ASPEN - The look said it all.
Moments after she dashed across the finish line in the first run of Saturday's Aspen Winternational giant slalom, cameras captured Vail teenager Mikaela Shiffrin chuckling and shrugging her shoulders as she stood in the finish area.
As the roars from a packed grandstand intensified, the precocious skier pumped her fist.
"Just disbelief," Shiffrin said of the effort, which at the time landed her in 18th place and, more important, assured her of a second run for just the second time in seven World Cup starts in the discipline.
"This is a bigger confidence boost than (Nov. 10's third-place finish in slalom in Levi, Finland) was. In slalom, I knew I've gotten a podium in Lienze, (Austria), and several more top 10s. I knew I was fast, but in GS, there was so much uncertainty. This is huge for my confidence. Maybe I'm not just a one-trick pony. Maybe I can do it in two events - or maybe four someday. Even having just one good run is opening up my mind for future possibilities."
Imagine what she must be thinking now.
After producing one of the afternoon's best second runs - a near-flawless display of her power and precision - Shiffrin took over second place. She flirted with a podium finish for a time before falling in the standings.
Securing ninth place despite starting 42nd was a gratifying consolation prize.
"Man, that's a big breakthrough," Shiffrin said afterward. "I over-skied some sections in the first, but I felt awesome. I accomplished my goal, and in the second, I wanted to take it downhill and see if I could go any faster. I think I did the best I can do.
"I was thinking, 'Holy crap, who is this skier? I haven't seen her before.'"
While Shiffrin was elated, teammate Lindsey Vonn was exhausted. The four-time overall champion, who is working her way back from an intestinal virus that resulted in a two-night hospital stay last week, admitted that her legs gave out down the stretch in Run 1.
"There's a compression delay on the bottom, and I just stomped out. I used pretty much every last ounce of energy to pull out of that," Vonn said.
Still, she found herself in 10th place.
Things unraveled from there, however. Vonn was seen taking multiple deep breaths as she stood in the starting gates before Run 2. She was doing the same in the finish area after slumping to the snow following a clean, if not dynamic trip down Aspen Mountain.
"I tried really hard on both runs, but I just didn't have the energy I needed to really be competitive," said Vonn, who had not raced since Oct. 27's GS in Soelden, Austria, in which she crashed.
She spent most of last week in bed and off the hill.
"It's been a real fight just to be able to even race today," she said. "I didn't have it, but I had a good time. I love seeing fans, my family was here, and I enjoyed racing. I'm a competitor, so this isn't exactly the result I was looking for, but I'm trying to keep things in perspective. I was very sick just a few days ago, and I'm just happy to be racing again."
Julia Mancuso was content with her 15th-place finish, although she admitted to being a tad too conservative - a somewhat inevitable result given that she lost a ski on her first run in Soelden.
"I was a little nervous after that, so I wanted to finish and make it down that first run," the Squaw Valley, Calif., product said. "On the second, I took a little risk and lost time on the bottom. It's another slow start to the season, but it's going to be really good. I'm setting my sights on world championships and being really healthy."
Edwards' Abby Ghent's sights were set on next week's races in Lake Louise, Alberta, where she was expecting to make her World Cup debut. That appearance was moved up a week, however, after her stellar showing in a FIS GS at Copper Mountain last week.
The 20-year-old wound up 50th Saturday.
"It's over. Thank goodness," Ghent joked after her lone run. "The level of difficulty is so much higher than Nor-Ams. I tried not to overthink it too much, but once I got in the start and the numbers starting rising and getting closer to mine, I started thinking, 'Here we go. This is happening.'
"I was just trying to keep my nerves down, trying to breathe and keep my focus out on the course. It was a good first experience. I'm not last, so that's good.'
Ghent, Mancuso and Vonn are slated to race next week in Lake Louise.
"I'm getting better and better every day and building strength," said Vonn, who will skip today's slalom. She won two downhills and a super-G last year in Lake Louise.
"If I continue to make progress, I should be ready for the weekend.?"