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.
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“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.
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.”