KILLINGTON — Vermont-schooled Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin nabbed an NBC microphone over the weekend to give a shout-out to a record-setting World Cup ski-racing crowd.
“You can hear a roar, you can feel this rumbling,” she said amid 21,000 spectators at the Killington resort. “Here they always bring the energy.”
The international circuit’s lone U.S. stop for women also came with a nail-biting story of wild weather and, as a result, disappointment for Shiffrin, who lost her bid to win a sixth consecutive local slalom title.
Giant banners on packed Killington grandstands promised “More winter” and “More snow.” Even so, a Sunday morning rise in temperature and afternoon rain affirmed the last words of the resort’s three-pronged plug: “More adventure.”
Shiffrin was the fastest in the first round of the Cup-capping slalom. But as she waited to be the last skier in the second run, the course softened enough to slow her down by 0.59 of a second and land her in fifth place.
“I fought,” she told a live television audience of 2 million viewers in 60 countries. “Some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing.”
Despite it all, Killington snow-gunned and groomed enough trail to successfully host its sixth World Cup — all while opening a towering new three-story K-1 lodge at the finish line.
Killington may be the biggest ski area in eastern North America, but it has faced many similarly sized challenges since first welcoming the event in 2016.
Daily attendance snowballed from an inaugural-year 16,000 to a high of 19,500 in 2019 — nearly 14 times the slope-side town’s population of 1,407. Then the Covid-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 race and compelled Killington to limit 2021 daily ticket sales to 10,000.
The resort lifted attendance restrictions this year, only to see Mother Nature threaten to keep everyone home.
Warm weather canceled seven of the international circuit’s first eight European races earlier this fall, spurring the Washington Post to report, “In this World Cup ski season, climate change is winning.”
Killington feared it might join the list when temperatures spiked to 72 degrees on Nov. 12. Hit with a freeze the next day, the resort powered 120 snow guns around the clock, allowing the International Ski and Snowboard Federation to green-light the event just 10 days before its scheduled start.
“Every year seems to be a challenge,” Killington President Mike Solimano said. “Weather is always the biggest in this business, but there’s always a lot of ups and downs for different reasons.”
Shiffrin relates. The 2013 graduate of the Northeast Kingdom’s Burke Mountain Academy won last year’s Killington slalom, only to be hit by Covid-19 and a wipeout of a 2022 Olympics. She then came back this fall with a double victory in the first two races of the 2022-23 World Cup season.
The 27-year-old finished 13th in Saturday’s giant slalom, ahead of former University of Vermont skier Paula Moltzan in 18th and 2015 Burke Mountain Academy graduate Nina O’Brien in 23rd.
“I can make much better turns than that,” Shiffrin told Vermont writer Peggy Shinn, who covered the event for Ski magazine. “But it’s also like we haven’t had a lot of practice doing it the last couple of weeks.”
Shiffrin had higher hopes for Sunday’s slalom. She was the fastest in the morning’s first run.
“I don’t care if I ski out today. I don’t care if I don’t finish,” she told NBC after. “I have to push my hardest.”
But the melting course fought back in the afternoon’s second round. Finishing off the podium, Shiffrin nonetheless hugged the two skiers who tied for the top spot, Wendy Holdener of Switzerland and Anna Swenn-Larsson of Sweden.
“It’s just such a pleasure to race in front of this crowd,” Shiffrin said. “They deserve to see all of us put our best skiing on the line. Every race is a different story, so you just have to keep driving forward.”