The season following the Winter Olympics can feel a little anti-climactic for the world’s best skiers, but not for Mikaela Shiffrin. In spite of accomplishing nearly all there is to accomplish in her sport, the 23-year-old Colorado native is more excited about racing than she has been in quite some time.
Going into last February’s 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, Shiffrin was under pressure to bring home five medals. Among all of the world’s top skiers, she was the only one competing in every race discipline—slalom, giant slalom, downhill, super G, and alpine combined. With the Olympic schedule in flux due to adverse weather events, training opportunities became scant, and Shiffrin ended up competing in only three of her five races in Pyeongchang. She landed two medals—gold in giant slalom and silver in alpine combined.
It was a triumphant haul for any Olympian, but Shiffrin did not walk away feeling triumphant. In slalom, her strongest discipline, she finished fourth, just over half a second off the podium. This, after becoming the youngest ever Olympic slalom champion in the 2014 Winter Games, after winning the World Cup slalom globe five out of the last six seasons (missing out in 2016 after being sidelined by injury much of the season), and sometimes beating her closest competitor by more than two seconds.
“This Olympics was a huge learning experience for me,” Shiffrin said in a recent interview at Copper Mountain, where she’s training before the season’s first World Cup slalom race in Levi, Finland, on November 17. “I had been feeling so good in the races before that, and I started getting tired. My training sort of fell off. I wasn’t able to train any slalom.”
Shiffrin has long-since adhered to a rather simple m.o. in her approach to competition: “Preparation equals confidence equals success.”
“I feel like the formula is fairly fool-proof,” she said. “If I don’t have it, the exhaustion and the pressure and the nerves are going to creep in.”
Thus, the Eagle-Vail resident is launching into this season making sure that, a) nothing messes with her formula, and b) that she adds a hearty dose of another key ingredient: rest.
“You have to recover, everybody does, no matter what your job is. In sports, you have to get a mental break and you have to get a physical break,” she said. “In the past, while I was doing [only] slalom and giant slalom, it was much easier to get those kinds of breaks. I was also like, I have to train every single day, all the time. I’m starting to get to the point where it’s a question I ask myself, ‘Am I comfortable with my skiing today? Could I race tomorrow?’ If the answer is yes, then it’s a sign I can take a day off and get a little bit of recovery.”
While the World Cup season has barely begun, Shiffrin’s approach seems to be working already. She notched a third-place finish in the season opening GS race in Sölden, Austria, in October. “It was great to start the season off with a podium,” she said. “I didn’t have any anxiety. I feel I’m gaining a lot more control of that.”
While she’s not officially presenting herself as one of ski racing’s rare all-discipline racers, she has marked her calendar for a start in at least one of each race event this season.
“I’m sort of changing my approach but not really drastically,” she said. “My program is going to look a lot like it did last year. I had a great summer, I’ve done a lot of fun things, I had an extensive vacation. There are a lot of pieces that have come together for me that have helped me come to this point in the season.”
Most importantly, Shiffrin has turned things around emotionally since last season, especially as time draws nearer to once again race in the tight gates, or, as they say in ski racing, dance through the disco sticks. If you haven’t seen Shiffrin in action on the slalom course, girl can dance. She knows that everyone knows this. But she’s not letting those expectations drag her down this time around.
“I’m so excited. I’m excited for Levi. Last year, I wasn’t really,” she said. “I was like, well, we’ll see how this will go. It’s the first slalom race and I’m supposed to win and all of these things. Now I’m like, well, none of that has changed, but I’m excited. That’s a really nice place to be.”