Racing only tech until worlds, Shiffrin readies for French World Cup ski races

Chris Freud, Vail Daily
Mikaela Shiffrin competes during last year’s women's World Cup giant slalom in Courchevel, France. As the tour returns to Courchevel this weekend, Shiffrin has four wins in eight starts there. (Marco Trovati/AP).

VAIL — Welcome to France, Mademoiselle.

Mikaela Shiffrin is officially in Courchevel for Saturday and Sunday’s World Cup giant slaloms. She had been training in Reiteralm, on the Austrian side of that country’s border with Germany.

The U.S. ski team announced that Shiffrin is indeed one of the starters — generally more her decision than that of the squad — for the races along with Nina O’Brien, Paula Moltzan, A.J. Hurt and Keely Cashman.

No need for speed

While Shiffrin took last weekend off to concentrate on her technical skiing, snow wiped out two super-Gs in St. Moritz, Switzerland. FIS has those races as canceled on its website, and has not announced a rescheduling for those speed races, so Shiffrin may have caught a break with regard to chasing the overall title this season.

But does she care about speed? Not these days. As she enters the Courcheval races, Shiffrin continues to indicate that 2020-21 will be a tech-focused season. In a conference call on Wednesday, the three-time World Cup champion reemphasized her intent to continue to compete in only GS and slalom at least through the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Cortina, Italy, in February.

“I just feel like I’m playing catch up right now, and I don’t feel like it’s realistic or wise to try to play catch up in every single event at the exact same time,” she said Wednesday. “Prioritizing tech makes the most sense. It’s where my highest priority always is.”

Of course, a World Cup athlete’s schedule is subject to change, but the U.S. ski team indicated in its release that Shiffrin’s next competitions after Courcheval will be a GS and slalom in Semmering, Austria, Dec. 26-28, which means she is skipping two downhills and a super-G in Val d’Isere Dec. 18-20.

What’s more, the U.S. ski team further announced Shiffrin will be competing in five technical races only in January leading up to the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Cortina, Italy, in February.

That would seem to indicate that Shiffrin will be in Zagreb, Croatia, Jan. 3 (slalom), Flachau, Austria, Jan. 12 (slalom), Maribor, Slovenia, Jan. 16-17 (two giant slaloms) and Kronplatz, Italy Jan. 26. By inference, Shiffrin will not be at speed events in St. Anton, Austria; Crans-Montana, Switzerland; Garmisch, Germany; and Val di Fassa, Italy.

And though Shiffrin is the defending super-G champion at worlds, the U.S. ski team said that she will likely only compete in GS and slalom in Cortina.

“No, the overall I would say is not a thing this year,” she said. “I try not to state goals or expectations that aren’t somewhat realistic, not only for myself but also out of respect for the other athletes competing.

“There are multiple athletes who are going to be extremely competitive (this winter), and I, at this point, do not see myself as one of them. I feel like I could either kill myself trying, or I could just call a spade a spade and work on what I can do.”

It is worth noting that in the three years (2017-19) that Shiffrin was the World Cup champion and would have won those titles based on only her GS and slalom points, but it’s clear that the big globe isn’t a goal.

OK, Courchevel

In general, Courchevel is a happy place for Shiffrin. She has eight starts there and four wins — all coming in 2017 and 2018. Shiffrin swept the GS and parallel slalom in 2017 and the giant slalom and slalom in 2018.

Last year, she fared poorly — for her — ending up 17th. Eventual World Cup champion Federica Brignone ended up taking gold.

The bigger issue in the Courcheval and Semmering races may be Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, who is off to a hot start with three wins in four races this season. Vlhova, who like Shiffrin is a tech skier with expanding speed talent, is 2-for-2 in slaloms and finished third behind Italy’s Marta Bassino in Soelden, Austria, in the season-opening GS.

“You’re really really good,” said Shiffrin during the conference call, as if speaking to Vlhova. “And you’re making this really, really hard for me to accomplish my goals because you’re doing it instead.

“I laugh about it because I’d like to be friends, but first, I’d like to be faster. That would be the ideal thing.”