KILLINGTON, Vt. — The scene might not have been picture perfect for Mikaela Shiffrin, but the result certainly was.
After a difficult Sunday of racing in the fog amid challenging snow conditions, Shiffrin — the final skier of the day — charged to victory in the Killington World Cup slalom. The 23-year-old American has won all three slalom events hosted at the Vermont resort, though the latest proved to be the closest.
“I knew it was going to be a fight today because of tough conditions,” Shiffrin said. “There were definitely a couple of points in the course where I wasn’t sure I was still on the course, but I kept the skis moving.”
Petra Vlhova of Slovakia finished second .57 seconds behind, while Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter was third, (1.08 seconds back). Shiffrin’s margin of victory a year ago was a healthier .73 seconds. The close finish in 2018 was down to the conditions, but also a budding rivalry with Vlhova.
The 23-year-old finished second to Shiffrin in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 17, losing by a similar margin (.58 seconds). She’s under no illusions about what’s required to defeat her American opponent.
“If you want to beat Mikaela, you have to ski to the limit,” a disappointed Vlhova said. “She is perfect in every turn.”
Shiffrin, speaking after her first run, was candid about how close the race remained to that point.
“To be honest, I don’t have a very big lead, so the second run is going to be a really big fight as well,” she said before her victorious second run.
As the day’s final racer, Shiffrin had to deal with some of the worst conditions, but was pulled to the finish line by the cheers of more than 15,000 fans who turned out despite the poor weather.
“I could hear them from the start,” said Shiffrin. “It was deafening. And that was amazing. Partway down the course, everything got a bit more silent, and I was like, ‘Uh oh, that’s not a good sign,’ so I just thought, ‘Go faster!’ But the crowd really carried me down the hill, and it’s just amazing to race here in front of everybody. The atmosphere is incredible.”
Hansdotter, the 2018 Olympic slalom gold medalist, fought her way to a podium finish overcoming two very different challenges. She was the first racer of the day in the morning, benefiting from better quality snow while battling a thick fog. On her second run (racing fourth to last), the disappearing fog was replaced by deteriorating snow conditions.
Asked to choose which run she preferred, Hansdotter thought for a moment before explaining, “I would say maybe the second run I liked more, but the first run was fun because it was little bit more challenging.”
Americans Nina O’Brien and Paula Moltzan both raced into the top 30, qualifying them for second runs. O’Brien made her World Cup debut at Killington in 2017. A year later, she finished 23rd despite starting 48th. It was her first time clinching a second run.
“It feels so good to finally make it in there and be a part of the second run,” said O’Brien, who — like Shiffrin — grew up racing at Burke Mountain Academy. “I’ve had a lot of tries. A few close calls, a few not as close, but it feels like a breakthrough today.”
Moltzan finished 17th, notching the fourth fastest time among all second runs. Her time in the afternoon (50.8 seconds) trailed Shiffrin’s by just .04 seconds. And no one was a bigger fan of the rising US duo than Shiffrin herself.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had a strong showing,” Shiffrin said. “We have some really, really strong racers, and it’s just cool to have this kind of showing of Americans in the second run and on the final board.”
The next scheduled event for the US team is at Lake Louise in Canada (Nov. 30-Dec. 2). Shiffrin said that she intends to be there. Asked if she will race in both the downhill and Super-G despite not practicing the latter as much recently, Shiffrin paused before offering a measured response.
“That is the plan.”
Here?s video of Shiffrin coming to the finish. She safely navigated - in fact accelerated - through the tricky bottom section of the course. Crowd was more animated than at any other point this weekend. Shiffrin said she could hear them from the start of her run. #BeastWorldCup pic.twitter.com/UWnvpmx2S9— Hayden Bird (@haydenhbird) November 25, 2018