After winning a gold medal in slalom at the World Championships in Schladming, Austria, last season, Mikaela Shiffrin won the coveted World Cup slalom title just days after her 18th birthday. She’s the youngest winner in 39 years and the first American World Cup slalom champion since Tamara McKinney in 1984. It’s an achievement most ski racers strive for their entire careers. Credit her steadfast work ethic and unwavering desire to improve. Her peers say it’s an unmatched quest for perfection. A recent graduate of Vermont’s Burke Mountain Academy, Shiffrin heads into the Olympic season hoping for gold but focused on World Cup domination.
1. How are you approaching the Olympic year?
I’m pretty much going to keep the same mindset. I’m working on my mental attitude to figure out a way to bring my best run to the first run and have it last the entire way down the course. Most of my races last season, I only really skied my best the last 10 gates. I want to do it every turn, every run, every race, every run. My main focus this season is going to be on consistency. If I have that consistency, the Olympics will just be another race.
2. How do you think winning an Olympic medal would compare to winning the World Cup?
The Olympics isn’t the pinnacle of ski racing as a sport, but a pinnacle of sports in general. I’m excited to compete for a medal. If I do get a medal sometime in my career, that’s going to be one of my greatest accomplishments. But my goal when I started on this journey wasn’t to win a medal; it was to be the best in the world — and for ski racing, that’s a World Cup title.
3. Did you ever expect to achieve such success so early in your career?
I didn’t expect it, but it hasn’t come as a huge surprise. I say that because I’ve always really wanted it. I want to be the best I can be and be the best in the world, and I want do it as soon as I can.
4. To what do you owe most of your success?
I think most of it — especially last season — is based off of hard work. I’m not the most athletic person. I mean, my family is athletic and it’s in my gene pool, but there are a lot of other girls who I’ve raced against who are better athletes — they’re stronger, bigger, faster, scrappier, and mentally tougher. But throughout it all, I stayed on my own course and pushed myself to be the best I could be every day.
5. You just graduated from Burke Mountain Academy. Any college plans?
I’m in the middle of figuring it out. I have a bunch of options. There’s a 12-year program at Dartmouth that a lot of ski team athletes and Olympic hopefuls do by completing one term a year. I’m going to try to focus on my skiing during this Olympic year. I’ll probably take one to two courses in the summers through DU or Westminster [College]. I want to continue my education. I like science a lot. I see myself doing marine biology or environmental science. Or maybe medicine.
6. How does your training philosophy differ from your teammates’?
Growing up, I trained high volume, every day. I trained through the winter when a lot of my peers were racing. I’d only do a dozen or so races a season when I was 12 and 13. Even when I was 15, I only raced 14 races, while most were racing 25 to 30 races. I was taking those days they were racing and I was training and working on my fundamentals.
7. What’s your training regimen like now?
I still need a lot of training to work on my technique. I’m racing with girls who have 10 years mileage on me, so I have to take every chance to train. I’m on snow for five hours a day on average. That includes putting my boots on, lift rides, recovery after each runs. But I do try to take as many runs as I’m strong enough to take. Sometimes it’s 15 runs on a full-length course. A lot of my day revolves around visualization. You can pretty much simulate training if you do well enough. Your brain can’t tell between skiing and visualization. You can get double or triple the amount of training.
8. What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
I love watching dance movies like Step Up and then going to practice the dance moves in my room.
9. What’s your favorite comfort item when you travel?
I like traveling with this blanket and pillow set that my dad got for me a couple years ago. They’re small so they are easy to travel with but perfect for sleeping in cars or planes.
10. Finish the sentence: I am currently obsessed with: ____________
I am currently obsessed with the Ellie Goulding song, Figure 8.
Bonus: How do you define adventure?
Anything that is exciting, fun, quenches your curiosity, and expands your knowledge in some way is an adventure.
Photos by Mitchell Gunn/ESPA