Six days after winning the slalom for the fourth straight year at Killington Mountain Resort, Mikaela Shiffrin was competing in the downhill at Lake Louise. It was a race Shiffrin appeared in line to win, keeping ahead of the pace established by Nicole Schmidhofer, until faltering at the end of the course to finish second.
But that wasn’t what really felt noteworthy about the event.
Compared to the throng of ski racing fans that annually descend upon Killington to watch Shiffrin and the women’s World Cup circuit every November, the crowd in Alberta was decidedly more sparse. Televised live on NBC’s Olympic Channel, it was clear that Lake Louise would deny Shiffrin two things that she could find more easily in Vermont: victory and a rowdy, adoring crowd of fans.
Then again, most crowds will be smaller than what Shiffrin and company again witnessed at Killington over Thanksgiving weekend.
It was in 2018 when Killington set an American World Cup ski racing attendance record (39,000 spectators over the three-day Killington Cup period), a mark it came close to matching in 2019, when 36,500 total spectators joined at the base of Superstar to watch Shiffrin and the world’s best in what has become a premier, must-see event on the local ski season’s events calendar.
It’s quite the statement to make in the Northeastern U.S., a region that had gone a quarter-century without hosting a World Cup event. But the Killington Cup has helped rewrite the script with the U.S. Ski Team and the International Ski Federation. The event will continue to be held at the resort at least through 2020, and, based on its success, there’s probably little doubt it will continue beyond that date.
Shiffrin, after all, is only 24 years old, and is the cog in everything that makes the Killington Cup so successful. As she continues to shatter World Cup records en route to becoming the most successful ski racer of all time, her roots in Vermont grow deeper. The more Shiffrin makes a name for herself on the World Cup circuit, the more profound her legacy with the Green Mountain State becomes.
The slalom queen made some note of that fact during her press conference prior to Friday’s opening ceremonies when she recounted her training that week. She returned to Burke Mountain, where she attended Burke Mountain Academy through 2013. In fact, BMA’s training hill, Warren’s Way, was up and running, top to bottom, for the first time ever before Thanksgiving in order to give Shiffrin the ground to train for her slalom and giant slalom events.
It was after one of those training sessions when Chris Carr, a lift mechanic at the mountain, greeted her with a lift ticket that he had Shiffrin sign when she was a student at BMA back in 2010.
Shiffrin was only 15 at the time.
“I just had a feeling she would go on to do great things one day,” Carr said in a BMA release.
Shiffrin said she was overcome by emotion in the moment.
“That made me cry,” she said.
She signed the other side of Carr’s ticket, this time as a World Cup champion who already is demolishing the record books.
Just a few days earlier in Levi, Finland, Shiffrin surpassed Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark’s record for most career World Cup slalom victories with her 41st. Her Killington victory was her 62nd career win on the World Cup circuit, tying Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell for second most in history. Up next on the list is former teammate Lindsey Vonn, whose 82 victories seemed poised to stand the test of time. Instead, here’s Shiffrin, one year after Vonn officially retired, within striking distance of already breaking her mark, possibly even by sometime next season.
With a résumé already chock-filled with accomplishment, Shiffrin’s status of becoming the greatest American ski racer of all time is on a rapid rise. So it stands to reason just why the Killington confluence is such a memorable stop on the tour.
“It’s so fun to compete in front of a crowd like here,” said Shiffrin, who also finished third in Saturday’s giant slalom race, won by Italian Marta Bassino. “This crowd is just so special. They create a special atmosphere, and I can hear them. I could hear them today again. I kept thinking to just keep fighting to get down there and keep fighting to make it to the finish, keep pushing. These guys are excited to see it, and they really, really carried me down the hill.”
It wasn’t long after winning the slalom race that Shiffrin took to Twitter to thank her fans and all observers who made the trip to Killington.
“THANKS to the fans for making this past weekend so special,” she wrote. “You show up, cheer, bring the fire, and create the most wonderful atmosphere. Words can not explain how incredible it is to race at @killingtonmtn, and that is because of you. Thank you so very much. My heart is full.”
Killington officially has the race for one more year, but it’s not like this is a Tom Brady/Patriots situation, where age is playing a major role in deciphering how things move forward. Without Shiffrin, there’s little doubt that the Killington Cup would take a blow in terms of its elite status and reason to attend. Luckily, that’s not something FIS or Killington parent company Powdr have to worry about for some time now.
Would the Killington Cup prove to be such an outrageously successful event if none of the participating skiers have a history with the hosting state? Maybe. But to expect it to be as compelling and raucous as it is these days with the best skier America has to offer would be foolhardy in any supposition. Still, it is only one of three North American World Cup stops (Beaver Creek and Lake Louise are the others), and the only one that can attract a large selection of attendees from nearby metro areas like Boston and New York.
It’s not outlandish to claim that Shiffrin’s presence makes the event. But that would also discount the massive undertaking that Killington personnel handles so well. Indeed, there were some pedestrian traffic issues at this year’s event that might have been impacted by the construction of the new K-1 lodge, but with 19,500 spectators on hand Saturday (a record single-day crowd for the event), there was still an overall ease of navigating the grounds.
If it weren’t for a snowstorm threatening to affect travel in southern Vermont and western Mass. on slalom Sunday, it’s safe to figure that Killington might have broken its own attendance record. And as word continues to grow about how well-run and festive the Killington Cup is every year, that might be an annual occurrence anyway.
Especially when the star attraction continues to shape herself into an icon of the sport.