EagleVail’s Mikaela Shiffrin to make her downhill debut at Lake Louise on Friday.
Vail Valley racer to ski new discipline Friday
lake louise, alberta» There are reasons this annual World Cup venue surrounded by massive peaks in the grandeur of the Canadian Rockies is sometimes nicknamed Lake Lindsey. Since 2004, 18 of Lindsey Vonn’s 76 World Cup victories have come here, and on three occasions she swept the weekend’s three races.
Her quest to break Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 World Cup wins will not advance this time, though. Vonn broke her right arm training two weeks ago at Copper Mountain, and while she is expected to return sometime this season, her information handlers aren’t offering any clues when that might be. Her absence is felt here. “It’s kind of, not boring, but she’s important for us, for the show,” said former Austrian World Cup great Alexandra Meissnitzer, who is here working for Austrian TV. “She’s just a big star in our show, and when she’s not here, a big part is missing. Everything in Lake Louise is about Lindsey Vonn.”
There is another Vail Valley racer who could pick up some of the slack in terms of star power, though. Mikaela Shiffrin, who has dominated women’s slalom the past four seasons while focusing on that event and giant slalom, will make her World Cup debut in downhill Friday.
“It’s actually the first time I’ve skied a fulllength downhill,” Shiffrin said after a training run this week. “It’s a very different feeling, getting to the bottom of the track and being like, ‘My legs are tired but I still have to let it run and be on top of it.’ It’s really fun, it’s a really nice track and I feel like I have it down in my head. It’s just about, when the speed’s coming at me, nailing that line and making sure I’m on top of it.”
Downhill is the most exciting and dangerous of the alpine disciplines. Average speeds exceeded 60 mph in training runs here this week and top speeds were nearly 80 mph. Shiffrin is a brilliant technical skier, the envy of the World Cup for her form, but downhill requires other skills as well. It also requires a lot more course familiarity to succeed than slalom and giant slalom. Shiffrin is racing against women who know every inch of this course that she is just learning how to navigate.
“The biggest issue for me is, when the speeds really pick up, timing the turns,” Shiffrin said. “I know how to turn, but it’s about timing that and being smooth with the turns. That comes with experience, knowing the tracks and skiing a lot on your speed skis.”
Nobody expects her to win here this year as she learns the new discipline, but she gave a hint of her potential here last year when she made her super-G debut and finished 15th. Super-G is the other “speed event” in alpine racing with more turns than downhill and top speeds approaching 70 mph.
Adding the speed events to her repertoire is the next step in Shiffrin’s development. After she acquires competence in speed events to complement her excellence in the technical events, she is expected to become a contender for the World Cup overall title. She currently leads the World Cup overall standings after two slaloms (both of which she won) and two giant slalom races (second and fifth).
“Right now I’m really trying not to think about results,” Shiffrin said. “I’m only thinking about the track. There’s so many parts of this track, all these girls know it and I have no idea what’s coming at me. I’m just trying to memorize every single section and ski it the best I can.”
Mikaela Shiffrin trains for the World Cup women’s downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta, on Wednesday. The downhill is a new discipline for Shiffrin. Christophe Pallot, Getty Images