Since the first World Cup race was held in Killington Vermont back in 2016, the event has continued to grow each year, easily transforming into a staple stop of the women’s tour. Highly anticipated by American and international athletes alike, many women on the tech circuit have publicly denoted the venue their favorite. Although the mountain may have something to do with its reputation, the real draw of the Killington World Cup is the atmosphere.
The East Coast has deep roots in the sport of alpine ski racing, and it shows in the massive crowds. In 2018, Killington broke its own attendance record from the previous year, with over 35,000 spectators flocking from far and wide to watch the women of the World Cup race on home soil in the United States. The fans, whether they are current racers or simply fans of skiing, take the event to a whole other level, making it the most attended stop on the women’s circuit.
A majority of the women’s races throughout the season are hosted in Europe. In fact, Killington is only one of three stops in North America, aside from Beaver Creek and Lake Louise. Given Killington’s proximity to major cities in the U.S. such as Boston and New York, fans that live in suburbia make the drive to Vermont to watch some of their favorite athletes ski. And the crowd does not just cheer for Americans, they cheer for everybody.
According to Julie Woodworth, the Executive Director at Vermont Alpine Racing Association (VARA), each person in the stands is cheering for these women as loud as they would cheer at a Patriots game.
“They are just so happy to watch the best of the best compete on home soil in Vermont,” Woodworth says. “It gives them somebody to root for in their own backyard, and their own backyard could be a four-hour drive and it wouldn’t matter. It’s like bringing a women’s soccer team to the area – it gives all these young kids and fans that just love the sport an opportunity to just be there and cheer for their favorites.”
The energy created by an enthusiastic crowd is the kind of energy that often goes missing on the women’s World Cup Tour. The only venue that comes close to replicating similar energy and attendance numbers is the night slalom in Flachau, Austria. Thus the reason why athletes love to ski in Killington, they have a chance to show off the sport and their abilities, a chance to feed off of the energy and put on a show, both on and off the course. A huge benefit, Woodward says, is the opportunity for fans to watch every American compete, no matter their start number, as well as the opportunity to meet the athletes outside of the competition venue at events hosted by local clubs and organizations, such as poster signings and parades. The proximity makes the World Cup tour all the more real and tangible.
“It just brings the crowd together and shows that these people are great athletes and they’re good people,” Woodworth says . “They’re out there signing stuff when they could be resting or relaxing or taking care of themselves. It’s just pure promotion of the sport and it’s so appreciated by all of the spectators. And the ability of the kids in the finish area to actually see these athletes come through the finish and get an autograph or a smile or a high–five, it means a lot. They get to see every American race, not just the top two. They get to see every athlete come through the finish line or not, or deal with some sort of adversity, but they get to see the entire thing, and it’s free.”
Athletes like Paula Moltzan, know that the Killington crowd has a reputation for staying strong, even until the final racer. This year, the 25-year-old will be competing in her specialty, the slalom, and in the giant slalom as she attempts to work a second discipline into her World Cup schedule. Having grown up in Minnesota, Moltzan established herself on the East Coast competing for the University of Vermont Catamounts on the NCAA alpine circuit while juggling the World Cup. The 2018/19 season was her last with her collegiate team, so this race holds a special significance to Moltzan, who feels as if she is returning to race in her second home once again.
“I have really fast teammates in GS, so if you want to keep up, you kind of got to be a quick learner,” says Moltzan. “After two or three camps with them, I’ve kind of stepped up my game and really gotten on pace, which has allowed me to start Killington, which I’m really excited about because it’ll be my first World Cup to start in front of the crowd. It’s gonna be a little terrifying, but I’m sure I’ll still be able to hear all the fans even though I’ll be running last.”
Her teammate and friend, Nina O’Brien, scored the first World Cup points of her career in front of the home crowd at Killington. She had started the race in bib 48, and skied from the back of the pack to finish 23rd overall. Like Moltzan, O’Brien also sees Vermont and the East Coast community as a second home. When she’s not actively competing, O’Brien studies at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire and grew up competing for local club, Burke Mountain Academy.
“Killington definitely feels special, I think that’s true for all of us who have gotten to race there because you finally feel like you get to share the World Cup experience with the entire East Coast ski racing community,” O’Brien told Ski Racing during her Tips and Tales segment post Soelden. “When you have that many people out there supporting you, and your teammates are there racing, it’s really fun and exciting. It feels more comfortable being at home in the U.S. It’s definitely one, if not all, of our favorite stops of the year.”
This year, fans will be looking to see Mikaela Shiffrin win her fourth slalom race at the venue, and potentially her first giant slalom. As reigning giant slalom crystal globe champion, it’s not an impossible feat for Shiffrin to pull off. And to sweep the races in front of an American crowd, in a state that she grew up training and competing in, would be a dream come true. This year, there is an added factor to Shiffrin’s performance, seeing as it is the first year that her beloved Nana, who recently passed away, will not be able to watch and participate. Over the past few years, Shiffrin has celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday prior to the big weekend with her family at her Nana’s home in Vermont.
Shiffrin, Moltzan, and O’Brien will compete in both the giant slalom and slalom events. Other American starters include Keely Cashman, AJ Hurt, and Storm Klomhaus in GS, and Katie Hensien and Foreste Peterson in the slalom.
Peterson represents Team X Alpine, the only American competitor who will race in Killington that represents an independent team. Last week, she finished second in the slalom NorAm opening race at Copper Mountain behind Team Clif’s Lila Lapanja. Lapanja swept the event and subsequently was offered a World Cup starting spot the upcoming weekend in Killington. Despite hoping to establish herself on the World Cup in the future, Lapanja made the decision to stick to her current program.
“I am thrilled about my results and grateful that the Ski Team acknowledges my skiing and commitment to race World Cup,” Lapanja told Ski Racing early this week. “With fast skiing, I look forward to earning future WC starts and working together with them throughout this season and beyond. I sincerely felt that this was best for my “big picture” success and am excited to keep building.”
Given that it has been four years since Lapanja has won in the slalom, and she has been fighting to come back from multiple injuries, her choice to focus on NorAms, and decline the starting spot is extremely strategic. Peterson was ready to take her place in the slalom, despite being fresh off her own injuries and being a GS specialist. This is not her first start in Killington, but it is her first start in the slalom.
“This is a bit of surprise getting a spot in slalom, but I’ve had quite a bit of training in slalom already despite my injuries this summer,” says Peterson. “I’m totally healthy now, I have hardware in my wrist, and I didn’t actually need to get surgery in my knee, so it wasn’t too bad of a recovery. I’m feeling good to go. I feel so lucky to be in the situation that I’m in with Team X Alpine. Although I’m not on the National Team I feel like I have just as much resources and support. I’d love to make a statement [this weekend], but really I just want to ski the best I can so hopefully that comes with a good result too.”
There has still been no official announcement as to whether or not Soelden winner, Alice Robinson, will be competing in GS come Saturday. The 17-year-old Kiwi is currently recovering from a knee injury that she skied on while competing in Soelden. Her and her team have arrived in Killington in case they are given the all-clear. If Robinson competes, she will be coming off of a win over crowd-favorite Shiffrin.
Giant slalom favorites, Tessa Worley, Federica Brignone, Viktoria Rebensburg, will also be competing in Killington. Worley has been fighting to come back from a knee injury that she had surgically fixed in the spring. She came out strong in Soelden, finishing third, but has been experiencing some difficulty in training and not skiing as fast as she feels is normal, according to undisclosed sources. Downhill overall champion and Olympic gold medalist, Sofia Goggia, is also competing in this weekend’s GS, although she will be starting from the back of the pack as she works to bring the technical discipline back into her speed-dominated schedule.
Top slalom skiers, Petra Vlhova, Wendy Holdener, and Anna Swenn Larsson will participate in the slalom on Sunday and attempt to steal away Shiffrin’s fourth slalom win in Killington with a win of their own.
Here’s how to tune in to all the action.
Saturday, November 30th – GS:
- 9:40 am EST – Run 1 on the Olympic Channel
- 12:30 pm EST – Run 2 on NBCSN
- 3:30 pm EST – NBC
Sunday, December 1st – Slalom:
- 9:40 am EST – Run 1 on the Olympic Channel
- 12:30 pm EST – Run 2 on NBCSN
All runs will also be available on NBC Sports Gold.