SKI LINES – As the ski season rolls out these days, there has been a lot of talk lately about G.O.A.T.s: The Greatest of All Time — Michael Jordan? Wayne Gretzky? Tiger Woods? Muhammed Ali? You can still see 45-year-old Tom Brady play in Tampa Bay next week, if you are willing to shell out $250 for an end-zone seat at Raymond James Stadium.
But hold on. For a $5 admission fee this weekend, you can watch ski phenom Mikaela Shiffrin compete in World Cup slalom and giant slalom events in person at nearby Killington, Vermont, as she continues her remarkable career that, barring injury, could have her become the most successful alpine racer ever by the end of winter.
Shiffrin, who won’t turn 28 until February, already has 77 World Cup wins after adding two more in Finland last weekend. The most career victories ever is 87 by Swedish racer Ingmar Stenmark, who competed in the 1980s. The most by a woman is 82 by Lindsey Vonn, who was 34 when she retired in 2019.
Shiffrin is one of those rare athletes whose achievements are being cheered from all corners. She was a prodigy, earning her first World Cup start at 15, her first top-three finish at 16 and her first victory the next winter. At 18, she became the youngest alpine skier ever to earn an Olympic gold medal when she won the slalom event at Sochi in 2014, Her 49 World Cup wins in the slalom event is the most every by any skier. Her 17 victories in 2019 is a record for wins in a single season, and she is the first athlete ever to win a World Cup victory in all six race disciplines.
And that success has always come with grace and dignity.
The path hasn’t always been a smooth one for Shiffrin, who missed a part of the 2016 season with a knee injury and has battled ongoing back issues. Her family has always played a large role in her racing career, and it was a stunner when her father died suddenly in an accident two winters ago. Then she suffered uncharacteristic falls in her Olympic slalom races last year. A four-time Olympic medalist in prior years, she was shut out at the Bejiing Games last winter in events where she was favored to win medals.
A meltdown? Shiffrin came back to win her fourth overall season World Cup title last March.
In the past couple of years, there has been considerable attention given to the mental stress that successful young athletes can encounter in meeting expectations. Shiffrin has faced those same disappointments, yet has shown exceptional fortitude and resilience while remaining in the spotlight and achieving success.
After a slow start to the World Cup season due to unseasonable weather in the Alps, Shiffrin won both slalom events last week in Levi, Finland. With wins in every one of the five previous World Cup slalom events at Killington, she is a strong favorite in that competition and the giant slalom race this weekend. Although she lives in Colorado, she is almost a hometown hero, too, having graduated from Burke Academy in Northern Vermont and having relatives in the Berkshires.
While Shiffrin will certainly be the crowd favorite, the races will be no walkovers. This is a World Cup field with some 100 racers from 22 countries entered, including defending overall World Cup slalom and Olympic champion Petra Vlhova from Slovenia. University of Vermont graduate Paula Moltzan and up-and-comer Ava Sunshine, also a Burke Mountain Academy grad, will share in home crowd affection.
After training sessions on Killington’s Superstar trail on Friday, the racing will kick off Saturday with the first run of the giant slalom set for 10 a.m. The second of the two runs will start at 1 p.m.
The slalom competition is Sunday, with the first racer out of the gate at 10:15 a.m. The second run will start at 1 p.m.
General admission tickets can be purchased online for $5, and there is free parking available, Spectators will be screened at the entry point by the new K-1 base lodge area, and bags will be checked. No chairs or glass containers are allowed. There is a World Cup festival village set up at the base area, and food and beverages are available. There is a full schedule of musical entertainment on site, too.
While just the lower part of the race courses will be easily visible to spectators in the base area, two jumbo television screens will be there to show racers on the entire course.
The Killington event has in the past drawn more than 30,000 spectators, making it by far the most highly attended ski race in North America.
KILLINGTON CREW SUPPLIES THE MAGIC
The Northeast was more green than white just two weeks ago, when unseasonable area temperatures approaching 70 degrees raised questions about whether the World Cup races could be held. But there will be world class skiing on Thanksgiving weekend due to a remarkable commitment in recent years by Killington to host World Cup racing in our region, and a great effort by its mountain crew to prepare race courses that meet international standards. Consistent evening temperatures at mountain elevations didn’t start to drop below freezing until Nov. 8, but that gave snowmakers the edge they needed to lay down sufficient snow depths on the Superstar Trail. Killington has long been known for its snow making capabilities, and this time it deployed 120 snow guns manned by 60 snowmakers over a two week period to get the job done.
CHANGE AT WILLARD
The Willard Mountain ski area in Greenwich will be changing hands soon.
Owners Chic and Kris Wilson have a buyer and details are expected to be announced in the next two weeks. Willard first opened in the 1950s and Wilson, who grew up working at the family owned Labrador ski hill in Central New York, took over from the founding Vanderzee family in 1994.
Willard, with a 505-foot vertical, 16 trails and night skiing, has long been known for its learn-to-ski programs and has been popular with school groups and families. For a small area, it also has a strong ski competition tradition that produced former nationally ranked alpine racer Patti Piper and prominent freestyle competitors Bruce Bolesky and John Witt.
Willard will continue operations as in past years this winter. The new owners reportedly are from the local area and have had connections with the ski hill over the years.
SALT LAKE CITY OLYMPIC BID MOVES FORWARD
With strong local support and a shrinking field of hosting candidates, Salt Lake City is in a strong position to win the bid for the Winter Olympics, perhaps as soon as 2030. The next Winter Games are set for 2026 in Milan/Cortina Italy, with the decision on 2030 scheduled to be made next year. With Vancouver, British Columbia, dropping its bid over the summer, Salt Lake and Sapporo, Japan, host of the 1972 Winter Games, remain the only cities currently expressing interest.
Sapporo has recently indicated new concerns over projected costs that would include hefty price tags for new or updated sports facilities. Salt Lake’s facilities from when it hosted the games in 2002 have been maintained and would require far less investment to upgrade.
A remaining issue seems to be timing. Los Angeles will host the summer Olympics in 2028, and some of the organizers there fear that games scheduled for 2030 in Salt Lake might make sponsorships dollars more difficult for both to raise.
Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected].