You know where to watch, how to watch, but here’s the behind the scenes lowdown on this weekend’s races at the XFinity World Cup at Killington Resort, the third stop for women on the FIS World Cup Tour, and the five things you should know.
1. Mikaela’s Got Goals, But She’s Still Nervous
Mikaela Shiffrin is back—not only to defend her last year’s slalom in Killington, and add to her overall 31 World Cup race wins and her 2016/17 overall World Cup globe in slalom—but to try for a GS win this time around too. “If you asked me three days ago, I’d have said I would win the giant slalom for sure” said Shiffrin, who has finished in the top 6 in each of her 10 World Cup GS appearances. She then couched that with a footnote: that training in Colorado conditions is very different than what she sees here.
And, yes, she says, she is nervous. Shiffrin, the winningest woman slalom racer in recent history, finished second in the first World Cup slalom event of the 2017/18 season in Levi, Finland, behind Slovakia’s Petra Vhlova and then earned fifth in the opening giant slalom race in Soelden, Austria. Shiffrin is still leading in World Cup overall points. But not by much.
“There’s a lot of emotion for me competing here in the East with my whole family and friends and all these fans watching,” she said at the press conference on Friday night, noting that her grandmother, “Nana,” 96, would be watching. “But when you are in the start gate, it’s not about the past or even training days—it’s about putting everything aside. I have to remember that I’ve been doing this my entire life and somewhere there is a really good skier and I just need to let her come out.” Italy’s Sofia Goggia, one of Shiffrin’s top competitors turned to Shiffrin at the press conference and said, “I hope that you find the six-year-old Mikaela who just loves to ski.”
2. There Are 5 Other Local Heroes to Cheer For
While Vermont can claim Mikaela Shiffrin, (who grew up just across the border in New Hampshire and went to Burke Mountain Academy, see The Woman To Watch), as its own, she’s not the only local hero in the start gates this weekend.
Two University of Vermont students will be racing. Catamounts Paula Moltzan and Laurence St. Germain (who skis for the Canadian National Team) will be forces, as well Dartmouth skiers Foreste Peterson and Patricia (“Tricia”) Mangan. While St. Germain is taking time off to ski for the Canadian National Team and train for the Olympics (she is currently the second-ranked Canadian in slalom) and Peterson took the fall semester off, the others are juggling school with racing on the World Cup circuit.
And none of these women is taking gut courses. Moltzan, who won the slalom in the 2017 NCAA Championships, is majoring in medical lab sciences while St. Germain, who finished second behind her in the NCAAs, is a computer science major. Peterson, who is majoring in environmental studies, had her World Cup debut in Soelden, Austria on October 28. Dartmouth’s Mangan, who is studying bio-medical engineering, earned a spot in the Killington line-up after finishing second on the Nov. 21 Nor Am Cup giant slalom race in Copper Mountain, Colo. For the newcomers to the World Cup, making it into the top 30 on the first run, ensuring a second run, will be a goal.
3. The Course is Icier.
Perhaps the only time Killington CEO Mike Solimano has been happy about rain was last Sunday. “It’s not what we normally like but we opened up the snow to absorb as much of the rain as possible,” said Solimano. As Jeff Temple explained on his blog at Killington.com “We basically tracked the surface with grooming tractors and left them as rough and porous as possible so the rain would penetrate the snow rather than running off. The more saturated the snow, the harder the surface gets once all that water freezes.”
“We’ve pumped more than 15 million gallons of water on the trail,” says Solimano (in the forms of snow and ice) to create a base depth that ranges from “3 to 7 feet deep,” says Solimano. He continued: “We had 120 snow guns blasting— two and half times what we normally do. We then watered the trail again and injected it with more water.”
“I’m happy to be back on ice and the snow was awesome,” said Tricia Mangan, after freeskiing on Friday. “It was hard, firm and grippy —which was sweet.”
4. The Course is Longer
Starts for both the giant slalom and slalom races have been moved farther up the mountain, making for a longer set of races with a vertical drop of 1,191 feet for the GS course (up from 1,119 last year) and 705 feet for the slalom.
As racers head down the course at speeds that can soar over 50 mph (on the giant slalom) and through anywhere from 40 to 60 gates, the toughest part will still be the last steep section. The crowd-pleaser: Preston’s Pitch, falls as steep as 38 degrees before spilling into the finish area and the grandstand.
It’s here that the race is often won or lost as racers have to let it all out while negotiating the tighter last gates. While this is all the crowds at the base will see of the race in person, live feeds will be broadcast on big screens and four intervals will be clocked which will give a split-second comparison between the current racer’s time versus the best time on the course each run.
5. It May Be Safer
In the wake of the fatal crash of French World Cup racer David Poisson during a training run in mid-November in Calgary, CA, even more attention is being given to safety. Vermont’s Kelly Brush Foundation (formed after local racer and Middlebury College ski team member Kelly Brush had a life-altering crash on a race course) donated more than $40,000 toward safety netting and other measures to protect racers and others on the course.
6. The Crowds Could Be Even Larger
Last year, VIP seats in the grandstands sold out in 6 hours and an estimated 30,000 attended over the two days—the largest crowd a U.S. women’s World Cup has ever seen. This year, the VIP seats sold out in a matter of minutes. “And we added capacity,” said Killington’s Director of Marketing, Rob Megnin. Megnin estimates Killington has sold more than 4,000 tickets – and that’s just for VIP seating. General spectating is free.
Last year, more than 1500 kids, members of ski clubs and racing programs from around Vermont, marched in the opening ceremony parade. This year, clubs from around New England will participate, bringing the numbers up even higher. “This has tremendous impact,” says Tiger Shaw, president of U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, the sport’s governing body in the U.S. This provides the opportunity for kids to see first-hand to see what it take and what extraordinary athletes these racers are. It creates thousands of seminal moments where young kids look up on the hill and say, “I want to be one of those.” And that’s what it takes for a really young kid to have that moment. If you ask Mikaela or Lindsey they’ll tell you they have had those moments. It’s huge, it’s a big deal and for me, running this organization, it’s great.”
7. How to Watch
If you can make it to the races in person, get there early, park offsite and take one of the many shuttles up the Mountain Road. Be prepared to have your bag searched. Among the no-nos: chairs, alcohol, glass containers, knives, weapons, laser pointers, drugs, pets and drones.
The races will be broadcast live on NBC Sports. Tune in
???? – DELAY
3 p.m. ET – runs 1 & 2 – NBC
Correction: An earlier version stated the Julia Ford, an Okemo racer who is part of the Redneck Racers would be competing. She was on the start list but did not make the cut.