “I think they like the change of pace.
“It’s so much different than Europe. I think they really love the crowd and the fans. They love that they can hear the crowd from the start gate, and they love how they stay and watch every racer, not just the top racers.”
For the US team, this is a chance to ski in front of a home crowd. For racers such as Moltzan and Shiffrin, it also means friends and family will be in attendance.
“It’s fun because you’re at home, but it’s also more challenging when you’re at home,” said Moltzan, who skied for the University of Vermont and was an NCAA champion at New Hampshire’s Cannon Mountain in 2017. “It’s a crazy balance of having overwhelming support with overwhelming pressure.”
No one faces higher expectations than Shiffrin, who spent much of her childhood skiing in New England and attended Vermont’s Burke Mountain Academy. At 28, she already is the winningest alpine skier in history with 89 World Cup victories.
While she knows all eyes will be on her, Shiffrin — who has spoken extensively about the importance of athletes’ mental health — explained how the demands she places on herself to deliver in front of local fans have evolved over time.
“The pressure that I felt in the beginning was maybe a little bit naive to think my performance in a single day at this race would determine whether or not all of these people remain fans of the sport,” she said of the early Killington Cup years.
“That felt like a heavy burden to carry. And I realize now that it’s so much more about excitement for the sport in general.”
In 2022, Shiffrin went winless at Killington for the first time since the event began. Yet even in defeat, she saw that fans were still happy simply to be in attendance at a world-class ski race.
“They’re having a good time no matter what. And they just really want to see good skiing,” said Shiffrin. “They want to see a good show.
“So over the last couple times we’ve come here, I’ve started to feel like the pressure’s been lifted a bit because I realized that everybody here is just incredible fans of the sport. They’re fans of ski racing, and they want to see good ski racing.”
On that front, Shiffrin has set a goal: up her game in giant slalom. Though she has reached the podium twice in giant slalom at Killington, she has yet to win it (in contrast to her five slalom wins).
“This is a challenging hill for me in particular,” Shiffrin said of Killington’s “Superstar” trail. “I don’t know if every athlete agrees that it’s not necessarily one of the most technically challenging hills we see on the World Cup.
“I’ve performed really well at hills that have more terrain or more steepness, more challenge. But for whatever reason, I haven’t always skied my very best here.
“In slalom, I’ve had some really great results, of course, and really great skiing, but not in GS. This year, I’m hoping to be able to change that.”
The timing of the event — right after Thanksgiving — also provides members of the US team a chance to experience a piece of home that isn’t afforded them while traveling through Europe. Though she is focused on training in the days leading up to the races, Shiffrin said, her team still makes time for “turkey and the stuffing and the whole mid-afternoon big dinner.”
“We definitely get to have a really nice Thanksgiving,” she said.
Looking beyond this year’s race, the future of the Killington Cup is uncertain. The agreement that the Vermont ski area has with the International Ski and Snowboard Federation to host ends after this year. But given its popularity, both with the crowds and with racers, there’s hope that it will be extended for additional years.
“I guess I don’t know what the future is,” said Killington president and general manager Mike Solimano. “I can’t guarantee anything, but I think everybody loves the event, so it would be great if we could keep it going.”
Hayden Bird can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.