VAIL, Colo. — She’s American skiing’s golden girl, but Mikaela Shiffrin of Vail is quick to deflect much of the credit to her backroom team — especially her mother.
Shiffrin wrapped up her first World Cup overall title in Aspen to become only the third American woman to win the crystal globe for best all-rounder after Tamara McKinney (1983) and Vail’s Lindsey Vonn (2008-2010, 2012).
At just 22, she beat off Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec to the overall crown and bagged a fourth World Cup slalom title this season, to add to three slalom world championships and the 2014 Olympic slalom gold medal.
If Vonn is the longtime queen of speed skiing, Shiffrin is the technical superstar and hot favorite to retain her slalom crown at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“The one thing I can be certain of is my success is not my own,” said Shiffrin, who has won 31 World Cup races to Vonn’s 77.
“I have a team around me, my physio, coaches, my mum, [ski] serviceman — all have very selfless personalities, all seem to be very much motivated to help me succeed and work towards my goals without an ulterior motive.”
Shiffrin’s mother Eileen travels with her in an unspecified role that includes coaching, mentoring, motivating, cooking, nursing, being a best friend and a mom all at the same time.
“Some of her teammates have said ‘I would never be able to have my mum around that much, it would make me crazy, forget it,’ but Mikaela likes it, she’s a family person,” Eileen Shiffrin said.
Eileen and husband Jeff taught Mikaela to ski at the age of 2 in Vail. When Mikaela made her debut on the World Cup circuit just before her 16th birthday in 2011. Her mother, a former nurse, was a natural fit to be part of her traveling entourage.
“Probably one of the factors that has made a difference between my career and anybody else is having her to keep me on track, to help me stay sane, to be my best friend, to be my mum, to be my coach,” says Mikaela, who says the arrangement has grown organically and knows her mother will bow out at some stage, although not before next year’s Winter Olympics.
Another key member of the team is coach Mike Day, who has previously worked with U.S. men’s ski team standouts Bode Miller and Ted Ligety.
Day, settled as a coach at Green Valley in Vermont, says a big part of his decision to leave his young family behind and go back on the road with Shiffrin at the beginning of this season was her appreciation of her team’s sacrifice in pursuit of her goals.
“The biggest reason, truthfully, aside from her skiing prowess and success, was her as a person,” he said.
“She’s a really nice person, she’s a great role model for ski racers, for nonski racers, for boys, girls, men, women.”
As an athlete, Day says sometimes he cannot believe Shiffrin’s work ethic.
“She outworks everyone,” he says. “I’m sure people will take offense, to that but she is an incredibly hard worker. Off the snow she is amazing, on the snow she skis more than any athletes I’ve ever worked with.
“She likes honest feedback, she actually gets angry if you sugarcoat anything.”
Alongside Day in the backroom team are physio Lyndsay Young, ski technician Kim Erlandson and ski and fitness coach Jeff Lackie.
“Working with her is amazing,” Lackie said. “She’s very receptive to everything, incredibly coordinated and a fun athlete to be around.”
Shiffrin’s agent, the ex-Austrian and Bulgarian ski racer Kilian Albrecht, says she is a publicist’s dream.
“She’s very marketable,” Albrecht said. “First of all you need to perform, that’s what she’s done like nobody else in alpine ski racing at her age.
“And the other thing is she’s got the looks, she’s smart, she’s eloquent and she does a perfect job in working with sponsors and also with the crowd.”