In 2011 Mikaela Shiffrin made her World Cup ski racing debut a few weeks shy of her 15th birthday, and later that year won the US National title in slalom, the youngest person to ever accomplish the feat. In the 2012 season she scored her first podium with a 3rd place result in Linz, Austria, and moved on in 2013 by winning her first race at age 17- the second youngest American to ever achieve a win. She went on to win the crystal globe for the overall slalom title that year as well. In 2014, she blew the competition away, winning her second season slalom title, as well as the World Championship and Olympic gold medals, becoming the youngest slalom champion in Olympic alpine skiing history, at 18 years and 345 days.
-What is your skiing background, how did you get to the US Team?
I was born in Vail, CO and started skiing when I was about 2 years old. It started out as a fun activity to do with my family and friends, but once I started training with Ski Club Vail, around 7 years old, I developed a deep passion for training and racing in gates. Since then, my passion has only grown, and I’ve had a lot of support between my family, friends, coaches at Vail, Burke Mountain Academy, and now the US Ski Team. I essentially got on the team because I got my FIS points low enough to qualify for the “B Team” from racing NorAms when I was 15. I also raced my first World Cup that spring, a few days before turning 16, and I almost qualified for the second run in the slalom, which apparently seemed promising to the US Ski Team coaches.
-What is a typical day on the World Cup circuit like? A typical week?
The four months that we spend traveling around Europe for the World Cup circuit is a lot of the same. Mostly traveling from race to race, and if we have enough days in between races we will find a good venue to train. I find it somewhat relaxing once I’ve gotten into a routine with all the packing, unpacking, and travel. A typical day starts around 6:30, I eat breakfast and head up on the hill for a training session from 8 to noon, or if it’s a race day I am on the hill until about 3pm. When I get off the hill I normally get something to eat, usually Barilla pasta for the carbs and some sort of protein so I can get some of that energy that I used on the hill back into my legs. After lunch I’ll do a little recovery workout— spinning on a bike or jogging, ab strength, balance, and stretching. I watch my ski video with my coaches in the evening and then dinner and bedtime! It’s pretty simple, but I like simple!
-What are some of your favorite places to race on the circuit?
I love racing in Aspen and Beaver Creek in Colorado, and I also like Courchevel, France a lot. I like Aspen because it is one of the more challenging courses on the circuit, lots of terrain, and that makes it exciting. The GS trail at Beaver Creek makes me feel like a hero— the trail just seems like it was made for ski racing. And I like Courchevel a lot because it’s gorgeous. It’s one of the first races we have and the hill is also very challenging. It’s one of the only hills that I get nervous to race, so I’m really excited to get back there and try to “conquer” that hill.
-What are you goals for the upcoming season?
I have so many different goals, it’s almost tough to keep track of them! My biggest goal for this season is to try make my way to the top of the World Cup standings in GS, while staying on top of my Slalom. I feel like I have unfinished business left from last year in GS, and I really want to finish this upcoming season strong in GS as well as Slalom.
– What will racing in Vail for the 2015 Championships mean for you?
I am so excited to race Vail, Beaver Creek 2015. World Champs are like a mini Olympics, and it’s going to be so cool to have them in my hometown. As I said, I love the track at Beaver Creek, so when I get there I feel like I’ll be ready to embrace all the hype and excitement from the hometown crowd, and use that to power me down the mountain.
-Describe your training regimen if the off-season.
During the off-season I normally work out 6 days of the week, and normally I have two or three sessions in a day. I’ll either have an upper body or a lower body workout as the morning session, and then a cardio— biking or jogging— and core or balance in the afternoon. I also play a lot of tennis in the off-season as part of my agility program.
-What are some of the training things that you do at the Center for Excellence in Park City?
The Center of Excellence is an amazing facility, it has almost everything I could possibly want for workouts, besides a tennis court. When I’m in Park City for conditioning camps I do pretty much all of my workouts at the COE besides the bike rides and tennis.
-What are some of your favorite training exercises? Least favorite?
I love the balance workouts that we do— they make me feel so much more in tune with my body, and allow me to use my strength in a more efficient way. I don’t think I have a least favorite. I get nervous for almost all of my workouts, I’m not sure why, it might be more of excitement that I’m going to try to push myself farther each day, but I always wake up with butterflies in my stomach, knowing that I’m going to be doing something tough that day, but also knowing that I will feel so accomplished when I go to bed that night.
-What are some of the best exercises to get in shape for skiing?
I think squats, biking, jogging, and tennis, are all really great for skiing. Squats because they help strengthen glutes, hamstrings, and quads, and it’s important to be strong when you get on the slopes. Biking and jogging because it helps endurance, which is also important so your energy will last a full run instead of only half a run. And tennis because it’s one of my favorite sports and it’s great cross training for skiing.
-How do you stay in shape during the World Cup season?
We have modified workout programs that we do during the season that help supplement the workout that we already get from training on snow. Usually we emphasize core, balance, and mobility, and endurance, during the season, because those are the things that tend to lag behind with all of the skiing. Normally we do one to two hours of recovery workouts in the afternoon, switching between balance, agility, core, etc. Always making sure not to over do it so we’re not tired for the skiing part!
-What does winning the World Championship mean to you? The Olympic Gold?
Winning World Championships and Gold in Sochi fall into a similar category for me. Both were surreal, life changing events, because of the amount of people who watched and felt inspired. I feel like those “big stage events” are my chance to inspire people, and that’s what I think about when I see the World Champs or Olympic medals— how I had a chance to inspire the world in a minute long race run, and I had the perfect combination of preparation and luck and support to actually do it in the right moment.
-What do you do for fun when not skiing or racing? Do you ever get the chance to free ski?
I love to free ski, especially when the snow is that chalky, grippy, hero snow that allows me to lay into my edges as far as I can. That’s when I learn the most, when I free ski on snow that lets me push the limits of how far I’m willing to get my skis on edge, or how quickly I can make my skis bounce from side to side.
-What do you do to relax? Any other activities or hobbies?
In my free time I like to read, play guitar, watch movies or my favorite TV show Friends, and believe it or not, one of my favorite things to do to relax is watch video of world cup skiing. Ever since I can remember I’ve watched world cup racing, and it’s gotten to the point where watching racers bounce from turn to turn is almost mesmerizing for me.
– What keeps you motivated?
A lot of things motivate me- from inspirational youtube videos, to watching my winning run in Sochi, to watching Flying Downhill (Bode Miller’s documentary), to my family. I think my family motivates me more than anything. My parents know exactly how hard to push me in order to get me off the couch and in the gym, and they have never crossed the limit to push me too hard to make me resent either them or ski racing. And seeing my brother flourish in college is extremely motivating for me. He’s so smart, and he’s able to put his strengths to use in so many different ways from all of the tools that he’s getting from school, it makes me want to work harder at my skiing, so I can try to match his success in school with my skiing.
-What is the key to racing slalom?
Quick feet! Seriously, one of the best things my coach ever told me in a race was to move quick. It’s almost cliche because it’s so obvious, but there I am at the top of the slalom course, and it all boils down to one thing— how fast I can make my feet dance.