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Walsh wins World Cup GS; salutes Shiffrin family

Vail’s Thomas Walsh won Wednesday’s Para Alpine Skiing World Cup giant slalom in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia, and dedicated the victory to Jeff Shiffrin, who passed away earlier this month.

Walsh, a cancer survivor, and Mikela Shiffrin grew up together skiing and have been close friends throughout the years.

Walsh, wearing “Be Nice. Think first. Have fun,” Jeff’s words by which to live, taped to the front of his helmet, posted on Twitter after his win.

“Jeff Shiffrin, who passed away, a really good friend of mine, I owe a lot to him, helping me continue to live and continue to ski race,” Walsh said in his video tweet. “I just want to give a shoutout to the entire Shiffrin family, Mikaela, Taylor, Eileen and all the extended family. I’ve been thinking about Jeff. I’ve had this on my helmet every day. He was definitely with me as I won this GS.”

When Walsh was 14, he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. He completed his radiation treatment in 2010. In the process of fighting the disease, he had parts of his lung and pelvis removed.

Having skied with Shiffrin in then-Ski Club Vail, Walsh and the Shiffrin family stayed close through his trials and travails.

“He has that kind of ‘zest-for-life’ that is very rare, very contagious, and cannot be stifled. Not even by cancer,” Shiffrin told The Associated Press last spring. “Thomas was always a much better athlete than I was. He was literally good at everything. I mean, everything. Skiing, soccer, a triathlon, dancing, acting, singing, school — you name it. He did it all and he was always the best.”

Walsh has gone on to make the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing National Team. Walsh finished fifth at the Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018. He won two bronze medals at the 2019 World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Italy.

And Wednesday, he won by 0.21 seconds over Arthur Bauchet in the giant slalom. With the victory came a heartfelt message to Jeff and the Shiffrin family.

“It is one of the messages I carry in my heart,” Walsh said on Twitter. “I find myself in debt to people who helped me overcome my cancer treatment and continue to support me while living with a disability. Jeff was one of the most influential people (to help) me do that.”

Mikaela Shiffrin graces Sports Illustrated cover

Extra, extra, read all about it.

Mikaela Shiffrin is on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s March issue and she’s dubbed, “the world’s most dominant athlete.”

For readers of Sports Illustrated who do not live in a ski community, it may be controversial to call Shiffrin “the world’s most dominant athlete.” The average American sports fan might be more inclined to focus on the likes of LeBron James, Tom Brady or Mike Trout.

It’s not the first time Shiffrin’s been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She was the cover girl for the 2014 Olympics preview as well as after winning slalom in those games in Sochi, Russia.

She is, however, the first Olympic athlete, according to a press release from the U.S. Ski Team, to be on the cover in a non-Olympic year in recent years.

The shoot for the SI cover took place on Feb. 1 in Trentino, Italy, after Shiffrin won two World Cup speed races in Bansko, Bulgaria, at the end of January.

Obviously, shortly after the shoot, Mikaela got word that her father, Jeff, passed away suddenly, making this a poignant time for publication.

Greg Bishop, the author of the Sports Illustrated piece, wrote, “None of (her fame and success) mattered when the call came, when Shiffrin, only 24, learned that her father, Jeff, had suffered a grave injury in an accident at home in Colorado. Mikaela and her mother, Eileen, immediately flew back from Europe and were able to spend Jeff’s final hours by his side.”

The article profiles the well-known story of Shiffrin growing up and her parents, Jeff and Eileen, trying to instill a sense of normalcy in her life; her first World Cup podium, her Olympic wins and the spectacular success of her 2018-19 season.

The piece then transitions into how Shiffrin was trying to deal with this season and the accompanying unrealistic expectations.

“This season’s been a bit of a struggle again. If that’s where the bar is now, it’s nearly impossible to even come close to that, let alone exceed it,” Sports Illustrated quoted Shiffrin as saying.

Through telling her surreal experience of being at last summer’s ESPYs and not feeling like she belonged in such star-studded company — she knew she wasn’t going to win Best Female Athlete and didn’t bother writing a speech (soccer player Alex Morgan was a mortal lock) and apparently her hands were shaking when she met the NBA’s James — Bishop writes about the constant struggle in Shiffrin’s life between being a normal person and the fame that is a part of her life, whether she wants it or not.

You can read the full story here.

Mikaela Shiffrin thanks Vail Valley community for support in wake of tragedy

Mikaela Shiffrin issued a multi-tweet statement on Sunday evening thanking the public for its support of her family following the unexpected death of her father, Jeff.

Shiffrin issued a video tribute to her father with her reciting the lyrics to the John Denver-Placido Domingo duet, “Perhaps Love,” (lyrics by Arthur Hancock.)

Shiffrin voices the lyrics over clips of home video of the family — Jeff, her mother Eileen, her brother, Taylor, and her when both of the latter are toddlers with pictures and other videos of them together at skiing events throughout their lives.

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In the ensuing tweets Shiffrin thanks family, friends and “the Vail Valley community and the entire ski community.”

Shiffrin is understandably non-committal with regard to her future competitive plans, writing, “This sport we are so passionate about — this sport our father/husband was so passionate about—is an incredible source of healing and the mountains offer overwhelming solace during this devastating time. We don’t know where we’ll go from here, but we know we will lean on each other and love each other more than ever.”

The World Cup’s next stop is Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, on Saturday and Sunday for tech races.

Obituary: Jeffrey Scott Shiffrin

Dr. Jeffrey Scott Shiffrin, age 65, passed away peacefully, surrounded by his loving family, on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020. He was born on March 8, 1954, in Dover, New Jersey, to Betty and Alan Shiffrin. Growing up, Jeff was always a well rounded young man. He excelled at school and sports, always striving to challenge himself. He was an avid musician, playing the piano, guitar, trumpet and french horn. He was a graduate of Dartmouth College, and New Jersey College of Medicine. He did his residency at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts, moving on to his fellowship in anesthesia at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

During his residency at St. Elizabeth’s, Jeff met his future wife, Eileen Condron, who was an ICU nurse there. Following Jeff’s fellowship at DHMC, Jeff and Eileen stayed in Hanover, New Hampshire, where Jeff was an Associate Professor of Anesthesia and became well known amongst his students for his mentorship and inspirational teaching ability.

Eileen and Jeff were married in Hanover on May 31, 1986. Jeff’s passion for skiing, snow and mountains led them to Vail, Colorado, in 1991, where he was instrumental in incorporating the anesthesia department and pioneering the regional anesthesia program in Vail Valley Medical Center.

Dr. Shiffrin eventually brought a cutting edge ultrasound technology to the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center where he was an Associate Professor. With this technology, Jeff greatly expanded UC Health’s regional anesthesia program. The technology is widely used today.

Soon after moving to Vail, they welcomed their son, Taylor, into the world in 1992. Their daughter, Mikaela, joined soon thereafter being born in 1995. Jeff and Eileen shared their passion for sports, especially their love of skiing, with their children from an early age.

Jeff led his family on many adventures, pursuing their shared love of outdoor activities such as windsurfing in Maui, hiking the Alps and, of course, skiing all around the world. As a result of his desire to capture their many experiences, he developed an exceptional talent for photography. The walls of their home are adorned with his breathtaking landscapes. During Taylor’s years of NCAA competition, and Mikaela’s World Cup races, Jeff became well known for capturing and sharing his amazing images and live-action photos as one of his true passions.

Family was always Jeff’s highest priority. Even as a full-time physician he managed to spend every free moment traveling to support his children’s athletic endeavors, all while instilling his rules of: “Be nice, think first, have fun” and his philosophy of lifelong learning.

Jeff was well known for his kindness, selfless loving nature, quick wit, and uncanny ability to bring a smile to everyone’s face. He is survived by his loving wife Eileen, his daughter Mikaela, his son Taylor and fiancée Kristiana Oslund, as well as his sister Lauren Huelsebusch and her husband Juergen Huelsebusch. Jeff’s memorial will be private.

In lieu of flowers, please donate to the U.S. Ski Team at donations.usskiandsnowboard.org and the Alzheimer’s Association at alz.org.

What’s next for the women’s ski World Cup?

So what next for the women’s World Cup?

We start by stipulating that Mikaela Shiffrin should do whatever she feels she needs to do in the wake of her father’s passing. If that’s taking off two weeks, terrific. If she wants to call it a season, that’s fine. If she’d like to make her first appearance back on the slopes during the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, that’s cool, too.

Mikaela has nothing to prove to anyone in terms of race wins, World Cup points, globes or medals. She’s got everything, often in duplicate or triplicate. Ski racing is immaterial right now.

The most important thing is the well-being of the Shiffrin family as they mourn their father/husband.

We take this moment to reiterate a portion of what Shiffrin tweeted in announcing her father’s passing.

“Thank you, from the depths of my heart, for respecting my family’s privacy as we grieve during this unimaginable and devastating time,” Shiffrin wrote.

Where things stand

Again, with the rock-solid belief that Shiffrin and her family should do anything and everything it needs to do with regard to this process, the World Cup schedule does continue. Shiffrin leads the overall with 1,125 points, ahead of Italy’s Federica Brignone (955) and Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova (830).

Shiffrin tops the slalom chase (Vlhova, 440-360), is second in giant slalom (behind Brignone, 375-314), third in super-G (Brignone 216, Switzerland’s Corinne Suter 200 and Shiffrin at 186), and even second in downhill (Suter’s ahead, 272-256.)

Shiffrin bowed out of last weekend’s World Cup events in Rosa Khutor, Russia, before her father passed. The 2014 Olympic site was meant to host a downhill and a super-G. Due to heavy snow, there was only super-G and Brignone was the winner.

The schedule

The Russian downhill has been moved to this weekend, so Garmisch, Germany, will have two DHs (Friday and Saturday) and a super-G (Sunday). Shiffrin has issued no statement, but it’s no leap of the imagination to say she’s not racing this weekend, having flown back to Colorado already.

Under normal circumstances, which these are decidedly not, she would race in Maribor, Slovenia, with GS and slalom on Feb. 15-16. Shiffrin’s won four of her last five starts there, dating back to 2015.

Crans-Montana, Switzerland, has a downhill and a combined on Feb. 22-23, followed by La Thuile, Italy, on Feb. 29-March 1 (super-G and combined).

If I were to make a guess, the giant slalom and slalom on March 7-8 in Ofterschwang, Germany, would be it — the disciplines best suited to Shiffrin and a bit more than a month of time. The season wraps with a parallel slalom in Stockholm (March 10), tech events in Are, Sweden, (March 13-14) and the World Cup finals in Cortina, Italy, (March 18-22).

Everyone’s mileage may vary. As my mom said in a rare bout of humor after Pop died, “I don’t know. This is the first time my husband has died.” When such a traumatic event happens, everyone’s in a “new normal” — including my mom making a tasteless, yet funny joke — and there’s no predicting anything. Maybe, Shiffrin wants to absorb herself in skiing and comes back for Maribor?

Bottom line: It’s up to you, Mikaela, and your family. Much love and respect, whatever you chose.

To Mikaela and the Shiffrins with love

Oh, Mikaela.

Saying, “I’m sorry about your father,” seems so insufficient, so insignificant, not even close to what is required.

When we started to hear about this on Sunday afternoon, my heart ached for you. As personal as that moment had to be for you, we do know what that’s like.

What happened? How did it happen? What do I do?

The why is the biggest kick in the pants. Regardless of the circumstances, the age of your loved one (it’s always too early), whether he or she had been sick or not, whatever, the moment reaches into your chest and rips everything out, leaving your world spinning.

That you are the greatest skier in the world right now is only part of the reason we in Eagle County ache for you. Yes, you have brought so much joy to us in your staggering resume of accomplishments, which is pretty much everything an Alpine racer can do. It’s how you’ve done it.

You carry yourself with grace and dignity. It’s always stunned me that you’ve been anywhere from 16- to 24-year-old and in the public eye. As grand as the accomplishments have been, you carry yourself as a “normal” person.

(Everyone else, try to remember what you were like when you were 19 or 22. Contrast and compare. Nope. Not even close.)

Even when looking “too cool for school” between runs of the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships slalom at Beaver Creek— the jumbotron at the base of the hill showed you with your sunglasses on, laying back with your arms behind your head — it wasn’t you trying to be cool. You were just trying to take a nap, which is really cool when you think about it.

And then you won the second of four straight slalom worlds golds that day, you didn’t celebrate immediately. When asked why no major celebration, you said, “Ted (Ligety) throws his ski. Lindsey (Vonn) falls on the ground. (Tina) Maze puts her finger in the air. How about if I do something epic? Then I get to the finish, and I’m like, ‘Hi. I’m kind of a dork.’ I don’t want to show that side of myself. I’m not that great at showing my emotions. Guess I have to work on that.”

That. That right there is it. When things have been great, like your record-setting 2018-19 season, you stayed humble and rightly pointed out that it wasn’t as easy as you were making it look. This year, when everything hasn’t been so smooth, you’ve been gracious about your competition and the situation, even though you’ve doubtless been frustrated.

Heck, quite possibly the most outrageous thing you’ve done is use the poop emoji on Twitter after finishing 17th in a giant slalom in Courchevel, France, in December. (John McEnroe, you are not.)

It’s the poise and maturity beyond your years that makes you special, perhaps no more so, when you hinted at what happened with your family very early Monday morning.

“Go tell everyone you love that you love them and how much you love them, do it right now. Please,” Shiffrin wrote on Twitter.

Oh, do we relate, Mikaela. A bunch of us have gotten that God-awful call. I remember talking to my father on the evening of Aug. 17, 2006 — he died of a heart attack about nine hours later. I still don’t know whether I said I loved him. I probably did.

Everyone handles this differently and you and your mom, Eileen, and your brother, Taylor, will lean on each other at assorted times and in assorted ways. You can also lean on us.

It’s the least we can do after all you’ve done for us.

Social media tributes pour in for Shiffrin family in wake of Jeff Shiffrin’s death

Condolences poured in via social media to Mikaela Shiffrin and her family on Monday when news broke that Jeff Shiffrin had died unexpectedly at 65 following an accident.

Shiffrin first tweeted at 12:38 a.m. Rocky Mountain time Monday morning with the message, “Go tell everyone you love that you love them and how much you love them, do it right now. Please.”

At 8:18 a.m. on Monday, the three-time World Cup champion issued a formal statement regarding the death of her father, writing, “My family is heartbroken beyond comprehension about the unexpected passing of my kindhearted, loving, caring, patient, wonderful father.”

Fellow Vail skiing superstar Lindsey Vonn was quick with her response via Twitter.

“I’m so so sorry for your loss. Prayers are with you and your family. RIP Jeff,” Vonn wrote, adding emojis of hands in prayer and a broken heart.

The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team wrote, “A heartbreaking tragedy — Jeff was an incredible man. All of our love and prayers go out to @MikaelaShiffrin, Taylor, Eileen and their family in this beyond-heartbreaking time.”

Jeremy Bloom, Colorado football player and Olympic moguls skier, paid his respects, writing, “My heart goes out to the entire @MikaelaShiffrin family for the unexpected and unimaginable (loss) of Jeff, Mikaela’s wonderful father.”

Ceil Folz, the former head of the Vail Valley Foundation that organizes World Cup racing and helped bring the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships to Beaver Creek, where Mikaela won slalom gold, noted Jeff’s passing.

“What the world sees in Mikaela — the determination, kindness, groundedness, commitment… that is Jeff. He lives on in Miki and Taylor in every way. He was one in a million,” Folz wrote.

Even the Mikaela Shiffrin Fan Club also issued its condolences.

“We are devastated by this tragic loss. We knew Jeff only by a few talks at some ceremonies. But even by exchanging only a few words, you could easily tell he’s a very nice, kind and wonderful person. Our love and prayers go out to @MikaelaShiffrin and her family.”

Mikaela Shiffrin’s father, Jeff Shiffrin, dies unexpectedly at 65

Olympic champion and Eagle County local Mikaela Shiffrin broke the news Monday morning that her father, Jeff Shiffrin, has died.

The Eagle County coroner has confirmed that Shiffrin, 65, died of a head injury, and the cause of death is an accident. The Shiffrins live in Edwards.

Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.

In a string of tweets posted to Twitter, Mikaela Shiffrin wrote:

“My family is heartbroken beyond comprehension about the unexpected passing of my kindhearted, loving, caring, patient, wonderful father. Our mountains, our ocean, our sunrise, our heart, our soul, our everything. He taught us so many valuable lessons … but above everything else, he taught us the golden rule: be nice, think first. This is something I will carry with me forever. He was the firm foundation of our family and we miss him terribly … Thank you, from the depths of my heart, for respecting my family’s privacy as we grieve during this unimaginable and devastating time.”

Friend of the team

In a news release, U.S. Ski & Snowboard CEO Tiger Shaw said Jeff Shiffrin was a good friend who will be terribly missed.

“Our — and the entire ski world’s — thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this incredibly difficult time,” Shaw said.

Tom Kelly, who has spent more than 30 years with the U.S. Ski Team as a press liaison, described Jeff Shiffrin as a wonderful person.

“So sad for the loss to the Shiffrin family and our entire skiing community,” Kelly wrote.

Jeff Shiffrin was an anesthesiologist with Vail Health and Anesthesia Partners of Colorado, treating and helping many injured skiers and riders. He was raised in Dover, New Jersey, where he learned to ski as a youth.

A 2014 Sports Illustrated profile of Mikaela said during his childhood, Jeff spent weekends skiing with his family at Stratton or Sugarbush in southern Vermont. 

“At 13 he joined the race team at what was then called Great Gorge Ski Resort (now Mountain Creek) in northwestern New Jersey, and on his first day of training he was greeted by an Austrian coach whose only instruction before pushing off the top of the hill was, ‘Follow me,’” the article states. “It was a teaching tactic that Jeff would remember. He later raced on the ski team at Dartmouth and stayed active in the sport after taking up anesthesiology.”

Avid photographer

Jeff Shiffrin is remembered by journalists and the U.S. Ski Team as an avid photographer, often having traveled to Mikaela’s World Cup races photographing her and other U.S. Ski Team athletes. During Mikaela’s rise to the top of the sport, Jeff often shared his photos of Mikaela with the Vail Daily and other media outlets covering her success.

“I always admired how he’d hike the mountain to shoot the race with all the other photogs,” wrote longtime ski sportscaster Steve Porino.

In a post shared Monday, U.S Ski & Snowboard wrote that Jeff was “rarely in a team picture on the podium because he was always behind the camera capturing the moment.”

And while he was often on the sidelines during her races, he was not known as a parent who coaches had to worry about getting in the way.

“Basically, this is a job for her, and I try not to interfere,” Jeff Shiffrin told the Vail Daily from Russia, in 2014, during Mikaela’s first Olympic appearance. “If she were to come visit me at work, I wouldn’t change my routine just because she was there.”

NBC Sports Writer Tim Layden described Jeff as the perfect superstar athlete dad.

“He taught and guided, shared and loved and when the lights got bright, he stepped aside,” Layden wrote.

Mikaela was quick to wish her father happy Father’s Day or happy birthday — he would have turned 66 in March — and she also enjoyed recognizing him when he went out of his way to do something special for her. In 2016, Mikaela used the “lovemydad” hashtag in a tweet about Jeff bringing a memory foam mattress pad to Europe so she could sleep more comfortably. 

“Now I am laying on a cloud,” she wrote.

Mikaela and Eileen returned from Europe on Sunday afternoon, and Jeff was surrounded by family and close friends during his final hours. 

—This story contains material from a U.S. Ski & Snowboard press release

Mikaela Shiffrin to skip World Cup Russian races

Mikaela Shiffrin will be saying nyet to this weekend’s World Cup events in Rosa Khutor, Russia, the Alpine site of the 2014 Olympics.

The U. S. Ski Team tweeted on Tuesday that Shiffrin “will not be heading to the World Cup in Sochi this weekend. She’ll be taking the week off to rest and get a solid training block in.”

It’s not surprising that Shiffrin is taking the weekend off after a busy stretch of six races during the last two weeks in Flachau, Austria, Sestriere, Italy, and Bansko, Bulgaria.

Bulgaria was a particularly nice stop as she won Friday’s downhill and Sunday’s super-G.

After winning on Sunday, Shiffrin posted an interesting entry on Facebook.

“Every race is such a big fight and this season I haven’t been the one on top of this fight every time. Certainly, I’ve been feeling sometimes like the expectations that I have or that other people may have, I’m not quite living up to that. It’s hard not to feel like I’m failing sometimes, even though this is an incredible season. But I want to thank you for your support…”

Allowing for a little perspective, it was nigh unto impossible for her to repeat her 2018-19 season in which she won a record 17 World Cups. There was no way she was going to win the overall, the super-G, the giant slalom, and the slalom globes again, even though she is leading in all of those categories except for GS, where she is in second place.

When one summarizes her 2019-20 season to date, one writes, “Mikaela Shiffrin has won six World Cups,” as if that were a disappointing result. While the number pales in comparison to 17, every other athlete on the World Cup would give vital organs to have six World Cup wins in a season.

The numbers bear that out. Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, as much as she has been a thorn in Shiffrin’s side, has four World Cup wins this season. Last year was her breakout campaign and she still won “only” five times. Henrik Kristoffersen also got his fourth win on Tuesday.

With six wins — and still, two full months left in the season — Shiffrin has already doubled up Alexis Pinturault, Matthias Mayer, and Federica Brignone, all of whom have one three times this season.

Looking ahead on the calendar, after the stop in Russia, the tour hits Garmisch, Germany, for a downhill and super-G. We don’t know Shiffrin’s plans for those races, but we’ll bet the house that she’ll be in Maribor, Slovenia, for GS and slalom on Feb. 15-16

Shiffrin wins World Cup super-G for two speed wins in three days

BANSKO, Bulgaria — Following three weeks without a win in her favorite technical events, Mikaela Shiffrin bounced back with two triumphs in speed races in three days.

The three-time overall champion from the United States won a women’s World Cup super-G Sunday, two days after she won a downhill on the same hill.

It marked the first time in Shiffrin’s career that she won two speed events in the same weekend.

Shiffrin used her outstanding giant slalom skills to navigate the many sharp turns on the Marc Girardelli course and beat another technical specialist, Italy’s Marta Bassino, by 0.29 seconds.

Shiffrin was about three tenths ahead of Bassino’s time from the first split and the margin hardly changed throughout her run.

“I took a little bit of risk,” Shiffrin said. “I had a really crazy run. I was going really aggressive. It’s the perfect surface, it’s perfect conditions, and I really like the course, obviously.”

It was Shiffrin’s first win in the discipline since clinching the super-G world title in February, and she went top of the season standings.

Former overall champion Lara Gut-Behrami of Switzerland was 0.70 behind in third for her first podium result of the season.

One of Shiffrin’s main rivals for the overall title, Federica Brignone, was leading by 0.08 at the final split time but the Italian lost her balance as she hooked a gate and slid off the course.

“Fede is skiing so well,” Shiffrin said about Brignone. “I saw Marta’s run and I thought, ‘that looks really good and fast.’ And I expected Fede would be just going hard again, too. I know that she’s so hungry and motivated and she’s skiing amazing right now. It was lucky for me, unlucky for her.”

Viktoria Rebensburg, who led the discipline standings going into the race, finished outside the top 10, while the winner of the previous super-G, Sofia Goggia, skipped the race to rest her bruised right ankle following the Italian’s crash in Friday’s downhill.

With two wins and Saturday’s fourth place in another downhill, Shiffrin left the Bulgarian resort with 250 points, extending her lead in the overall standings to 370 points over Brignone and 395 over Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, who finished Sunday’s race in sixth.

Shiffrin’s sixth victory of the season was her 66th career win, leaving her one short of Marcel Hirscher’s tally. The Austrian record eight-time overall champion, who retired in the off-season, is third on the all-time winners list, behind Ingemar Stenmark (86) and Lindsey Vonn (82).

The women’s World Cup travels to the 2014 Olympic venue in Rosa Khutor for a downhill and super-G next weekend.