It was a cold, windy Saturday morning as my photographer/husband and I made our way up an extremely busy Access Road for the sixth time Killington has hosted the HERoic World Cup. Cars wound down the road for miles as people trekked up the side of the road or waited for the shuttle. Thankfully, our press credentials secured us a spot not far from the base and the new K-1 lodge. It was Day One of the HERoic Killington Cup, a stop on the Audi FIS women’s World Cup ski races, and the crowd was buzzing with excitement (and ringing with cow bells). A press release from Killington said that there were 21,000 people there on Saturday for the giant slalom (37,000 total over the weekend); I believe it. We had to make our way through the packed vendor area, where people were checking out new skis and gear and tossing bean bags to win prizes, making our way around the stage where musicians Stephen Kellogg and Noah Kahan would play between and after runs.
The VIP bleachers were packed and spectators abutted the lower course on both sides. The VIP lodge access area also appeared to be jammed. Our press passes got us into the media zone, by the finishing line, where we could snap photos and talk to the racers after their runs. We had a front row view of teammates and coaching staff hugging and congratulating racers as they warmed up between runs. Despite my gloves, my hands were nearly numb as I scribbled barely legible notes. We were grateful to have the media center to warm our hands and camera battery, which had frozen in the cold.
After the first run, Sweden’s Sara Hector was in the lead with a time of 52.29. Ragnchild Mowinckel of Norway was in the number two spot with a time of 52.67 (+0.38) and Switzerland’s Lara Gut-Behrami was in third with 52.72 (+0.43). Top-ranked World Cup U.S. racer Mikaela Shiffrin, 27 years old, was in 10th place after the first run, with a time of 53.65 (+1.36). Four U.S. racers “made the flip,” qualifying for run two by being in the top 30 of 63 racers after run one. With Shiffrin at number 10, fellow teammates Paula Moltzan made 16th with 54.01 (+1.72), Nina O’Brien was in 23rd with 54.75 (+2.46) and Katie Hensien was in 25th with 54.74 (+2.45).
I talked with O’Brien after the first run. “I feel pretty good about [the first run], I think I showed some good turns. I think I’ve got more in me. I really had a lot of fun. The course is incredible. The snow is great, it’s a shorter start with the wind, so it’s definitely a sprint, and they set it really turn-y. So definitely those of us who have trained on some of these East Coast hills practicing tight turning, I think it’s in our favor.” O’Brien, a San Franscico native who now calls Denver home, is an alumna of Burke Mt. Academy. Asked about the team’s overall chances, she said, “I like our odds today. Mikaela and Paula are sitting in a good spot. I know they have a lot more speed and we have a bunch of racehorses in the back who are going to be firing.”
Shiffrin came in 13th overall with a combined time of 1:45.58 (+1.40), the top spot for the U.S. team. Moltzan came in 18th with a time of 1:46.02 (+1.94), O’Brien came in 23rd with a time of 1:46.67 (+2.46), and Hensien came in 27th with a time of 147.54 (+3.46).
Gut-Behrami won GS with a time of 1:44.08. Marta Bassino of Italy came in second with 1:44.15 (+0.07) and Hector took third place with 1:44.28 (+0.20).
Asked how the course was, Hector said, “Amazing, like perfect, perfect conditions. Couldn’t have asked for anything better.” As for how the race felt for her, she said, “Really, really fun.”
GMVS alumna Ali Nullmeyer of Canada did not compete in giant slalom (GS) on Saturday but did take 14th place in slalom on Sunday with a time of 1:44.35 (+1.38). GMVS had a booth in the vendor area and those green GMVS jackets could be seen throughout the crowd. I asked Rose Warner, MA, a U-16 first year racer at GMVS, why she was there. “Cause it’s fun to come out and watch the World Cup,” she said. As for who she was rooting for, she said, “Mikaela and all the U.S. ski teamers.”
In slalom on Sunday, though Shiffrin was number one after the first run, she ultimately came in fifth place with a combined time of 1:44.56 (+0.59). She was the only U.S. skier on the board after the first run. Both Sweden and Switzerland did well again with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson and Swiss Wendy Holdener tying for first at 1:42.97. Austria’s Katharina Truppe came in third with 1:43.19 (+0.22). Overall, it was a fun, busy weekend in Killington celebrating some of the top racers in the world.