If you know your winter sports, you’re no stranger to the name Mikaela Shiffrin. Once labelled ‘the Mozart of skiing‘, the Colorado-born prodigy broke out into the world of international slalom skiing at the age of 15, scored her first World Cup podium position at 15, and eventually won her first Slalom world championship at 17. Her career reached new heights in 2014 with the culmination of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where she became the youngest ever Olympic slalom champion – male or female – aged just 18.
Now 21 years old – and despite already achieving such meteoric success – it seems that Shiffrin is just getting started. At point of writing, she has 20 FIS World Cup victories to her name, and goes into a new competition season with yet more opportunities to earn personal bests, more victories and the chance to make ski history all over again.
We spoke with Shiffrin in-between the slopes to discuss her ski history, travel memories and advice for first-time skiers this season.
When did you first get into skiing?
I started skiing when I was two-and-a-half years old in Vail, Colorado. My parents taught me in our driveway. They both love skiing and they were great teachers – mum still travels with me as one of my coaches.
How would you recommend a ski trip to a first-timer?
I would tell them that skiing can be so fun and exhilarating – but it can also be gruelling. Provided they pack lots of warm clothes and layers and expect that it’s going to be hard before it gets easy, they’ll be all set.
It’s worth investing in a ski lesson or two to get through the first few days without a lot of frustration. Once they’ve got the basics they’ll be able to have a blast and get on some more difficult terrain. From there, the sky is the limit! Ski vacations are so fun, with snowy towns, hot chocolate breaks and thawing out by the fire in the evening – they’re a great way to spend quality time with family or friends, or to just get away from the rest of the world for a little bit.
What is your favourite ski destination?
I love going to Courchevel, France. The town is so beautiful and because we always go around Christmas for our races, whenever we arrive I immediately feel like it’s Christmas— one of my favourite vacations!
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What must-haves would you recommend every winter sports holidaymaker take with them?
Bring some snacks for the chairlift rides. It’s a perfect time to grab a bite to eat to keep your energy up until lunch. If you’re alone or with kids it can also be worth bringing a small book to read by yourself or to the kids to pass the time on chairlifts. However, you often meet really cool people there so it can be a great time to spark up a conversation with a stranger.
Describe your dream vacation
I have two dream vacations. One is spending Christmas at home with a ton of snow, opening gifts with my family in the morning, going out for a ski and then home to a big feast with family and friends.
My other dream vacation is a beach: someplace quiet, with blue skies, sand and sea. I love to go to Maui with my family for vacation in the spring. We used to go every year, but we hadn’t gone in a long time until last year when we had our first family vacation in about a decade.
How has travelling with your profession changed your outlook on the world?
Skiing has taught me so many lessons about time management, discipline, work ethic, fitness and nutrition that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. It’s amazing how much you can learn from sports. One of the lessons I keep learning over and over again is how the only real way to reach goals is through hard work.
What is your fondest travel memory?
I have great memories of the First Tracks experience in Vail, Colorado, when I was 5 years old. First Tracks is a programme that allows people to go up on the mountain before the rest of the public and make the first tracks in the snow. My family and a few of our friends got to do it on an amazing powder day in Vail and it was incredible. Miles and miles of fresh powder snow. That was my first real memory of skiing. It was amazing.
What have been some of your most challenging skiing experiences?
The same day of First Tracks was also one my scariest experiences. It was my first time skiing real powder, and I fell and got stuck under a pile of snow – it felt like I was suffocating until my dad pulled me out by my feet. He calmed me down and gave me a quick ‘how-to’ on skiing powder, and then off I went. That very next run was one of the best that I can remember, and that was the moment that it went from being one of the worst days of my life to one of the best.
How were the Olympic games?
The Olympics were incredible! Before my races I tried to stay sort of isolated from everything – I just pretended like it was any other race. It was after I won the gold in slalom and went to the awards ceremony that I realised how big it really was.
How has skiing opened your mind to other cultures and people?
Everywhere I go I meet people from different backgrounds and cultures, and I’ve learnt that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Especially with competitors: sometimes I presume smaller athletes won’t be strong or fast – until they beat me! You can’t count anyone out, and you can’t assume to know anything about a person until you actually get to really know them.
What do you do when you’re not on the slopes or training?
I like to read, hang out with my family, play tennis or do other sports (like American football or windsurfing), listen to music and play piano or guitar – although I’m not very good! I also really love to go to the cinema, get popcorn and relax.
If you could travel with any one famous person who would it be and where would you go?
I think I would travel for a day on tour with Adele. She seems so funny, and she has such an amazing voice. It would be interesting just to see what really goes on behind the scenes on those world tours.