CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Mikaela Shiffrin has given her fans plenty to cheer and smile about during her short time at the U.S. Alpine Championships at Sugarloaf.

The Olympic gold medalist slalom skier arrived at the Carrabassett Valley mountain early Thursday morning, signing autographs and taking pictures with her ever-growing fan base later that night. Friday, during the Opening Ceremonies, it was more of the same.

On Saturday morning, Shiffrin put on a show in her first ever race at Sugarloaf. The Vail, Colo., native ran second and set the tone for the day with a blistering time of 45.38 seconds. At the end of the first run, Shiffrin held a 2.62-second lead over second-place Paula Moltzan.

“Definitely have had a successful career in my teens and I’m really happy to be here,” Shiffrin said. “I’m really psyched to be at Sugarloaf. This is my first time skiing here. Being back at U.S. nationals is really fun for me being able to see all my old friends from school and getting back to my roots. And, of course, there’s so many kids here looking to be inspired by all of the racers, so it’s good to be a part of this.” 

Shiffrin breezed to the national slalom championship as a result, finishing her two runs in a combined time of 1:33:02. Both her runs were the fastest times of the day. Paula Moltzan was a distant second in 1:37.33.

Although it didn’t look like it based on her results, Shiffrin said Sugarloaf presented a challenge. 

“It’s a really high speed course and those faster courses are more difficult, even though you think it’s straighter and easier to handle,” Shiffrin said. “If the course controls your speed, it’s a little easier. You can push it into the skis and have the confidence but these courses you’re just trying to control it all the way down. It’s a challenge for me because these are the courses that are tough.” 

Between runs, it was back to what she’s been doing since she arrived: autographs and pictures. Seemingly moments after crossing the finish line, Shiffrin was engulfed in a sea of fans seeking a moment with the skiing superstar. Shiffrin was happy to oblige.    

“It’s cool to get back to U.S. nationals, back to the roots and see all the kids, a lot of them are one or two years younger than me and in the same position that I was in two years ago, so it’s cool to see that,” Shiffrin said.  

Despite a look of exhaustion on her face that comes with closing out a World Cup season in which she spent the bulk of her year in Europe, Shiffrin completed two flawless runs, showcasing why she’s the reigning Olympic, World Cup and World champion slalom skier. Shiffrin’s won the past three World Cup slalom titles and past two World Championships titles. 

“It definitely gets busy for me when I get close to ski areas and ski clubs because that’s where people are more aware of what I’ve done,” Shiffrin said. “It’s nice to be around all the excitement, and I didn’t think I was going to be here this soon. I didn’t know if I would ever get to this point, but it’s cool to be here now, and looking back on the last three years, knowing how much doubt I had but also how much confidence I had at least in my skiing and my motivation to improve and that’s what’s gotten me here.”

Shiffrin said she’s happy to be back on U.S. soil. 

“It’s been a while,” Shiffrin said. “I was at home in February for the World Championships so I got a little lucky this winter to be able to go back home, but it’s nice to be in the U.S. no matter what. And I get to go visit my Nana. I’m watching my brother race tomorrow and then get to go visit my Nana in Massachusetts. It’s always a relief to to get back here.” 

Saturday’s slalom victory was her seventh of the season. She won five on the World Cup circuit and another at the 2015 World Championships in her home state.

For many in the crowd, Shiffrin is viewed as a role model. The same can be said for some of her fellow competitors, specifically those skiing alongside her in the U.S. Alpine Championships. At the age of 20, Shiffrin is constantly being asked for advice by skiers her own age. 

“That’s a little bit surreal and sometimes I don’t know what to tell them,” Shiffrin said. “‘Honestely, I don’t have that much more life experience than you. I’ve traveled a little bit more. I can tell you kind of how to handle the jet lag but there’s not much more I can say.'”

Megan McJames (1:39.91), Hailey Duke (1:40.07) and Foreste Peterson (1:41.59) rounded out the top five. 


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