The best skiers in the world came to Killington this weekend for the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup, and nearly 40,000 fans of the sport came out to watch and be inspired.
It is easy to point out the obvious economic shot in the arm the weekend-long event brought to Vermont, along with the national and international media that touted the event’s organization and the state’s beauty. It makes Killington one of the most well-attended women’s World Cup circuit races in the world.
But there was a higher reward here.
At a time when it is even easier to get mired in political romping and watch the blood sport that has become U.S. politics, the World Cup has brought together fans of skiing without any objective other than watching the best in their sport compete on Killington’s slalom and giant slalom courses.
Many of the fans wanted to see Mikaela Shiffrin earn another World Cup win. The Burke Mountain Academy alum, who takes great pride in her ties to Vermont, did not disappoint.
Her two-run time of 1:43.25 was 0.57 seconds faster than runner-up Petra Vlhova from Slovakia (1:43.82). In her second run, Vlhova broke a first-run tie with reigning Olympic slalom gold medalist Frida Hansdotter from Sweden, who rounded out the podium in third (1:44.33).
“I knew it was going to be a fight because it was just tough conditions today,” Shiffrin told interviewers on Sunday. “It was pretty sloppy snow. But I just figured everybody has to fight; If I fight harder, we’ll see what happens.”
Shiffrin is 23. She is a fan favorite because she comes across as modest and kind.
Her coach, Mike Day, was quoted in Powder magazine saying, “Mikaela is a pretty special person in and outside of the sport. I have a daughter and really felt like Mikaela could easily be a role model for her whether she raced or not. For my son, too. That was important to me as we decided to make the sacrifice to be on the road for as many days that we are. She works hard, she’s super appreciative of the effort that goes on around her, and she’s just a really good person. What you guys see at home (and in the media) is real. That is her for real. It’s not an act. It’s not scripted. She’s easy to get behind. So that was the tipping point for me.”
For fans, the same is true. Shiffrin has become a leader in the sport because she reminds us of the hard work that goes into being a champion, and how important it is to give back, especially to fans.
One Vermont fan, who has a daughter in the same program from which Shiffrin got her start, said this week that while it is easy to appreciate Shiffrin for her fierce competitiveness and grace as a skier, she is that role model.
“(My daughter) sees her gift, but also knows how hard she has to train. Seeing her in person and how she treats her fans also has made a big impact ... Mikaela got emotional yesterday after the race talking about how she could hear the roar of the fans as she came down the course for her second run and how much it meant to her. (She) apologized for making people have to wait so long for autographs. She then spent a long time signing for a large group of kids.”
All of this is not lost on Shiffrin.
“I think that role of being an inspiration for younger girls is growing. As more people tell me that I inspire them, I start to inspire myself more as well. I’m not the most confident person — I tend to have a lot of self-doubt, but I’m generally a really happy person,” Shiffrin is quoted as saying. “Sometimes these races get to me. I feel like I have to be something special or different or get someone else’s approval — the crowd, the media. Today, I tried to make the choice that I don’t need approval. That’s the message to these young girls that’s more important than my skiing. I ski for myself, not for anybody else.”
Shiffrin elicits traits not always seen in sport. It is what makes her stand out. Others agree that we need more competitors like Shiffrin.
“The measure of success for me is a great race show with all the young girls in racing programs from around New England cheering on their ‘rock stars,’” said Jeff Temple, director of mountain operations/facilities maintenance.
We are fortunate to have the opportunity in Vermont to see world-class skiers dominating their sport. But we are more fortunate to see such class acts as Shiffrin and her colleagues reminding us that sport is hard, but being compassionate humans really is easy. And something to cheer about.