2022 HERoic Killington Cup p/b Stifel

Greetings from Killington, Vermont, where the best technical skiers in the FIS women's ecosystem are here to race two FIS World Cup races!

The hill looks good, and word from the course crew is that the surface is smooth and grippy. They're keeping all but the essential FIS crew off of Superstar today to keep things in order for tomorrow. Today's drippy weather should clear by evening allowing temperatures to dip below freezing and the already-injected surface to set up perfectly for the GS competition tomorrow.

Note: this article will be growing as the weekend competition progresses! And all photos are by @AaronFM unless otherwise noted.

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Superstar getting final prep work for the GS. (photo by @Rudi Riet)

There was a press conference on Friday evening. The first panel featured Michelle Gisin (SUI), Sara Hector (SWE), Federica Brignone (ITA), Tessa Worley (FRA), and Mikaela Shiffrin (USA). Some highlights:

When asked about finally being able to race GS tomorrow, all of the athletes expressed a combination of relief and trepidation. "We don’t know how our summer training went," replied Tessa Worley. "We are happy to find out tomorrow when the season starts."

"I did a lot of speed work at Copper Mountain," said Brignone. "It's the part of the season I like the most," she said about the early season, noting that her speed at Copper and in summer camps in Argentina wasn't consistent. But she's looking forward to racing again, noting that she "needs racing to make [her] motivation grow."

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Sara Hector and Federica Brignone

Hector also reflected on training this summer in Argentina, which was a new experience for her. "It's great to see something other than glaciers in the summer," she mused. And when asked how she celebrated her Olympic GS gold she noted that it featured "ice cream in bed after the longest day of my life - I celebrated more in the summer with my family and friends."

Gisin had a delayed celebration of her Olympic and World Championship hardware, reassuring Hector that "it's OK to celebrate one year later."

Shiffrin once again noted that Killington is awesome because, especially in slalom, "you can hear the crowd from the starting gate." She once again commended the Killington crowd for being an equal opportunity cheering squad, where "anybody who has a strong run gets a lot of cheering... the crowd looks for the most amazing show."

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Mikaela Shiffrin

The second panel was all U.S. Ski Team, with Shiffrin being joined by Nina O'Brien, Katie Hensien, Ava Sunshine, Paula Moltzan, Allie Resnick, and AJ Hurt.

All of the athletes are pumped to compete at home. For the veteran racers like Shiffrin, Moltzan, and O'Brien, they have the hill dialed and offered advice to Sunshine. That said, Shiffrin was quite clear about the newly minted World Cup slalom points winner, especially when it came to pre-race prep before her first Levi slalom run. "She just seemed... set," according to Shiffrin, "whe she skied she looked like and athlete executing her plan."

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Left to right: Nina O'Brien, Katie Hensien, Ava Sunshine, Paula Moltzan, Mikaela Shiffrin, Allie Resnick, and AJ Hurt

Young racers from Pico Ski Team and Killington Mountain School also asked questions of the athletes. When asked about pre-race routines, Ali Resnick noted that her always-on-race-day pink socks were left at home. "So this weekend I start a new season with a new sock color: purple!"

I asked Katie Hensien about the transition from splitting time between the World Cup, Nor-Ams, and NCAA racing to a full-time World Cup schedule. She said that while she is "figuring out how to spend spare time without class work," she is grateful for the NCAA experience and hoping to have a great season with full focus on SL and GS on the World Cup.

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Katie Hensien

Saturday, November 26:

The big news today is the wind, which has forced race officials to lower the start to the reserve location. This shortens the course by approximately 7-8 gates. The snow is firm with the combination of lower temperatures (26°F/-3°C) and the wind - it should make for great GS racing!

12:00pm EST update (first run):

The first run took place on a rock-hard surface and produced some stunning results.

The big takeaway is that Sara Hector is skiing some exceptional GS right now. She milked the top of the course for as much speed as possible and then skied an aggressive-nut-not-low line for the remainder (splits were 2nd/1st/2nd), building a sizeable buffer on her competition.

The rest of the top five are all over 0.38 second behind Hector but are all within 0.21 of each other: Ragnhild Mowinckl (NOR), Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI), Petra Vlhova (SVK), and Marta Bassino (ITA). And the top 10 cutoff is at 1.36 seconds.

In 10th is Mikaela Shiffrin, who admitted she wasn't as happy with her turns as she was in warmup this morning. "I left a lot on the table," she remarked in the finish, and vowed to clean things up for run two.
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Mikaela Shiffrin

Similarly, Paula Moltzan (16th after first run) said she had a few mistakes that kept her from the result she was after. That said, this was her first World Cup GS race at Killington so the upside of that is real. "I was feeling a bit awkward, it was the first time I'd been on GS skis in a long time," she said, adding that "the first run is off my chest and I'm ready to go out there an push even harder second run."

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Paula Moltzan (photo by @Rudi Riet)

Nina O'Brien's comeback from her injury at the Beijing Olympics made its next step today, with a 26th place finish after run one. "The snow was amazing - I'm not sure how Killington pulled it off," she said, admitting that she and the other USST women had been glued to the resort webcams leading into last weekend. "It was incredible, one of the best surfaces - and that's all you can ask for, it's loads of fun."
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Nina O'Brien

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Nina O'Brien (photo by @Rudi Riet)

Katie Hensien's first GS race as a full-time World Cup skier went exceedingly well, charging from the 49th start to grab 25th for the run. She had a top 10 split on the first section of the course.

And the hard charger for run one is Lara Colturi of Albania, who landed in 27th from the 58th start position with a run that was smooth yet aggressive the whole way down.
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Lara Colturi looking shocked at her first run result

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Tessa Worley (FRA)

2:15pm EST update (second run):

New course (set by the Austrians) and a lot of surprises for the second run of today's GS.

The top four times in the second run produced some excellent results for the athletes who laid them down:

  • Roberta Melesi (ITA) had the fastest second run and moved up from 29th to 11th.
  • Maryna Gasienica-Daniel (POL) had the second-fastest second run and advanced from 20th to 8th.
  • Alice Robinson (NZL) moved up from 22nd to 14th.
  • And Lara Colturi (ALB) moved from 27th to 17th - not bad for someone who started 58th in the first run of her first-ever World Cup GS race! At 16 years old she has a lot of races ahead of her. Given the quality of her skiing she should excel this season.

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Lara Colturi

But the top three overall was a celebration of veteran talent. Sara Hector's second run had a few baubles, knocking her from first after run one to third overall. Marta Bassino made up for first run mistakes to take second. And Lara Gut-Behrami's injuries now seem to be something in her rear view as she atoned for a slip early in the second run to charge hard down the rest of the course, stivoting and carving to a well earned win.

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L to R: Marta Bassino, Lara Gut-Behrami, Sara Hector

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Lara Gut-Behrami starts her victory celebration

The USST's second runs were not exactly what the doctor ordered. Shiffrin's second run was skied with too much power (16th on the run, 13th overall). Moltzan nearly wiped out four gates from the finish but kept things upright (20th on the run, 18th overall). O'Brien gutted it out but had a lot of costly slip-ups on the inside ski (18th on the run, 23rd overall). And Hensien had early slips that added up as she tried to right the ship over the remainder of her run (27th on the run, 27th overall). Still: four USST athletes in the points is a great start for the season.

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Mikaela Shiffrin

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Nina O'Brien

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Katie Hensien

Given none of the GS competitors had any barometer of where they stood heading into this race it will be interesting to see how things play out during the season. Hector is strong, but word is that her knee is still tender. Bassino still has the speed, just not the consistency. Gut-Behrami seems to be over the injuries that plagued her over the past half decade. Mowinckel showed flashes of speed, as well. And Vlhova is looking consistent with strong finishes.

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Petra Vlhova

Sunday, November 27:

What a difference an overnight makes! This morning it is overcast with temperatures above freezing. The surface on Superstar is still solid, but for how long? Temperatures will top out at 41°F/5°C before rain moves in this afternoon. Fortunately the liquid precipitation should hold off until after the final racer has crossed the line.

After last weekend in Levi we have a somewhat clear picture of who the favorites are this weekend. Shiffrin can't be counted out here, with a heretofore unblemished record on Superstar. Vlhova is also super strong at Killington, as are Wendy Holdener and Anna Swenn Larsson. Katarina Liensberger and Lena Deurr are also skiing strong slalom right now, the latter amassing two 4th place finishes last weekend.

North Americans other than Shiffrin are poised to do well. Former NCAA powerhouses Laurence Saint-Germain (CAN), Paula Moltzan, and Katie Hensien are all accustomed to racing in less-than-ideal conditions and all should thrive here at Killington. Were Ava Sunshine Jemison's performances at Levi a fluke? Killington will likely tell the tale.

11:55am EST update (first run):

The warm weather took its toll on the course, but not before Mikaela Shiffrin laid down a solid (if not perfect, to her own standards) run to lead the field in the first run.

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Mikaela Shiffrin

Shiffrin has a 0.21 second lead over Wendy Holdener, whose run had a couple of mistakes that likely cost her the lead. Third on the run belongs to Katarina Liensberger (0.22 out), fourth to Petra Vlhova (0.31) and fifth to Anna Swenn Larsson (0.38). Lena Duerr is 0.65 back in sixth.

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Lena Deurr

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Petra Vlhova

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Wendy Holdener

For the USST the results were decidedly not to their liking. Paula Moltzan had favorable splits until railing out on her inside ski and having to hike, finishing well outside the flip-30 cutoff. All the other USST racers were DNFs, mostly in the top part of the course which suffered from being roasted by a surprisingly present sun. This bath of light caused the snow to soften quickly, creating peeling snow, ruts, and holes that were tougher to see in the shadows. Aline Danioth (SUI) said that "after the headwall the light was difficult, the snow was peeling, and the holes were impossible to see - it was tough to hold your line and tactics." Danioth was a DNF.

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Paula Moltzan

Team Canada Alpine had a slightly better outing than their southern neighbors, with Ali Nullmeyer in 12th (+1.67) and Amelia Smart in 16th (+1.98). Note that both have recent NCAA competition experience that was put to good use on the rapidly deteriorating Superstar surface.

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Amelia Smart

Hard charger for the morning was Maria Therese Tviberg (NOR), starting 24th and finishing 10th on the run (+1.45). The highest bib to crack the top 30 is Marta Rosetti (ITA), who started 44th and finished 26th (+2.96). And for those following Federica Brignone, she made the flip finishing 28th on the run (+3.00).

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Marta Rosetti

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Federica Brignone

For the second run there are choices to be made by the race organizers. They could lay down chemicals on the surface that will harden it for the early runners at the risk of things "chunking up" as repeated passes wear holes and ruts into things. The other option is to leave things as-is and hope that the snow doesn't peel too much, simply doing frequent passes with slip-and-rake crews to remove slough and holes as need be. I don't envy them.

2:30pm EST (second run):

The big news is that the race crew didn't put any treatment on the course, opting for frequent slip crews.

And the course did break down quickly. The first skier on the second run, Franziska Gritsch (AUT) handily won the run and moved up 22 places to snag 8th place. Skier after skier tried to beat her mark and failed as the course rapidly deteriorated with ruts and holes top to bottom. Eventually she was beaten on the aggregate, but Gritsch's run was one full second faster than the next fastest on the run, Melanie Meillard (SUI).
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Franziska Gritsch

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Melanie Meillard

Once the top 8 skiers entered into the mix things got a bit more interesting. The course rewarded a deft touch and a line that was slightly more high and conservative. Taking a more direct line meant either overworking the snow or skiing headlong into ruts that were not forgiving.

In the end it was a tie for first, with Anna Swenn Larsson and Wendy Holdener taking top honors over Katharina Truppe. To say Swenn Larsson and Holdener were elated is a gross understatement. Swenn Larsson was so overcome with emotion that words basically escaped her. "I'm just so happy and proud, it's something I've fought for my whole life," she said, "I haven't beaten Mikaela many times... it seems amazing to do it here." Regarding the deteriorating course conditions she noted "I didn't think [my run] would be that good so I was surprised when I came down and took the lead, you just had to fight all the way to the finish."
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Swenn Larsson and Holdener on the top step, Truppe in 3rd

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Anna Swenn Larsson

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Wendy Holdener

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Katharina Truppe

Holdener was over the moon. "I have a lot of stuff going on at the moment so i didn't really realize what happened, then I saw 'zero-zero-zero' on the board," she explained, "and the rest was unbelievable." She then watched Shiffrin's run, noting "Anna said 'we don't have a chance' but maybe we do have a chance!" Holdener told me she plans on celebrating in New York City tomorrow before returning to Europe.

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Wendy Holdener (photo by @Rudi Riet)

Petra Vlhova finished in 4th, Shiffrin in 5th, Maria Therese Tviberg moved up to 6th, and Ana Bucik (SLO) ended up 7th. Kati Liensberger was a DNF after spinning out early on the second run, and Lena Duerr dropped to 28th (and last) after hiking a gate during her second run.

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Petra Vlhova

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Ana Bucik

Shiffrin was philosophical about her day, with her skiing being a bit too precise and not adapting well to the sloppy conditions. "If anything, I didn't expect to win today," she said, "it just felt like the universe doesn't work in ways where I'd win my 50th slalom race at Killington." While she admits it isn't the best mental approach to racing, "I pushed and I fought - I'll look back at the video to see which turns I lost speed on, I'm not afraid of doing the work on that."

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Mikaele Shiffrin (photo by @Rudi Riet)

As always Shiffrin was amazed with the Killington crowd and was doubly happy that Swenn Larsson and Holdener won. "Look at them on the Jumbotron - [Wendy] is so happy! It's just like... you can't be disappointed about that." Shiffrin notes that both her and Holdener have been on the World Cup circuit for a similar length of time and that this win is well deserved. "They [both] just deserved it."

The biggest breaking news is that Shiffrin will not be going to the Lake Louise races. I asked her about this and she said that she'll be heading back to Europe for more training before her next World Cup races.

Team Canada Alpine's showings were Ali Nullmeyer in 14th and Amelia Smart in 16th.

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Ali Nullmeyer

And for Brignone fans: she had the 7th fastest second run to finish 24th on the day.

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Federica Brignone

Overall Killington pulled off this event extremely well. Less than 9 days ago they had green grass from top to bottom on Superstar. By yesterday they had a solid ice rink with terrain. And today there was zero risk of breaking through to bare ground despite the warm temperatures and rain. So kudos to the Beast Crew and the rest of the HERoic Killington Cup crew! Until 2023...
About author
Rudi Riet
Rudi Riet is a USSS alpine ski racing coach in the Mid-Atlantic, as well as a former FIS and USCSA racer. He's also a consultant for micro-mobility solutions in urban and suburban spaces, a political consultant, an IT consultant and project manager, and the former chair of a 501 (c)(3) non-profit. He also is an avid road and gravel cyclist with almost two decades of experience leading and designing bicycle tours and routes in the greater Washington, DC, area.

Replies

Thanks for the first hand account. The slalom course also had a lowered start?

Funny how earlier this year reports were MS would do more speed and Lake Louise is a successful venue for her but it sounds like she’s all in with tech maybe based on Killington alone?

Petra looked tired, not in the best shape. Maybe she’ll be more in the top 5 pack rather than a direct rival?
 
So cool you got to speak with the winners! Something NBC could not manage to do.
Did you happen to here any reactions from LGB yesterday?

Thanks
 
Thanks for the first hand account. The slalom course also had a lowered start?

Funny how earlier this year reports were MS would do more speed and Lake Louise is a successful venue for her but it sounds like she’s all in with tech maybe based on Killington alone?

Petra looked tired, not in the best shape. Maybe she’ll be more in the top 5 pack rather than a direct rival?

Slalom start was at the usual location.

I get the feeling that Shiffrin is thinking both mental and physical health this year. Her comments about how she didn't feel she had to win today were telling: she's thinking about long-term stuff now, looking toward a future where she skis only the races she wants to do. It's a more mature Mikaela, definitely not the 22 year old wunderkind of yore.

Petra is in a weird place. Her pursuit of the overall title drained her in the same way it did Maze. I think she's still figuring out how to retool.
 
So cool you got to speak with the winners! Something NBC could not manage to do.
Did you happen to here any reactions from LGB yesterday?

Thanks!

I didn't get any LGB time yesterday, which I regret. Post-race media opportunities were challenging. Today it was all about tenacity - made doubly challenging in the rain. But it was worth it to interview Swenn Larsson, Holdener, and Shiffrin - and to get the first scoop on Mikaela's skipping Lake Louise.
 
Thanks!

I didn't get any LGB time yesterday, which I regret. Post-race media opportunities were challenging. Today it was all about tenacity - made doubly challenging in the rain. But it was worth it to interview Swenn Larsson, Holdener, and Shiffrin - and to get the first scoop on Mikaela's skipping Lake Louise.
Rudi, do you have a journalism background? I seems like you must. Very cool report. Thanks!
 

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