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Editor’s note: Tess Johnson wound up ninth in Saturday’s moguls event in Sweden behind winner Perrine Laffonte of France. Mikaela Shiffrin was fourth in Saturday’s GS race in France behind winner Martina Bassino of Italy.
With snow finally falling on their home hills in the Rockies, Vail Valley athletes will be back in action on World Cup circuits in Europe this weekend, with Mikaela Shiffrin of Edwards taking on a pair of GS races in France and Tess Johnson of Vail in a moguls finals in Sweden.
First the freestyle moguls, courtesy of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team:
“The second FIS Moguls World Cup kicked off in Idre Fjäll, Sweden with qualifications Friday. Six U.S. Ski Team members advanced to Saturday’s finals. On the men’s side, Nick Page posted his best qualification result yet in ninth, and Brad Wilson continues to show a strong start to the season, qualifying 13th. The PowHERHouse women of the U.S. Moguls Team continue to dominate as Kai Owens, Jaelin Kauf, Hannah Soar and Tess Johnson all advance. Olivia Giaccio returned to competition almost a year to date from her 2019-2020 season-ending injury and finished 21st. Finals are set for Saturday, 4:30 a.m. EST, and will be streamed live on Peacock.”
Second, an update on Shiffrin courtesy of Peggy Shinn writing for Team USA:
Mikaela Shiffrin returns to the FIS World Cup in Courchevel, France, on Saturday. It’s a two-race weekend, with back-to-back giant slaloms. Saturday’s GS will be her third race this season—and first GS.
The 25-year-old alpine skiing phenom skipped a super-G world cup race in St. Moritz last weekend (a race that was canceled due to heavy snowfall), and she missed a parallel event in Austria on Thanksgiving day. It’s a trend she plans to continue, only competing in the world cup’s tech races (slalom and GS) for much of this season.
“I just feel like I’m playing catch up right now, and I don’t feel like it’s realistic or wise to try to play catch up in every single event at the exact same time,” she said in a media call from Austria on Wednesday. “Prioritizing tech makes the most sense. It’s where my highest priority always is.”
Usually on snow for 60 days in off-season, Shiffrin only tallied 20 days this year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Crucially, she missed equipment testing, which is an important part of summer on-snow training. Then, she withdrew from the season’s first world cup in Soelden, Austria, due to a back injury.
For the past three weeks, she has been making up for lost time, training and testing equipment in Reiteralm, Austria.
“I definitely have a lot more work to do, but I’m psyched with how the last couple of weeks have gone,” she said.
After the two GS races in Courchevel this weekend, Shiffrin’s next world cups are a slalom and GS in Semmering, Austria, on December 28-29. She will spend Christmas day training—and eating takeout pizza or perhaps turkey and her mom’s homemade stuffing if they feel like cooking.
From Semmering, she will compete in five tech races in January (depending on COVID-19 restrictions), then world championships in February in Cortina, Italy, before finishing the season with world cups in March.
Shiffrin is the reigning super-G world champion, but look for the four-time reigning slalom world champ to (most likely) only compete in slalom and GS in Cortina.
She has not been on her super-G or downhill skis since the Bansko World Cup last January—back before her father suddenly passed away in a tragic accident, and back before the pandemic ended the ski season early. Always one to thoroughly assess risk, Shiffrin will only enter speed events if she has had adequate training.
“I definitely wouldn’t go to a speed race assuming that I could just ski competitively or even remotely safely without having any time on [my speed] skis,” she added. “For me it’s common sense.”
Shiffrin has won two slaloms and two Giant slaloms at Courchevel in the past. But don’t look for her to challenge for her fourth overall world cup title this year.
“No, the overall I would say is not a thing this year,” she stated. “I try not to state goals or expectations that aren’t somewhat realistic, not only for myself but also out of respect for the other athletes competing.”
Instead, Shiffrin points to current world cup leader Petra Vlhova from Slovakia and Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin. The Slovakian has won the past three world cup races, and Gisin is currently ranked second overall. Last season’s overall winner Federica Brignone from Italy is still skiing strong as well.
“There are multiple athletes who are going to be extremely competitive [this winter], and I, at this point, do not see myself as one of them,” said Shiffrin, with her usual understated candor. “I feel like I could either kill myself trying, or I could just call a spade a spade and work on what I can do.”
Vhlova has been Shiffrin’s primary rival the past few seasons—in both slalom and for the overall title. The 25-year-old Slovakian rarely beat Shiffrin in slalom until 2020. Since last January, Vhlova has won every world cup slalom race (five total, four with Shiffrin in the field).
While Shiffrin does not like referring to Vhlova as a rival—the word having too much of a negative connotation—she can’t really call Vhlova a friend either.
“I feel like if we were doing something different or if we knew each other at a different time, we might be friends because she has this really great focus and obviously a really great work ethic, and those are some things that I certainly value,” admitted Shiffrin.
When they are together, Shiffrin is polite but not chummy with Vhlova. She wants to be nice—because Shiffrin is always nice. But then she remembers that they are fierce competitors with the same end game.
“You’re really really good!” said Shiffrin in jest, as if speaking to Vhlova. “And you’re making this really, really hard for me to accomplish my goals because you’re doing it instead!”
“I laugh about it because I’d like to be friends,” Shiffrin added, “but first, I’d like to be faster. That would be the ideal thing.”
Shiffrin’s speed and rock-steady skiing will return—if they haven’t already. But her heart and mind are still reeling from the horrible year. She is taking it one race at a time and wants to meter expectations. It’s too easy to assume that because she has done it once, she can do it again.
“I’m in a quite a different position this year than I ever have been, so some of my goals that I’ve had the last few years and some of the things I’ve accomplished the last few years are not really on the ticket this year, and I’m just trying to get myself to a place where I can be properly competitive at the races that I do.
“Hopefully by the end of the season, I’ll be able to get into some speed races and ski confidently.”