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Shiffrin misses podium in second race back, Vlhova wins again

Mikaela Shiffrin competes during the first run of the World Cup women's slalom race on Sunday in Levi, Finland. The back-to-back slalom races in Levi are the first two of nine slalom races on the World Cup circuit this season. (Jussi Nukari
AP)

After finishing second in her first race in almost 300 days on Saturday, Mikaela Shiffrin followed it up Sunday with a fifth-place finish in the women’s World Cup slalom in Levi, Finland. Petra Vlhova won Sunday’s race, her fifth slalom victory in a row dating back to last year.

“It’s incredible to be here,” Shiffrin said on the U.S. Ski Team’s social media accounts. “I had two really solid races and it was an incredible weekend. I feel really grateful that I’m able to do these races and I was able to participate again.”

The back-to-back slaloms on Saturday and Sunday in Levi were the first two slalom races of the season for the women, with seven more remaining on the schedule.

The U.S. ski team said Shiffrin was “feeling a bit lethargic” and “still trying to figure out how to manage her energy levels,” a day after her comeback to racing.

For Shiffrin, the winningest slalom skier in history with 43 victories, she is looking up in the standings at Vlhova. Since January 2017, all 28 World Cup slaloms have been won by either Shiffrin (19 wins) or Vlhova.

Shiffrin, a four-time winner at Levi, was fourth after the first of two runs on Sunday and ended +0.93 behind Vlhova (1:49.05). Vlhova held off a challenge from Michelle Gisin, who finished second. The two were tied with the same time after one run Sunday. Katharina Liensberger was a half-second behind in third. Finishing fifth, Shiffrin missed the podium in a slalom race for the first time in nearly three years.

Shiffrin was the top American on Sunday, with 13 different countries represented. Americans Paula Moltzen finished 23rd and Lila Lapanja finished 25th.

While Shiffrin and the rest of the U.S. Ski Team spent time at Copper Mountain training ahead of the World Cup circuit, races will remain in Europe with the North American stops canceled due to COVID-19. The women’s next race is a parallel Nov. 26 in Lech Zurs, followed by super-Gs in St. Moritz on Dec. 5 and Dec. 6.

“Today I leave Levi with big confidence,” Vlhova told The Associated Press after the race Sunday. “I feel that this year, I have a lot of power, a lot of confidence. For the next races I will try to do the same but it is not easy to take the victory.”

For Shiffrin, though, right now the simple act of stepping into the start gate should be a victory.

World Cup change may help Mikaela Shiffrin

It’s kind of fun for something normal to happen in the time of COVID-19.

Lech-Zurs, Switzerland, was scheduled to host a men’s and women’s World Cup parallel giant slalom next weekend, but FIS postponed the event. Lech-Zurs doesn’t have enough snow yet.

Yes, we’re a snowsports community and we want everyone, including ourselves, to be digging out every day, but how delightfully normal is it that Lech-Zurs, sister ski resort to Beaver Creek, just doesn’t have snow?

It’s much better than a COVID outbreak, no?

So the early-season World Cup is rearranged yet again, but it could have a nice effect for everyone’s favorite skier — Mikaela Pauline Shiffrin. (No, I didn’t know her middle name was Pauline.)

Shiffrin was uncommitted to the Lech-Zurs parallel GS as scheduled for Nov. 14. She pulled out of Soelden, Austria, the season opening GS, ostensibly from “tweaking” her back, but it’s not an over-reach to say she is still mourning her father, Jeff, who died in early February.

With Lech-Zurs pushed from a week from today to Nov. 28. Shiffrin’s new first event is now a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 21. Not only is that an extra week for physical healing, but her first race of the season will be in a comfortable place.

Whereas Lech-Zurs was the only site for GS and slalom racing on the 2020-21 calendar where Shiffrin has not won a race — it hasn’t hosted a World Cup event since Dec. 1994, three months before she was born — Levi is as much of a home as any place in Finland can be.

Having skipped this stop in 2015, since 2012 Shiffrin has finished 3-1-11-1-2-1-1 in Levi slaloms. Not only does her success there mean that she has four reindeer named Rudolph, Sven, Mr. Gru and Ingemar in Finland, but she knows the routine of racing here.

Yes, doubtless, all veterans of the tour have routines be it races in Levi, Soelden, Cortina, Italy, and so on, but the small things like having a favorite place to stay, knowing the places to eat, how long it takes to go from X to Y are important, helpful things when your life has been turned upside down.

A little certainty goes a long way.

World Cup TV news

With the World Cup season getting underway in earnest in two weeks, NBC Sports announced that its coverage will air on Peacock Premium. If you have Snow Pass from NBC, you will have to change over.

Peacock Premium runs $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year. Those prices do not include the coffee required to watch the races here in Colorado during the early morning hours.

Fund update

The Jeff Shiffrin Athlete Resiliency Fund seems to be doing well, according to a tweet from Shiffrin.

While the tweet was not specific regarding financial numbers, the U.S. Ski Team is reporting that it has raised roughly $2.8 million of its $3 million goal.

The fund, founded to honor Jeff Shiffrin, aims to help fund snowsport athletes meet their expenses during COVID-19.

French COVID-19 lockdown puts World Cup season in doubt

We start by saying that a month is a lifetime in the world of coronavirus. We’ve learned that much since March.

One month ago today was the first of what would be three presidential debates. I do not pick the first presidential debate to bring up politics, but just to say who would have thought that President Donald Trump would have tested positive for COVID-19 later that week and the ensuing tumult?

According to CNN, California and Nevada were loosening restrictions on gatherings. We had survived the summer surge. The NFL was warning its teams to “remain vigilant” with regard to the virus after the Tennessee Titans had positive tests. (How’d that work? Hint: Not well.)

Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, warned about a new wave of COVID cases with the winter approaching.

One month later, the president seems well out of danger with his health, a third wave seems to be spreading across the U.S., while France and Germany are also bracing for another outbreak. The former is locking down again, while the latter is limiting public gatherings.

We only bring this up because of the question, “What happens in another month?”

In a little more than a month, France is scheduled to host the first of four World Cup stops in December. Ironically, the first of those four are men’s giant-slalom races in Val d’Isere on Dec. 5-6, the weekend we usually host Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek.

The tour is meant to be in Val d’Isere three straight weekends in December — women’s and men’s speed races follow the GS races — while the women also have tech races in Courcheval.

What happens if France is still locked down?

Don’t go there

Well, we could revert to the original calendar and move those races right back to Lake Louise, Alberta, Killington, Vermont and Beaver Creek?

No, for several reasons.

The first is that COVID-19 is going strong on this side of the pond. No. 2, the European teams were happy to use COVID-19 as an excuse to make 2020-21 essentially a European tour this season. They hate having to fly over here. (European racers are still offended that Beaver Creek hosted the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.)

And then, there are the logistics. You can’t just reassemble World Cup events on a month’s notice. Yes, Beaver Creek and North American ski resorts are making snow, but it takes an army of people to run these races from parking attendants to forerunners to race crews to have a World Cup.

Not happening, people.

But what happens if Val d’Isere or Courcheval can’t host? Does the International Ski Federation (FIS) try to move eight races, not an insignificant portion of the schedule, somewhere else? Does FIS start canceling events? Is a World Cup season a season if there are only 20 events? (For your information, there are meant to be 38 events for the gents, 34 for the ladies and 11 at worlds.)

What if …

COVID spreads in Europe? All of the World Cup races in December and January are in France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia and Germany. We’re talking seven countries clustered together geographically.

In February, the worlds are in Cortina, Italy, in a country that has experienced considerable COVID-19 trauma already. A quick note here: Last summer, Cortina asked FIS to postpone the championships to 2022 after the Beijing Olympics. FIS said no.

Since I love trivia and am required to cite it: The 1995 worlds in Sierra Nevada, Spain, were the last time the event was moved — to 1996 — because of a lack of snow.

The bottom line is that we have no idea what this year’s World Cup season will look like. Will there be events in France? Will the worlds happen? Will there be the traditional stretch of Wengen, Switzerland, and Kitzbuehel, Austria, in January?

Let’s hope a lot can still happen in a month.

World Cup, without Mikaela Shiffrin, starts Saturday

Mikaela Shiffrin won’t be racing, but the show does go on this weekend at the World Cup’s traditional season opener, Saturday’s women’s giant slalom in Soelden, Austria.

Quick trivia: Who won last year’s Soelden women’s GS? It’s not one of the usual suspects.

Alice Robinson of New Zealand. You remember that, right? Shiffrin was second and France’s Tessa Worley took third.

That’s a good reminder, as with football watching, not to put too much of an emphasis on the first race. After finishing second to Shiffrin at the 2019 World Cup finals in March, Robinson’s win last October was meant to be her great launching-pad victory into being a Shiffrin challenger.

Robinson ended up having knee issues that led to an inconsistent season, which did include another win in GS in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, in February while Shiffrin was out.

The bigger takeaway from Soelden 2019 was that Shiffrin finished second and Slovakian Petra Vlhova was 14th. Since Vlhova was considered Shiffrin’s main competition in all things GS and slalom, we were all excited about how Mikaela had an 80-14 lead coming out of the first race over the Slovakian.

Then Shiffrin won the Levi, Finland slalom with Vlhova DNF-ing, a 100-point swing and Mikaela was going to cruise easily to titles in GS, slalom and the overall.

Obviously, it didn’t go that way with Shiffrin struggling during parts of December and January. It’s important to define struggling. When Shiffrin struggles, it doesn’t mean that she forgot how to ski. She just didn’t destroy everything and everyone in her wake, which we had assumed after her ridiculous 2018-19 with 17 World Cup wins and 19 victories including the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

And then, of course, Shiffrin’s father passed away Feb. 2, and COVID-19 entered our vocabulary and the season went off the rails in all sorts of ways.

Every year is different and the 2020-21 women’s World Cup will be so in many ways. About the only thing we know is that, with Shiffrin having returned to the United States with a back injury, someone not named Mikaela will be leading the standings after Saturday.

A refresher

Since Shiffrin didn’t race in what ended up being the last month of the season, February, because of her situation with her father, and coronavirus wiped out March, here’s how last season ended:

  • Federica Brignone, of Italy, won the overall, the giant slalom and the combined globes.
  • Vlhova is the slalom queen, while Switzerland’s Corinne Suter won both the speed disciplines.

This is the first time since the beginning of the 2016-17 season that Shiffrin enters a season without a title to defend. That said, everyone on the white circus knows that Shiffrin is the de facto favorite in every GS and slalom she enters and is the best bet for the overall.

Vhlova and the age of specialization

Part of the reason that Shiffrin is the favorite is that she is one of only five returning racers who scored in all four disciplines last year. (Brignone, Vlhova and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener and Michelle Gisin.)

More races equal more chances to score points, and in an increasing era of specialization, well, there just aren’t that many who can compete in every race like Tina Maze, Lindsey Vonn and Maria Hoefl-Riesch did in the past.

Do watch out for Vlhova.

The Slovakian, best known for her tech skills, started to branch out last season into speed and met with successful results. Vlhova finished second in the super-G points — ahead of Shiffrin in third — with three top 10 finishes last season. She even had a top 10 (fourth) in downhill in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

And if you’re handicapping the season, Brignone may be a bit behind the 8-ball as there will be no combined events this season because of COVID-19. (Ski racers hanging around a slope all day is bad for social distancing.) Two-hundred of her 1,288 points came in the combi last season and she only beat Shiffrin by 92 points last year.

What does Shiffrin want?

This is the biggest question. Last week when Shiffrin withdrew from Soelden after “tweaking” her back, we noted the timing was strange. If it was a tweak, don’t you hang around to see if your back gets better, so you can give it a try, right?

Apparently not. Maybe the back was more than a tweak? We’re not doctors and we don’t play them on TV, however, if you combine a wonky back with a little bit of perfectly understandable indecision on life after your father died, as was reported by many news outlets, we might be getting closer.

“It’s a little bit tough to not feel what’s underlying everything,” Shiffrin said to The Washington Post. “When someone says, ‘How are you doing?’ it’s normally with this different tone. And I’m like, ‘We only have 30 seconds here. Can we realistically chat? I don’t know if you really want me to get into that.’

“And on a daily basis, I might be like, ‘Well, at this moment, my eyes are dry, and we’re having a conversation. I’d say that’s a pretty good moment.’”

I really related to this. When people asked me “How are you doing?” after my father died unexpectedly, I had two responses. The first was that I wanted to punch them in the face because I deal with uncertainty with anger. The second was that I wanted to fly past the automatic, “Fine,” and tell them how I was actually doing — in vivid detail.

Though Shiffrin seems, from outward appearance, to be doing as best as she can with the loss of her father, there is no formula for grieving. My guess is that there’ll be times this season when Mikaela looks like “old Mikaela” and has one of her dominant weekends sweeping up everyone. And there’ll be times she’s just not sharp, just not all there.

The thing, we as fans have to remember, is that in most of our professions a lapse in concentration often means a correctable mistake. For Shiffrin, a lapse in concentration could end up with her in some fence netting with an injury.

Take your time, Mikaela.

Lindsey Vonn opens up about Mikaela Shiffrin, other topics in YouTube interview airing this weekend

In an interview with YouTube journalist Graham Bensinger airing this weekend, Lindsey Vonn discusses a variety of topics, including her relationship with Mikaela Shiffrin as well as questioning the current ski racer for not taking as much of a leadership role on the U.S. Ski Team.

The website, Swnowbrains.com, posted clips of the interview from “In Depth with Graham Besinger,” where Vonn says that she doesn’t think that Shiffrin is the GOAT of skiing and that Shiffrin should take a more active role with the national team. The full interview comes out later this weekend.

In the clip posted, Bensinger starts with “Outside Magazine’s” article, published in November 2018 and repackaged on Feb. 2, 2019, just before that year’s FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Are, Sweden. Bensinger claims that the magazine called Shiffrin “the greatest skier ever,” when the publication said that, “Mikaela Shiffrin’s only competition is Mikaela Shiffrin: The fastest woman on skis isn’t slowing down.”

Bensinger asks Vonn for her reaction and she replies, “She is the greatest slalom skier. That’s without question. But I think there’s a lot of sensationalism. The media does a lot. They take one thing and generalize it and it becomes totally different. That was at a time that I was still racing and still winning and it’s great for her, but I still feel like it was disrespectful to me. She’s not responsible for what other people write about her.”

For the record, Shiffrin has made no such claim to being the GOAT.

“It’s not that it bothers me,” Vonn continued in the Bensinger interview. “I felt like it wasn’t accurate and it’s not being honest. Say it — she’s the greatest slalom skier ever of all time. Just say that. It’s not that hard. Don’t make it something that it’s not.”

Vonn makes the point clear to Bensinger that she does not consider her relationship with Shiffrin “challenging,” but it’s also not the first time the two have seen things differently.

During the 2019 worlds, right after the Outside Magazine article was republished, Vonn expressed surprise at Shiffrin skipping the downhill and combined after winning the super-G to start the championships. Vonn said that she felt that Shiffrin could win all five races in Are.

Shiffrin ended up winning gold medals in both the super-G and slalom with a bronze in giant slalom, while Vonn wrapped her career with third in the downhill. Shiffrin replied that those races weren’t a part of her plan, saying, “My goal has never been to break records for most (World Cup) wins, points or most medals at world champs. My goal is to be a true contender every time I step into the start.”

It is not uncommon in the ski-racing world to draw comparisons to Vonn and Shiffrin. They are unquestionably the best two racers, regardless of gender, the United States has ever produced. Vonn has won 82 World Cups to Shiffrin’s 66. Shiffrin has the edge in worlds and Olympic medals.

However one compares them, the fact remains that they are vastly different people and athletes. Vonn is outgoing and never afraid to say what she thinks, whether it’s about ski racing, politics or any other subject. Shiffrin is more private, only opening up occasionally about personal subjects like her father’s passing earlier this year.

Athletically, Vonn’s a speedster and Shiffrin’s a tech specialist, though both have crossed over into each other’s strengths with success.

A candid assessment of who’s the GOAT is that Vonn is the greatest of all time now, having won 82 World Cups, while Shiffrin may take over that role if she surpasses Vonn. And we’re on safe ground saying that Vonn is the world’s best downhiller/speed racer, while Shiffrin is queen of making turns.

Vonn also spoke out with Bensinger about Shiffrin leading the U.S. Ski Team, whose depth is somewhat questionable. Vonn said that the two of them always had a cordial relationship when competing, but that Shiffrin might step up her role with the squad.

“You know, I repeatedly, you know, tried to, you know, we, we always help each other with our course reports and I think I just, uh, I don’t, we didn’t have a challenging relationship,” Vonn said. “She just, she had her own thing and she didn’t really wanna be involved or have my help or have anyone’s help for that matter …”

“I mean everyone has their own approach and hers is different from anyone else’s, and that’s why maybe she’s successful. Um, but I also think as a professional athlete and, you know, someone who’s the greatest of all time, it’s your responsibility to help others. Like you’re in a role that you could positively impact so many people and I don’t feel like that’s being utilized in the way that it could be.”

Mikaela Shiffrin tweaks back, will miss World Cup start in Soelden

Well, this is not going as scheduled.

Eight days before the first race of the season, Mikaela Shiffrin is withdrawing from next week’s World Cup giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, and returning to the United States.

On Friday morning, Mikaela Shiffrin announced on her social media that she has tweaked her back and will not race.

“After tweaking my back skiing last week, I have been advised to sit Soelden out to let my back heal so I can race the rest of the season,” Shiffrin said in a Facebook post Friday morning.

As most of you probably know (if you don’t then mark your calendars now!) the FIS Alpine World Cup Tour opener at Sölden…

Posted by Mikaela Shiffrin on Friday, October 9, 2020

With the World Cup ski races staying in Europe this year and the cancellation of the North American races due to COVID-19, including the men’s Birds of Prey races at Beaver Creek, Shiffrin will be flying home.

After Soelden, the next race is a parallel event on Nov. 13 in Lech/Zurs, Austria.

The bigger question?

So — to the bigger question — how much of this is injury and how much of this is the grieving process?

No one doubts Shiffrin’s toughness. In December 2015, she did her ACL. By Feb. 15, 2016, she returned to ski racing and won a World Cup slalom in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. She’s as tough as nails.

As everyone knows, he father, Jeff, passed away on Feb. 2. Shiffrin raced back to be by his side and took a little more than a month off. Her planned return was stymied by COVID-19. She was back in Europe for races in Are, Sweden, when the International Ski Federation called the rest of the season for COVID-19.

Earlier this week, she spoke to The Associated Press’ Eric Willemsen about how the death of her grandmother and father may have changed her perspective.

“I used to worry about winning ski races, and maybe I will again,” Shiffrin said Tuesday in a conference call, according to the AP. “But then my nana died (in October 2019), and I still worried about winning ski races. And then my dad died, and I just gave up ski racing altogether and thought I wouldn’t come back at all.”

Again, according to AP, she has asked the question we all ask ourselves at one point or another, “Is it worth it?”

Both things can be true — she tweaked her back and she’s not ready to compete. As much as a super-human as she appears to be in the Alpine world — start listing three World Cup championships, two Olympic gold medals, five wins at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships and 66 World Cup wins — she is still a 25-year-old young woman, and that is young in the greater perspective of things, who is dealing with the loss of her father.

Breaking it down

Shiffrin called her back injury “a tweak.” With seven days until the Soelden GS, one might think that Shiffrin stays in Europe and sees how it goes with her back. Maybe she feels better in a few days and races.

Then she said, “I have been advised to sit Soelden out to let my back heal so I can race the rest of the season.” That seems like more than a tweak. Skier’s backs, of course, are a mess. They absorb a pounding and Shiffrin has reported back issues before. Is this going to be a recurring injury?

There’s also the issue of getting back on snow. Shiffrin was as ready as anyone can be after a devastating loss to return last march and then COVID hit. Soelden in a week was another chance to get “the first race back” out of the way, and that’s not happening.

But, maybe, she’s not ready.

As The Washington Post wrote, the simple question of “How are you doing?” is understandably complicated for Shiffrin.

“It’s a little bit tough to not feel what’s underlying everything,” Shiffrin said to The Post. “When someone says, ‘How are you doing?’ it’s normally with this different tone. And I’m like, ‘We only have 30 seconds here. Can we realistically chat? I don’t know if you really want me to get into that.’

“And on a daily basis, I might be like, ‘Well, at this moment, my eyes are dry, and we’re having a conversation. I’d say that’s a pretty good moment.’”

This may be the first of many starts and stops this season. Grief is a process for everyone and there is no standard timeline. And remember, most people aren’t grieving as they’re speeding down a mountainside. When you’re whizzing down a hill, it’s best that all your concentration be there.

Mikaela Shiffrin ponders skiing future after father’s death

VIENNA — A year that turned Mikaela Shiffrin’s world upside down has left the American standout wondering how much time she has left in ski racing, with the start of the new season fast approaching.

The double Olympic and three-time overall World Cup champion hasn’t truly considered quitting the sport, but is questioning how long all the traveling will still be worth it.

Being home, close to family, has become even more important to the 25-year-old since the death of her father, Jeff Shiffrin, in early February.

“I used to worry about winning ski races, and maybe I will again,” Shiffrin said Tuesday in a conference call. “But then my nana died (in October 2019), and I still worried about winning ski races. And then my dad died, and I just gave up ski racing altogether and thought I wouldn’t come back at all.”

She has asked herself, “Is it worth it?”

“The whole season is in Europe and we are away from home for around six months during the season, and for another two months during the summer period. I am home not very often,” Shiffrin said.

“I have so much passion and I want to do this, and here I am, and I’m doing it, but it also takes me away from the people that I love,” she said. “At some point that is going to be too much. My brother is back home, I am not going to see him for a pretty long time, but my mom is traveling with me. If she was not able to come, I would not be here, 100 percent.”

Also, she started thinking about what her dad would have wanted her to do.

“I don’t think my dad would want me to stop for him. But it is also hard to know that because he can’t be here to tell me. Those are the things that I struggle with: How long will it be worth the travel, being away from home, all of those things,” she said. “In a way it was a consideration, but I wasn’t thinking: OK, I am going to quit now.”

When Shiffrin pushes out of the start gate for the World Cup season opener on Oct. 17 in Soelden, Austria, it will have been nearly nine months since her last race — when she picked up her 66th career win at a super-G in Bulgaria.

She was sitting out speed races in Sochi the following week at the time of her father’s accident at the family’s home in Colorado. She and her mother, Eileen, rushed back to the United States.

Having lost her lead in the overall ranking to Federica Brignone and in the slalom standings to Petra Vlhova five weeks later, Shiffrin returned to Europe in mid-March for races in Sweden but was denied a chance to compete as the remainder of the season was canceled amid the COVID-19 outbreak, which prompted them to return to the United States.

Forced to stay at home, the pandemic helped Shiffrin in trying to come to terms with the loss of her father.

She took to social media several times, sharing how she was trying to cope.

“I actually find it easier to talk about that publicly, more than privately. People would expect that I might feel this way, so it’s almost easier to say it then,” Shiffrin said. “Sometimes it’s easier to say something to the public on Instagram, something that maybe would help other people and that’s a little bit motivation to speak about it. When I’m talking privately to basically anybody, it’s a lot more difficult to talk about it.”

In September, the Shiffrin family teamed up with a group of six donors in creating the Jeff Shiffrin Athlete Resiliency Fund, aiming to sustain coaching, training camps, and competition expenses for American athletes in the current, challenging times, with the 2022 Beijing Olympics only 16 months away.

Earlier, Shiffrin had gone back on skis after 16 weeks without training, almost twice as much as the usual nine-week off-season break.

The team got 10 days at Copper Mountain and 14 more at Mount Hood. And after arriving in Europe last week, Shiffrin trained twice with the Austrian team.

“One day I was pretty far behind, one day I was OK,” she said. “It’s like having an injury but you can’t really see it. It takes some time to come back in the right way, to be mentally ready to focus that hard and put in so much effort to be that fast again.”

Off the slopes she is not totally at ease, either, in the Austrian Alps. Walking through the village, memories pop up.

“My dad came to Soelden a couple of times,” she said. “We go into the grocery store and I think about the time he was here and maybe I can feel him, but otherwise it is pretty hard to feel him close here, so that is really uncomfortable.”

It is a feeling, Shiffrin is aware, that will not disappear.

“That is something for my mom and me, we have to get used to the feeling of being uncomfortable, because we can’t stay inside the house forever. It’s part of the process, I guess.”

Mikaela Shiffrin gets 2020-21 World Cup slate

The International Ski Federation announced on Saturday that Saalbach, Austria, will host the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in 2025.

Saalbach beat out Garmisch, Germany, and Crans Montana, Switzerland, and last hosted the championships in 1993. Austria will be hosting worlds for the first time in 12 years (Schladming, 2013), which is an eternity for the Land of Mountains.

This will be the ninth time Austria, the premier ski power in the world, is doing the honors since the event started in 1931.

The 2021 worlds are in Cortina, Italy, in February and Courchevel-Meribel, France, takes its turn in 2023. The United States has only hosted four times with Aspen in 1950 and Vail/Beaver Creek in 1989, 1999 and 2015.

Also on Saturday, FIS officially set its schedule for the 2020-21 World Cup season. While previously announced, there will be no North American stops due to COVID-19 on the tour. That includes the usual Birds of Prey men’s stop in Beaver Creek as well as visits to Lake Louise, Alberta, (men and women) and Killington, Vermont (women).

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Killington is a particular favorite of Mikaela Shiffrin. Not only are the races there the only on American snow, but she went to nearby Burke Academy.

After the traditional giant slalom opener in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 17, the season starts in earnest with a parallel event in Lech/Zurs, Austria (Nov. 13). On what would be Killington weekend, the ladies are in Levi, Finland, for two slaloms (Nov. 21-22).

The first speed of the year is now in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Dec. 5-6, when the ladies would usually be in Lake Louise and the men in Beaver Creek.

Fun with numbers

With the slate out, some observations:

  • Advantage tech racers: There are only 15 speed events and 19 tech races.
  • Shiffrin has won at every site hosting a World Cup giant slalom or slalom this season, except for Lech/Zurs, which has not hosted the circuit since December 1994. Shiffrin was born March 13, 1995.
  • Shiffrin has four World Cup wins each in Levi, Courchevel, Semmering, Austria, Zagreb, Croatia, and Maribor, Slovenia, all stops on the white circus this season. Madame also has won four times in Are, Sweden, thrice on the World Cup and once at worlds in 2019.
  • Speaking of words, Shiffrin has never competed in a World Cup tech event in Cortina. The Italian resort is traditionally a speed stop for the ladies. Nonetheless, Shiffrin won super-G there on Jan. 20, 2019. While her focus during the championships is usually GS and slalom (she’s won this discipline in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019), she should be set up to compete in speed, if she so chooses.
  • What about China? The women are scheduled to head out to Yanqing after worlds for a downhill and a super-G. This is relevant for Shiffrin because it’s the much-delayed test event for the 2022 Winter Olympics. While post-worlds is generally a bit of rest time for Shiffrin, this might be a go because she seems to like Olympic medals (gold in slalom in 2014 and a win in GS in 2018).
  • World Cup finals are in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. The last two times this course hosted finals in 2013 and 2014, some woman named Shiffrin won the slalom to close out the season.

Mikaela Shiffrin appears on ‘Today,’ promoting new fund in honor of her father

Mikaela Shiffrin appeared on NBC’s “Today” on Tuesday to promote the new “Jeff Shiffrin Athlete Resiliency Fund.”

Always a pleasure to be on the Today Show, and this time it was extra special, as I was able to introduce the U.S. Ski &…

Posted by Mikaela Shiffrin on Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Shiffrin’s father passed away on Feb. 2 as the result of an accident. In the early aftermath of that event, the Shiffrin family understandably was shaken up and didn’t have a grasp of how they wanted to honor their patriarch.

“But then a very big U.S. Ski Team supporter came to us and said, ‘You could start either a foundation or a fund in your dad’s name,'” Shiffrin told the “Today Show.” “‘We already have several families who are willing to commit to match $1.5 million.'”

Shiffrin went on to explain, “Then U.S. Ski and Snowboard would raise the other 1.5 to help bridge the gap for athletes who are really, really struggling during this time, having to work second and third jobs, not being able to because it’s a pandemic, and just trying to get back training in their sports — bridging the gap and also leading up to our Olympics coming up in a little more than a year and a half and making sure that our winter athletes are prepared to go in there and do well.”

And thus, Shiffrin presented the new fund.

While on the air with NBC, Shiffrin caught everyone else up on her summer. With “Today” emanating from the East Coast, the hosts weren’t as familiar with Colorado geography, asking if Shiffrin and her family were affected by the western wildfires.

Shiffrin politely expressed concern for the situation, but said that she and her family did not receive an evacuation order in Edwards.

Shiffrin did share that one of her last conversations with her father was about the coronavirus. Jeff said that he thought it would be a bigger deal than the media had hinted in late January.

“We wish he was here for every reason you could think of. He was a doctor and he could have told us what to do during this time,” Shiffrin said. “We’ve just been kind of flailing around trying to be smart. One of my last conversations with him was about COVID. He was basically warning me and my mom that we should take it seriously.”

Shiffrin, after taking a month off from the World Cup to mourn her father, returned to Sweden for a scheduled stop in Are before the tour scrubbed the rest of the season in early March.

Shiffrin showed the NBC audience videos of her dryland workouts and said that she has gotten some limited time on snow at Copper Mountain during the spring as well as at Mount Hood, Oregon, earlier this summer.

The season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, is still set for Oct. 17.

Mikaela Shiffrin “never wastes a meter of vertical space,” says AVSC coach

When it comes to training, Mikaela Shiffrin has a reputation for being as intense as it gets. That’s part of the reason she’s won three overall World Cup titles, five world championships and two Olympic gold medals, all before she turned 25 this past March.

And Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club coach Eric Colon found out firsthand just how valid that reputation is when he had the chance to work with the superstar ski racer this summer.

“One of the big takeaways I had from getting to experience working with her up close was just how professional she is and how hard she works,” Colon said. “She’s got an incredible work ethic and it’s highly disciplined and highly focused. Every single run counts. She doesn’t ever take a run off. She is always working on specific targets. She never wastes a meter of vertical space.”

Colon is entering his sixth season with AVSC, where he is the head U14 alpine coach. He doesn’t have any direct ties with Shiffrin, per se, but does with Shiffrin’s coach, Mike Day. The two actually went to school together at Carrabassett Valley Academy in Maine, where Colon was a couple of years older than Day.

However, the two hadn’t seen each other in roughly three decades until recently, with Shiffrin making more frequent trips to Aspen to use the Stapleton Training Center at Aspen Highlands. And Colon has often been a helping hand for Shiffrin and her crew when they make the trek to use AVSC’s premiere training venue.

“He came out with Mikaela to train in November and I kind of reconnected with him then and had a couple of conversations,” Colon said of Day. “He was basically here by himself as a coach, so he just needed an extra hand setting courses, maintaining the course and all that kind of stuff. So I went up and helped them out. Then he asked me at the end of that time if I’d be interested in doing a guest coaching camp with them over the summer, if something worked out.”

Turns out, despite the coronavirus pandemic, something did work out. With many of Shiffrin’s usual international coaches and staff not allowed to travel because of COVID-19 restrictions, Day was left scrambling to find additional help for a private camp at Mt. Hood. And that’s how Colon snagged a spot inside Shiffrin’s seven-person bubble for her three-week camp from July 17 to Aug. 4 in Oregon.

Mikaela Shiffrin and her team, including AVSC coach Eric Colon, trained at Mt. Hood earlier this summer.
Courtesy photo

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The elite skiers are typically skiing in places like South America and even Europe this time of year but because of the pandemic, U.S. Ski & Snowboard athletes have been left trying to find snow here at home, and Mt. Hood is one of the only places that still has any to offer this late into the summer.

Many other members of the U.S. national team were there training on and off at the same time as Shiffrin, but they did their best to keep the groups separated.

“We tried not to ride the chairlift with people outside our bubble and it seemed to work really well,” Colon said. “We really remained in our bubble. Didn’t interact much with people outside the bubble, and if we did we were very strict about the 6-foot distance and wearing masks.”

Shiffrin hasn’t spent much time on snow recently. She was on pace to win her fourth consecutive overall World Cup title — her first came in 2017 when Aspen hosted the finals — but saw her season end abruptly after the death of her father, Jeff Shiffrin, on Feb. 2.

About five weeks later, and after a brief training stint in Aspen, Shiffrin was in Are, Sweden, getting ready for her return to racing before the season was canceled because of the spreading coronavirus.

Other than a brief camp in June at Copper Mountain, Mt. Hood was her first opportunity to really get back on snow.

“She doesn’t just slide down to the lift. She is working on something,” Colon said. “She is doing a drill or she is trying to find engagement in her skis. She is always focused. It’s such a short amount of time for a ski racer to be able to train; to find training space is difficult. She utilizes her time as much as she possibly can.”

As intense as Shiffrin is while training and racing, she also has a reputation for being very friendly and engaging, especially with her fans. Colon plans to take that part of Shiffrin back to his AVSC athletes this winter, as well as her training prowess.

If there is one thing that stands out in regard to training kids, Colon said it’s getting them to commit to focusing on the fundamentals. And of the many traits that make Shiffrin stand out is how hard she continues to work on the basics, even after 66 World Cup victories.

“It’s hard to get them to focus on some of the minutia of their fundamental skiing. And I think it’s really important for them to see and to know that the best ski racer in the world is still working on that same stuff we are asking them to work on,” Colon said. “She is incredible. She is such a good person. She is smart, classy, kind, personable, funny, generous and, most importantly, humble. She is always willing to flash a young kid a smile and a wave and a hello and take a picture.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com