Mikaela Shiffrin, U.S. Ski Team trains at Aspen Mountain
The Aspen Times
The teenage Olympic gold medalist skied up to her backpack next to a post at the base of Lift 1A at Aspen Mountain early Friday morning.
She loaded an outer shell jacket into the backpack and exchanged a quick conversation with coach Roland Pfeifer of the U.S. Ski Team.
Before loading the historic Shadow Mountain chairlift for another training run in Aspen, Mikaela Shiffrin turned to look at the finish venue — still under construction — for next week’s Aspen Winternational World Cup women’s ski races.
“We’re really lucky we can get on this hill,” said Shiffrin, the 19-year-old skiing superstar who is the reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in slalom. “There’s a time limit … like seven days before the race, you’re not allowed to ski on it.”
Taking advantage of the window in FIS World Cup scheduling, Shiffrin and several teammates on the women’s U.S. Ski Team trained Friday morning on Aspen Mountain.
They are preparing for the upcoming World Cup giant slalom on Aspen Mountain on Saturday, Nov. 29.
The women also will ski in a World Cup slalom on Sunday, Nov. 30 — also on the Strawpile/E. Fifth Avenue ski runs on the east side of Ajax.
“The surface looks great. We’re testing it out and trying to get race-ready,” Shiffrin said.
For the 19-year-old from Eagle-Vail, Friday marked a return to technical event training after some speed work earlier this week at Copper Mountain.
Shiffrin raced in a pair of FIS super-Gs at Copper Mountain as she starts to introduce the speed events to her World Cup schedule.
“It felt alright (at Copper Mountain),” Shiffrin said. “My speed has been pretty good. I’ve been pretty comfortable on the super-G skis.”
She finished 15th and 16th in the two FIS super-Gs midweek but was happy to go fast again.
“I made some mistakes in the races but it was really good practice,” Shiffrin said. “It brought out my weaknesses and showed me what I have to work on if I want to ski (speed events) at the World Cup.”
She and coach Pfeifer used the FIS super-G races to help her points in super-G.
But first, Shiffrin is targeting her World Cup strengths — slalom and GS.
Shiffrin won the opening World Cup slalom of the current season in Soelden, Austria, last month.
Actually, she tied 2014 overall World Cup champion Anna Fenninger of Austria in the slalom race.
Katharine Irwin of Vail and the U.S. Ski Team also trained on Aspen Mountain on Friday as the skiers checked out Spring Pitch, the big airplane turn onto Summer Road and the final faces down Strawpile and E. Fifth Avenue, where the finish will be located.
“We’re just coming out to get familiar with this hill again,” Irwin said. “We want to get familiar with the length, the altitude and the snow.”
Irwin added some equipment testing Friday at Aspen Mountain.
“I’m testing out some new bindings for Marker today … seeing if they work better,” Irwin said.
Irwin and Shiffrin agreed they are eager to race in the World Cup events in Aspen next week.
“It’s always great racing in Colorado … I’m from here,” Irwin said. “So, it’s fun. The people are cheering. You can recognize your friends who come out to watch.”
Shiffrin, too, has fond memories of racing on home snow — at home in Vail and Beaver Creek. And in Aspen.
“It’s amazing. The crowd here is always so wonderful,” said Shiffrin, who attended Burke Mountain Academy. “It’s like they take you all the way down to the finish. I’m really excited to get back here and race.”
Aspen Winternational notes
Friday’s training session with the women of the U.S. Ski Team also marked a homecoming of sorts for Roland Pfeifer, the U.S. women’s technical head coach.
Pfeifer himself raced in Aspen several times in the 1990s in pro ski tour events.
In fact, he was a pro tour teammate of Aspen’s Dave Stapleton for several seasons.
The professional tour, created by Aspen’s Bob Beattie, utilized dual-format, side-by-side racing — including a couple of jumps.
Races were staged on Aspen Mountain featuring World Cup veterans like the legendary Bernard Knauss, Sebastian Vitzthum, Mathias Berthold, Bob Ormsby, Andre Arnold and more.
“Those were fun days,” Pfeifer said Friday morning as he chuckled about his racing days from years past.
Pfeifer coached Shiffrin to Olympic gold last year. She also won the World Cup slalom title for the second consecutive year.
U.S. Ski Team skier Megan McJames of Park City, Utah, left a souvenir from Friday’s training session — a broken ski. The ski shattered right behind the rear binding assembly.
Course crews continue to work on the World Cup courses on Aspen Mountain. Finish venue construction is underway, including installation of grandstands at the finish area.
Television crews and video screen crews also are starting to spread cables for their productions.
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Piece by piece, the Aspen Recreation Center is beginning to reopen for indoor use after the coronavirus pandemic effectively put a bolt on the door in March. The ARC staff hopes to have the facility — or at least most of it — open to its regular members as soon as Oct. 5.