Mikaela Shiffrin’s decision to opt out of the Val Gardena speed events on Dec. 17-18 to give herself a break and focus on training for the technical events in Courchevel, France paid off. She returned to the top of the podium in both Friday’s giant slalom and Saturday’s slalom events, extending her winning streak on the World Cup circuit to five wins and rounding out her overall World Cup victory tally to 50. American Paula Moltzan finished Saturday’s slalom race with a career best 15th place.
Courchevel Women’s Giant Slalom
In Friday’s giant slalom race, Shiffrin bested some fierce competitors including the current World Cup leader in the GS event, Italy’s Federica Brignone, who won the last giant slalom race in Killington, Vt.
After having to move the last races scheduled to take place in Val d’Isere, France to Val Gardena because of lack of snow, the ladies racing in France on Friday had to contend with too much snow—low visibility and fresh snow on the course made for difficult racing conditions, and led a number of women to make costly mistakes like catching their inside ski in the loose, soft snow just inside each turn’s track. The only other two American women to race besides Shiffrin, A J Hurt and Patricia Mangan, did not finish their first run due to the difficult conditions.
Shiffrin, however, skied as though the conditions were just to her liking. Ever cool, calm, and collected, Shiffrin laid down a smooth and solid first run—though not the fastest. Shiffrin came through the finish of the first run tied for second with Stephanie Brunner of Austria. Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg, who has finished in the top four in the last 11 World Cup GS races, came down the course right before Shiffrin, and skied 0.08 seconds faster than Shiffrin and Brunner.
But Shiffrin likes heading into her second run not in first place—it means she can ski more aggressively without fear of having to protect her lead. Because of the conditions, race officials lowered the start gate for Run 2, shortening the course by roughly 10 seconds, which gave all ladies incentive to ski more aggressively. Shiffrin did just that, skiing a more direct line the second time down the course to finish with the fastest time, beating Brunner by 0.78 seconds and Rebensburg by a mere 0.14 seconds. Rebensburg settled in second place, while France’s Tessa Worley, who won the season-opening GS in Sölden, Austria, moved up from fourth place after the first run to third place.
Read more: Shiffrin Dominates in St. Moritz
“It was a big fight,” Shiffrin said after the GS. “I knew it was going to be really tricky, almost like Sölden, but maybe not as steep. I felt a little bit like [this] is my redemption, and I’m going to [be] really aggressive…And it worked, just a little bit—0.14 seconds is not a lot. [Viktoria] had some mistakes, so I’m a bit lucky, maybe.”
Courchevel Women’s Slalom
Saturday’s slalom event was an exciting one, with the top women in the world in this technical event all stacked within the first group of racers for Run 1. Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, who has been hot on Shiffrin’s heels at all slalom events this season and only narrowly lost the parallel slalom event in St. Moritz to her, raced with bib number 1 and set the tone for the rest of the field by putting down a fast first run.
Shiffrin, racing with bib number 3, skied a fast but not completely clean line, losing her balance and some momentum half way down the course. Nevertheless, she managed to narrowly pull ahead of Vlhova by 0.04 seconds. That narrow margin was enough to solidify her lead going into the second run, with Austria’s Bernadette Schild sliding into third place.
The results from the second run stayed largely the same, though Schild lost her third place when she straddled a gate with her inside ski and was unable to finish the course. Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter, ranked third overall in the world in slalom last season, skied an impressive second run that moved her up from fifth place in Run 1 to take third. Vlhova gave Shiffrin a run for her money in the second run, but it was not enough to contend with Shiffrin’s faster second run, which put Shiffrin 0.29 ahead of Vlhova’s combined time.
“I’m really happy and maybe a bit lucky with my win again today. I was watching the first run and Petra [Vlhova] skied better than I did. I don’t know how I snuck away with the lead in the first run. It was a big battle.”
Yet she did sneak away with the win—her 50th career Audi FIS World Cup win in just eight seasons competing on the tour.
“I was actually trying as hard as I could not to focus on that today,” Shiffrin said after the race. “It’s too distracting to think about those numbers for me. It’s always a mental battle just to focus on my skiing.”
American Paula Moltzan (Burlington, Vt.) also had cause to celebrate after Saturday’s slalom race: She skied a very impressive second run, finishing with the fourth fastest time, only 0.16 behind Shiffrin, to move up to 15th place overall—a career best for Moltzan.
The ladies will now get a short break over Christmas before moving on to the next World Cup events in Semmering, Austria, where giant slalom and slalom will take place on Dec. 28-29. What will Shiffrin do with her few days off?
“I want to see Matt, tomorrow hopefully," Shiffrin said, speaking about her boyfriend, French World Cup skier Mathieu Faivre. "We might be able to ski together a little bit and prep for Semmering. It’s not a lot of time.”
See full results of the women's Courchevel races here.