Mikaela Shiffrin Is a 19-Year-Old Speed Machine

The Olympic gold medalist on dominating slalom—and what's next on her agenda

At the 2014 Olympic Games, Shiffrin won the first medal for an American in slalom since 1984. (Grafton Smith/USSA)
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Last February, then 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest skier in history to nab an Olympic gold medal in slalom—after nearly crashing partway through her winning run. That performance, along with her second straight World Cup slalom title, earned her a spot among U.S. skiing’s biggest stars and a reputation for staying cool in the face of disaster. Now that the Olympic pressure is off, Outside caught up with the young phenom to see what she’s planning next—and to get tips on how to ski like a gold medalist.

“After the [Olympic] race, my coach told me how psyched he was for so many reasons, one of them being that we wouldn’t have that medal hanging over our heads for the next four years,” says Shiffrin. “We got the job done. Now all we have to do is see how much further I can get. Every day, I see there’s always something I can do better, and I’m really anxious to do those things better, because the better I ski, the more of a chance I have at winning.”

The plan is working. Shiffrin has been dominating lately. She won the giant slalom (GS) event at the World Cup’s first stop, in Soelden, Austria, in October and plans to branch out into the super-G at one or two World Cup races this winter. “If I ski fast enough, I might qualify to ski the super-G at World Champs as well,” she says. “And I’m pretty psyched to go to World Champs with a real shot at getting a medal in both GS and slalom.”

Even more of a reason to be psyched: This season’s World Championships will be held in Shiffrin’s hometown of Vail, Colorado. “It’s such an incredible event to begin with, but on top of that, having it in my hometown is going to be ridiculous,” she says. “Not many Americans have this opportunity.” She’s particularly stoked about the course. “It is such a perfect hill for GS. It has every element of a tough technical course, but it isn’t intimidating, so I feel like I can go out of the start, guns blazing, and not even think about slowing down until I get to the finish.”

Shiffrin’s Top 3 Tips for Skiing Like a Champ

Use your shins: “My dad used to have this saying: ‘Knees to skis, hands in front,’” Shiffrin says. “The knees-to-skis portion means that you have to press on the front of your boots with your shins, because that’s how you get control of your skis. The tendency is to stiffen up and lean back when you’re uncomfortable, but if you loosen up a bit and try to feel yourself flexing your boots forward, you’ll have much more control and better balance.”

Hands out in front: “Having your hands forward, out where you can see them, helps to keep the energy in your skis instead of flying out of your arms,” Shiffrin says. “You’d think that using your arms like outriggers would help with balance, but it mostly just distracts from what your legs and skis are doing.”

Dig in the outside ski: “Make sure that you put most of your pressure on your outside ski—the ski that’s on the outside of whatever turn you make,” Shiffrin says. “That’s how you’re going to arc a cleaner, more controlled turn.”

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