The best skiers in the world came to Vermont to compete in the World Cup at Killington, the first held in Vermont in 38 years. Valley enthusiasts were out in full support of one of their own World Cup hopefuls, Hannah Utter, Waitsfield.
Over 25,000 fans packed the parking lots for the November 26 and 27 event, hiking up to the base of the mountain to watch the historic event. Despite poor weather, the event was a success by almost every measure. Prior to the race, the Vermont Alpine Racing Association marched 1,000 of its young athletes into the race area, some of them certainly with World Cup dreams of their own.
No fan left disappointed on Sunday. Although Mikaela Shiffrin had hoped to win both the giant slalom and the slalom, she had to settle for fourth in the GS on Saturday but delighted American fans by winning on Sunday.
One Valley resident, Utter, had a closer look than anyone else on Saturday. Utter was able to forerun the giant slalom, skiing the course before all of the athletes to make sure it’s safe. Although she was not racing, she skied through a finish line to 16,000 fans and she was able to sense, a little bit, what a World Cup would feel like.
Utter skis at Green Mountain Valley School in Fayston and skiing in front of the biggest names in the world can be intimidating. Utter described it as humbling, but once she realized that it was just like any other race, it was empowering.
“It feels so amazing, being able to be so close to home. My whole family is here to see it and it’s just a really good introduction to World Cup racing,” Utter said.
Utter is pegged as one of the top development athletes and a member of the National Training Group, which is below the U.S. Ski Team.
The weather on Saturday wasn't ideal for the giant slalom, delaying the race a half hour. It did not seem to upset the crowd as all stayed outside to make sure they still had a good viewpoint because soon the likes of Shiffrin, Resi Stiegler and Megan McJames would be coming down the mountain.
Nina Loeseth of Norway was the first skier down the course, helping her win the first run. The times were progressively slower as the day wore on and course conditions deteriorated.
Shiffrin was the only U.S. athlete to qualify for a second run, one and fifteen-hundredths seconds behind the pace.
Tessa Worley of France was the behind Loeseth by just 0.09 of a second. She kept herself close enough to have a chance to win her first World Cup since a major knee injury.
Worley won the race followed by Loeseth and Sofia Goggio of Italy, who found the podium for the first time in her World Cup career.
Shiffrin ended the day in fifth place.
Everyone in the crowd had high hopes for Sunday’s race as Shiffrin is undeniably the best female slalom skier in the world. At the end of the day she found herself extending her streak to five World Cup slalom wins in a row and this would be the 10th World Cup slalom she has won in a row, of races that she has started. The reason for the gap in the two streaks is an injury she sustained last year.
Shiffrin's dominance was on display in full force as she gained most of her lead in full view of the crowd, toward the bottom of the course. Racers who seemed to have a chance after the first half of the run simply fell back the rest of the way.
After the first run her closest competitor was 0.67 of a second behind.
The second run would be much different for the frontrunner as she would be the last racer down the hill. She would inevitably face different conditions than the first run, in which she ran first.
It will take more than just rough course conditions to throw off the reigning Olympic champion. Although her second run was not as flawless as the first, it only added to the spectacle, as in the end she added to her lead. Shiffrin won by 0.73 of a second, followed by Veronika Velez Zuzulova of Slovakia and Wendy Holdener of Switzerland.
Throughout the weekend, athletes told reporters that Killington held a fantastic World Cup race. One athlete, who has raced World Cups in other parts of the U.S., even said that the crowd at Killington was more lively than any other U.S. World Cup.
After the quick awards ceremony spectators shuttled and walked back to their cars and although nothing is official, many are hoping for a return to Killington next season.