“To be perfectly frank, I’m not sure my skiing is in a position to win either of these races,” Mikaela Shiffrin said on Friday night before the start of the Stifel Killington World Cup. “But because of the crowd, because of Killington and the people here, I’m going to put everything I can into these races. But Petra is damn fast, and Lara is damn fast,” she said referring to Petra Vhlova, the Slovakian skier who has been challenging Shiffrin’s reign in slalom and Switzerland’s Lara Gut-Behrami.
The winningest skier in history seemed tentative. A year ago, she had failed to podium in either race at Killington, the first time in six years that she had not won the slalom. Earlier this season, a bone bruise had set Shiffrin back in her training.
But on Saturday Shiffrin skied solidly to a third place in the giant slalom race. [See story “How The Home Team Fared on Day 1 of the Killington World Cup” here.]
Then on Sunday, in what racers and spectators alike described as near-perfect skiing in near-perfect conditions, she not only won both runs in the slalom race but on her second run amassed a 0.33 second lead between her and second-place finisher Petra Vhlova of Slovakia to take her 90th World Cup win.
“After watching Petra Vhlova’s second run, I just thought that’s it – there’s no way anyone can beat Petra,” said Mary Seaton Brush, the former Olympian and Charlotte resident who raced slalom and GS on the World Cup in the 1970s. Brush and her family founded the Kelly Brush Foundation in honor of their daughter Kelly, who had a spinal cord injury while racing for Middlebury College. Among many other things, the foundation now helps ensure skier safety with netting and other measures at this event and others.
Vhlova, who was third after the first run, skied a clean second run to build a whopping 1.04-second lead over Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener. “You made that look easy,” announcer and Middlebury native Doug Lewis said to Vhlova on the podium after. “It’s not!” said Vhlova with surprise.
But there were two racers left. As a crowd of nearly 10,000 screamed and rang cowbells, Shiffrin, the last skier to start, flowed through the 62 gates of the course like water. She bested Vhlova’s run by 0.05 seconds—the equivalent of a photo finish— which added to her earlier run’s 0.28 lead, gave her a 0.33 lead for the win. The grandstand erupted in cheers.
Thanks to support from Stifel, the investment firm that has been sponsoring the U.S. Ski Team, prize money at Killington (and all U.S.-based World Cup events) has increased by 30% this year, meaning Shiffrin walked away from each race she won this weekend with $64,000, while the second and third place finishers each earned $30,000 and $16,600, respectively. In addition, Stifel has created the Bibbo award which gives $5,000 to the racer who improves the most from their first to second run.
“I have to say thank you and big shout out to Stifel for this. It’s about the work of the athletes and what we do. It takes all of our time, all of our effort, all of our energy. My hope is that other nations, other partners and other organizations will follow suit. To feel like you are valued for what you do is really incredible,” said Shiffrin.
Yet at the same time, racers acknowledged that the prize money, in Paula Moltzan’s words, “was a nice perk but it’s not what motivates me.” U.S. Ski Team member and World Cup newcomer Elisabeth Bocock admitted she didn’t even know about the prize money increase.
The Fan Club
“I was giving Mikaela a little bit of grief about how self-deprecating she was on Friday,” said teammate and former UVM ski racer Paula Moltzan. “Her response: ‘self-deprecation is a way of building confidence,’” said Moltzan.
While the crowds cheered for all the racers, Moltzan may have had the largest cheering squad at the event. Her family – ‘inlaws and outlaws’ as one quipped – showed up in hockey jerseys with MOLTZAN No. 1, photo placards with “Paula’s Fan Club” and flags with her face on them.
Moltzan didn’t disappoint. On Sunday she skied the sixth fastest first run in the slalom gates, coming in at 49.48 to Shiffrin’s leading 48.27. Her second run was the 20th fastest but her combined times still put her in 8th overall. She also was 8th in Saturday’s GS race. In 2023, she was ranked 7th for the World Cup season overall in slalom and 11th in GS.
Moltzan’s rise on the World Cup circuit has been steady since she (along with her now-husband and current ski tech Ryan Mooney) took off time from the University of Vermont to compete independently from the U.S. Team on the European World Cup circuit. She’s not only back on the team but one of the strongest in her disciplines of any alpine racer, man or woman. “Paula works out two times a day, six days a week at the gym/shed at our house in northwest Massachusetts,” said her mother-in-law, Jen Mooney. “And then she runs these super steep trails. She’s worked hard.”
“She’s also just plain happy now. She’s in a good place, she’s with Ryan and that gives her confidence,” said Paula’s mother, Robyn Moltzan. In 2022, Moltzan was 8th at the Beijing Olympics.
Robyn Moltzan also noted that most of the top 10 women were veterans of the sport. “While we want to see more younger women coming up in the ranks, it’s actually great to see that the top women at today’s race were all in their late 20s or early 30s.” Germany’s Lena Duerr, 32, finished fourth. Shiffrin, who won her first World Cup at 15, is now 28 and Moltzan is 29.
Of the three other U.S. Ski Team members who competed in the slalom, two – AJ Hurt and Zoe Zimmerman, a Burke Mountain Academy grad — did not finish, with Zimmerman taking a long slide. But Allie Resnick, 22, of Vail completed the first run, finishing 49th. Only the top 30 get a second run.
Canadians Ali Nullmeyer (a Green Mountain Valley School alumna who graduated from Middlebury College in 2023) and University of Vermont grad Laurence St. Germain both ended up 13th and 14th, respectively.
“I think skiing at the Middlebury Snowbowl actually helped my skiing. Its rolls and flats really helped me improve,” said Nullmeyer. She earned her B.A. in Economics at Middlebury in four years, all while competing on the World Cup’s 13-race, 10-country circuit. “It was actually good mentally to have other things – like schoolwork – to focus on, things other than ski racing,” she said as she waited for the final racers to come down.
Of the U.S. women who raced at Killington, four (Mary Bocock, Stella Johansson, Allie Resnick, and Zoe Zimmerman) have enrolled at Dartmouth (which offers a winter semester off) with AJ Hurt having graduated. “Having raced NCAA and having teammates really helps,” noted Resnick, who competed in her first World Cup race in 2020 and whose sister Emma is on the Development Team.
One Big Party
With colleges with strong ski team ties such as Middlebury, University of Vermont and Dartmouth all within an hour’s drive, and nearly two dozen ski clubs participating in the opening parade there were plenty of alumni and fans who flocked to Killington to watch. Estimates for attendance were 6,000 on Friday, 18,000 on Saturday and 10,000 on Sunday.
On Friday night, fireworks went off as 220 Kid performed on the Kona Big Wave Stage after the bib draw.
On Saturday, Mix Master Mike kept the crowds dancing in between the runs with Young the Giant playing after the race. And on Sunday, Matisyahu’s reggae beat seemed to fit in with the bright sunshine and temperatures in the 30s.
In the vendor village, people lined up for lobster rolls and chicken sandwiches from food trucks while in the VIP tent, a who’s who of the ski world sipped splits of Champagne and noshed on a buffet and passed hors d’oeuvres.
In one roped-off corner, Michael Sneyd, who oversees Canadian developer Great Gulf’s residential resort development was showing slides of the stunning new base village and lodges that his company has planned for Killington. Construction will start in the next few years on Phase One, replacing the old Ramshead and Snowshed lodges and bringing in 190 new ski-in/ski-out units.
Eric Resnick, who helped form KSL Partners, the financial group that created Alterra Mountain Company and the Ikon Pass, was also in the VIP tent to watch his daughter Allie race slalom. “Killington puts on an awesome event,” he said as Killington CEO Mike Solimano walked in.
When asked how much longer Killington will continue to host the World Cup, Solimano smiled. “I hope for a long time. The first few years were a little hard on our team but I think we’ve got it down now. Did you hear the national anthem? That was one of our operations team singing it.”
While Killington remains the only U.S. stop for women racing slalom or GS, next weekend the women’s tech teams will head to Mont Tremblant in Quebec to race in another World Cup GS and slalom next weekend —a new stop on the circuit. “We’ll stay here in Killington for a few days of training and then drive up,” said Moltzan.
For the North Americans who are used to competing for most of the winter in Europe, a little home time – and for so many, Vermont is at least an adopted home— sounds pretty good.
Opening photo: Mikaela Shiffrin on her way to a slalom win. Photo by Angelo Lynn