Mikaela Shiffrin’s closest competitors have spent the last few years straining every sinew to catch the reigning World Cup skiing champion, but a return to New England offers the 23-year-old an advantage her rivals simply can’t match.
For Shiffrin, the third annual Killington Cup this weekend is a chance for the World Cup tour to stop in a region she once called home. Her memories are of a modest start in skiing from which the two-time Olympic gold medalist developed her early expertise.
“Really, the skiing that I did was at Dartmouth Skiway, and then two ski areas in Lebanon N.H.],” Shiffrin recalls. “Storrs Hill and then Whaleback.”
Her routine was one that sounds similar to those of a lot of younger New England skiers.
“Training at nights at Storrs Hill and just looping on the Poma lift,” Shiffrin explains, “then going to school, and really as soon as they had enough snow, they’d open this ski hill, and it was just a one-lift hill.
“So we’d go straight from school, eat our Spaghetti-Os in the car, and do our homework on the drive, and then go do a couple of hours training. Then we’d get home and go to bed at 9 or 10 p.m., wake up early the next morning, and do it all again.”
Shiffrin, who attended Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont before turning professional, is tied to more than one place in New England. Describing her connection to her grandmother’s home in Lanesborough, Mass., Shiffrin emphasized how much she cherishes moments with her “nana” as the most effective means of rest and recuperation.
“For a lot of reasons, that time is always really important, and I don’t get enough of it,” said Shiffrin. “Being able to go back to Massachusetts to my nana’s house . . . From the first time I remember going there, it was always this fun, happy place where you have amazing memories.”
After two victorious years, Killington’s name undoubtedly has been added to Shiffrin’s list of happy New England memories. The first two Killington Cups drew thousands of cheering fans to the slopes of the aptly named “Superstar” trail on which Shiffrin has won each of the slalom competitions.
This time, she’ll be aiming for a three-peat in slalom but also a first New England win in the giant slalom. Last year, Shiffrin finished 0.67 seconds behind Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg. In 2016, she was fifth behind another rival, Tessa Worley of France.
The World Cup season opened in October with a giant slalom race in Soelden, Austria. Worley won, with Shiffrin third, 0.94 seconds behind. The first slalom race of the season took place in Levi, Finland, Nov. 17. Shiffrin won, defeating Petra Vlhova of Slovakia by a 0.58 margin.
Thousands of fans are again expected at Killington for the weekend races. As ever, all eyes will be on the local superstar.
Killington World Cup at a glance
When: Saturday (giant slalom) 9:45 a.m. (Run 1) and 1 p.m (Run 2); Sunday (slalom), 10 a.m. (Run 1) and 1 p.m. (Run 2).
TV: Saturday, 1 p.m., NBC Sports (Run 2 live), and 3 p.m., NBC (tape); Sunday, 1 p.m., NBC (Run 2 live). NBC Sports Gold will show all races live.
Defending champions: Giant slalom — Viktoria Rebensburg, Germany; slalom — Mikaela Shiffrin, US.Hayden Bird can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter at @haydenhbird.