The U.S. women’s technical team ushered in the “summer season” last week, wrapping up a two-week slalom and GS camp at Loveland Ski Area in Colorado.
On hand were Mikaela Shiffrin, Lila Lapanja and Paula Moltzan, as well as Head Technical Coach Roland Pfeifer, taking advantage of the late-spring, high-elevation training environment on the Continental Divide. The camp kicked off with full-blown winter conditions, including fresh snow, but sunshine and a hard surface closed out the training block.
“When we first got there, it didn’t feel like a spring training camp; it felt like a middle-of-winter training camp,” said Lapanja. “It was super cold and windy, and it pretty much dumped snow. We took a break over the weekend and then it almost felt like a completely different camp. The snow got really hard and solid.”
“Definitely the beginning was a little tough, but I wouldn’t say it was a ‘bad’ start,” said Shiffrin. “It was actually probably good because I’m not terribly strong on soft snow, so it was something that I had to work on.”
The ladies ran GS courses for a few days in the early, wintery conditions, and then switched it up to slalom and back to GS again. Shiffrin was glad to have a chance to prioritize giant slalom, saying she has “unfinished business” in the discipline.
“I’m hoping to come back next year stronger in GS without making any sacrifices in my slalom,” she said. “I was really psyched with the whole camp because I felt like I got my slalom back — my quick feet — and also made a little bit of a breakthrough in GS.”
Pfeifer admits it can be difficult to find areas where the 19-year-old Olympic gold medalist can continue to improve in slalom, but that doesn’t mean she can become complacent in the discipline.
“It is absolutely a challenge (to find ways to improve in slalom). That’s for sure,” said Pfeifer. “Last season, I analyzed every single race to make a picture of what we have to do in the future. There are several things. You can, for instance, raise the consistency, have fewer mistakes. … And we’ve been testing a couple different ski models, the construction, the sidecut and flexibility.”
For Shiffrin, GS is a slightly different story. She finished on the cusp of the world’s best racers last season — seventh in the standings to be exact. This off-season, she and her coach have indeed made giant slalom more of a priority.
“She is not the world champion in GS,” said Pfeifer, “so our big goal is to keep up with slalom and get up to No. 1 in GS ASAP.”
For Lapanja and Moltzan, the opportunity to spend time training with Shiffrin could prove invaluable. The three are expected to ski together through the summer and up until the World Cup opener in Soelden, when their schedules may pull them in separate directions, Lapanja and Moltzan setting their sites on Europa Cup while Shiffrin focuses, of course, on the World Cup. (Pfeifer certainly did not rule out the possibility that either racer could have a couple World Cup starts in Europe, however.)
“I really like small teams,” said Shiffrin, “Being alone can get pretty old pretty fast. Last year, I was alone quite a bit because Resi (Stiegler) would be racing at some of the other races. I did sometimes get kind of lonely. … I’m excited to have Lila and Paula around, especially this last week. That group chemistry really works well.
“I’m exited to see how much we can all improve. Maybe, if they get fast enough, we’ll be able to ski together during the winter, too, which would be really cool,” added Shiffrin.
The camp was one of the first opportunities Pfeifer has had to work with Moltzan and Lapanja in this new training arrangement.
“He started watching my skiing and we started watching video together, picking things out and seeing where I can improve,” Lapanja said. “I really like what he has to say, and I’m really excited to keep working with him and see how far he can help me take my skiing.”
Certainly, Pfeifer isn’t the only person on the hill from whom a thing or two could be learned.
“I love (Shiffrin’s) approach to training and skiing,” said Lapanja. “We both like the professionalism and focus. We work really well together, and we’re really great friends off the hill. I like the energy she brings to training, and it ups my game.”