For Young Ski Racing Fans, Killington World Cup Delivers
More than 30,000 spectators gathered to watch the best women alpine ski racers in the world compete this weekend in Killington.
There were free rock concerts, air horns and clanking cowbells to ramp up excitement. And since this was the third time Killington hosted this women's World Cup event, organizers threw in a jaw-dropping flyover by two F-16 fighter jets from the Vermont National Guard.
But for 10-year-old Alexis Weiss of Sherborn, Massachusetts, it was all about the athletes — especially her favorite: Mikaela Shiffrin.
Alexis has been ski racing for two years. Her 8-year old sister Reese plans to start racing this winter and both girls couldn’t wait to see their first World Cup.
“Yeah, I think it’s good that people do this because it shows that women are equal to men,” explained Alexis.
"I think it's good that people do this because it shows that women are equal to men." — Alexis Weiss, 10-year-old ski racer from Sherborn, Mass.
Their dad, Ryan Weiss, nodded in agreement: “I think it’s great for them to see that women can do things that they weren’t able to do in the past,” he said. “We wake up every morning before we go out on the weekends and we put the World Cup on the TV at home before we get out and start training. And I think it’s just great for them to see up close and in person, you know, these amazing women going down the course.”
Emmy Foote, a 12-year-old from Jericho, Vermont, arrived early Saturday with her older sister. Both girls are ski racers and they've been to all three World Cups at Killington.
“I think it’s really cool 'cause I can say that, like, 'oh, that’s what I want to be,'" said Emmy. "Like, I want to do that someday. ... It’s really cool to see how good they are.”
"I want to do that someday. ... It's really cool to see how good they are." — Emmy Foote,12-year-old ski racer from Jericho
As the final skiers rocketed down the ice-hard giant slalom course on Saturday, reaching speeds near 50 miles per hour, spectators got an eyeful of just how good the top skiers are.
Unlike the Olympics, which are held every four years, the World Cup — the top international circuit of alpine skiing — is held every year.
Races are held around the world beginning in October and finishing in March, and athletes are awarded points based on their finish. Those points are added up over the course of an entire season.
“For example, Mikaela Shiffrin has won the World Cup title for a couple of years,” explained Courtney Harkins, spokesperson for the Killington World Cup Committee.
Harkins said to make it to the top, a racer has to maintain excellence all year: “She has to win GS [giant slalom] races, she has to win slalom races, she has to win super-G races. She's got to do some downhills so that she can accumulate enough points in order to be a World Cup champion — versus if you're an Olympic champion, you just have to win a race on one day.”
Giant slalom and slalom, the races that were held at Killington this weekend, are considered technical events.
Superstar, the run the resort used for the competition, is 3,200 feet long with a 1,200 foot vertical drop. Slalom racers navigated 60 gates, while 40 gates were set up for the giant slalom.
Downhill and super-G are World Cup speed events, but Killington doesn’t have runs long enough to host those races.
In a close finish in the giant slalom race Saturday, Italy’s Federica Brignone took first, followed by Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway and Stephanie Brunner of Austria. Mikaela Shiffrin, an alum of Burke Mountain Academy, finished fourth.
Despite fog and rain, the 23-year old Shiffrin roared back on Sunday and had fans screaming as she laid down two statement-making runs in slalom.
Shiffrin took first, edging out Petra Vlhova of Slovakia and Frida Hansdotter of Sweden who came in second and third, respectively.
Shiffrin said the conditions were tough and forced her to fight for that first-place finish.
“You just have to be, like, aggressive and keep moving," she said. "And this snow ... it kind of sucks you down the hill. It’s really difficult to get off your edges.”
Shiffrin has won the slalom race at Killington for the past three years and said it’s a special event for her.
“It’s so cool to race here and you can still, like, hear the crowd partway down — can’t see anything,” she said about the day's fog, “but you can hear people. ... It's a really amazing atmosphere.”
"It's so cool to race here [at Killington] and you can still, like, hear the crowd partway down. ... It's a really amazing atmosphere." — Mikaela Shiffrin, current women's alpine World Cup Leader
Sunday’s win marks Shiffrin’s 45th overall World Cup victory. She won first place in the slalom race last week in Levi, Finland, and is firmly at the top of the women's alpine World Cup standings.
Besides points, Shiffrin and giant slalom winner Federica Brignone will each take home about $45,000 in prize money.
Megan Harrod of the International Ski Federation, which oversees the World Cup, said the top women alpine racers have out-earned their male counterparts in the World Cup for the past two seasons.
“I think it’s great for young women and girls to see that there is a possibility,” said Harrod. “And I think that we’re kind of in the golden age of ski racing for female athletes.”
The racers themselves seem to appreciate that. Ragnhild Mowinckel, who won second in the giant slalom, spent nearly 20 minutes after a race greeting fans and signing autographs.
“It’s great,” said Mowinckel. “I love that it’s so many people who come out here. That’s special for us, 'cause it’s not normal being so many for a woman’s race.”
“And this,” she said, pointing to a line of kids waving at her and asking to take a photo with her, “this is amazing. And I really love the enthusiasm of the people watching here ... so I hope I can give something back.”
Mowinckel, Shiffrin and many of the other racers are now on their way to Lake Louise, Canada, for the season's first downhill and super-G races next weekend.
Officials at Killington said they’re already planning to host the women’s World Cup for a fourth time next November.