The ski season is off to a great start. The combination of early snowfall and snowmaking-friendly, below-freezing evening temperatures have many areas in our region already open before the calendar flips to December.
Now a Thanksgiving tradition in the making is the fourth year of women’s World Cup Alpine competition at Killington this weekend. These are the best women skiers in the world squaring off Saturday and Sunday.
A big deal? Think about this.
Many years ago, I was talking with a friend in Chicago who had just celebrated a milestone birthday. He was a Bulls fan, and his wife surprised him with a gift of courtside tickets to watch Michael Jordan in action. The cost: $750 per ticket.
Want to go watch Tom Brady quarterback the New England Patriots? Figure on north of $300 for a good seat, plus another $60 to park in sight of Gillette Stadium.
Now, how about watching ski phenomenon Mikaela Shiffrin race this weekend in Vermont?
The cost of a first-come, first-serve general admission ticket is $0.
The cost to park? That’s $0, too.
There is no charge to see who many believe will become — or already is — the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) in Alpine skiing.
Shiffrin — who lives in Colorado, but has family in our area — is just 24 years old, but already has won two Olympic gold medals, three overall World Ski Championships and 61 World Cup events. The record for most World Cup wins ever is 88 by Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden in the 1970s and 1980s, followed closely by Lindsey Vonn, who retired last year at age 34 with 82 wins.
Shiffrin won 17 events last year alone. In a sport where the top racers often compete into their 30s, barring injury, she has many years left to beat the record and set a new standard.
If things keep going the way they’ve been, she will have an enormous popular fan base cheering her on this weekend. Stenmark, for all his success, was quiet — almost stoic. Vonn was a super-tough competitor, fighting back from a series of injuries that would have stopped most competitors. But her off-the-snow activities, especially in recent years, tended to overshadow her racing achievements, and in the end, she probably did not get the general recognition she deserved.
Shiffrin, on the other hand, is not only a great skier who dominates the slalom competition — her 41 World Cup victories in that discipline is already the record — but has shown she can win speed events, too. She has matured into a delightful personality as well, and is engaging both with the public and the media. She grew up in a very protective family environment; her mom often overruled her coaches, and she traveled abroad with Mikaela for competitions. But if that cocoon was super protective, what has emerged is an adult that those who follow the sport have adopted as their champion.
The race schedule at Killington has the first of two giant slalom runs set for 9:45 a.m. Saturday. The second run will be at 1 p.m. The Sunday event is slalom, and the runs are set for the same time, The winner of both is determined by the combined best time of two runs.
Shiffrin is the defending champion in the slalom and won the World Cup race last week in Finland. What could make this year’s event especially interesting is 17-year-old Alice Robinson, who surprised all by beating Shiffrin two weeks ago in Soelden, Austria in the first giant slalom competition of the season. The New Zealand teenager missed last week’s race with an injury, but may compete at Killington.
Because of the large population of skiers in our region, U.S. and international ski officials are very interested in scheduling an event in the East. Killington has drawn more than 25,000 spectators in each of the past two years, so continuing the event here seems likely, so long as the area continues its willingness to host. Prior to the recent races at Killington, the last World Cup event held in the Northeast was 1991 at Waterville Valley, New Hampshire.
In addition to the competition, the World Cup is a festival with activities scheduled all around the Killington base area near the Superstar race trail. There will be shuttle service from parking lots to the race course.
This will be the first season in almost 20 years in which there will be no ski racer from our region on the U.S. Alpine team.
With Andrew Weibrecht now retired and promising racer Cecily Decker from Saranac Lake electing to go to college this winter, only Keene’s Tommy Biesemeyer is racing at the highest level and, right now, the injury-plagued former U.S. B team competitor is competing on his own. If he does produce results, he could earn his way back on the team this season.
There are also no cross country, biathlon, or Nordic combined racers from the region on the U.S. team this winter. The only area representative going into the competition this season is ski jumper Nina Lussi from Lake Placid.
NEW FACILITIES FOR GAMES
The World University Games set for Lake Placid in 2023 are already having an impact on the winter sports scene in the region.
There are major capital improvements underway at the Nordic venues at Lake Placid and at the ice event facilities there, too. Recently, the Olympic Authority (ORDA) Board voted to upgrade the gondola at Whiteface Mountain that was installed in 1999 for the Goodwill Games held a year later. The gondola at Gore was installed that same year. No word yet on an upgrade there.
LUGE WC AT LAKE PLACID
The women’s races at Killington aren’t the only World Cup competitions in the region this weekend. The best luge athletes in the world will be in Lake Placid for the Viessmann World Cup Saturday and Sunday at Mt. Van Hoevenberg.
The men’s competition has solid area flavor with Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer from Saranac Lake in the field, along with former Union College student and past World Cup winner Tucker West and reigning U.S. singles champion Jonny Gustafson, who has family in Saratoga County. The men’s race is Sunday.
The U.S. women, led by Summer Britcher, who won a silver medal in the first World Cup race this winter, will race Saturday after the men’s doubles competition.
Reach Phil Johnson at [email protected].