Springtime is crunch time. The calendar is packed. Travel miles are mounting. Legs are heavy. Focus is ephemeral. We’re at the point in the season where mood and ambition can mean everything.

Vlhova’s coach, Livio Magoni, riding in style en route to the slalom races in Åre, Sweden.

Slovak Petra Vlhova’s chances for an overall title just got wings from a 180-point weekend on her home hill in Jasna on the back of a giant slalom win and runner-up finish in the slalom. In fact, the whole team got wings courtesy of the Slovak government, which commissioned a plane to transport Team Vlhova directly from Slovakia to Sweden for the slalom double on Friday and Saturday in Åre.

If you needed any more evidence of the importance this overall title means to this country of 5.5 million people, consider that Slovakian TV didn’t cover women’s skiing until Vlhova and her predecessor, Veronika Velez-Zuzulova, started to win races. Behind cycling mega star, Peter Sagan, Petra Vlhova might just be the county’s most recognized sports star. This is a jumbo-jet sized deal, with the kind of national pressure that Americans might never feel outside the Olympic quadrennial.

Enter the angered Mikaela Shiffrin. As go superstars, you’ll find few so openly polite, grateful and consistently deferential in victory as she. Against that backstory, it made her criticism of the race organizers last weekend reverberate all the louder. She called the two-plus minute race hold “unprofessional.” Right or wrong, it clearly raised her ire. I’ve never heard Shiffrin sound so openly vexed in a post-race interview. Now six days and some 24 hours of travel later, she will have those emotions to contend with along with the stir they created.

From what I saw in the final gates of the slalom in Jasna, I don’t think there is any question who the fastest slalom skier in the world is right now. If Shiffrin shows just some of that speed over the next three slalom races, she will pull ahead of Vlhova, win the slalom title and likely break Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 46 wins in a single discipline. Shiffrin is at 45.

While many things can happen over the course of the remaining six races on the calendar, Vlhova can win the overall title by finishing second, third, or even lower in the three remaining slalom races. But as well as standings-leader Lara Gut-Behrami is skiing in downhill, super G and GS, Vlhova cannot afford a single slalom goose egg by skiing out. Given those consequences, it will be hard to hold off Shiffrin in the race for the slalom title.  

There is one caveat. Some 2-to-3 feat of snow have fallen since the hill was water-injected roughly a week ago. It will be firm, but not hard. In other words, it will be easy snow on an easy hill, and that opens the door to more skiers. That might bode well for skiers vying from higher numbers including Americans Paula Moltzan (21), Nina O’Brien (28), Lila Lapanja (37), Resi Stiegler (45) and AJ Hurt (49), who just arrived to the event after her bronze-medal slalom performance at the world junior championship in Bansko, Bulgaria. Moltzan looks to be a shoo-in to rank among the top 25 and qualify for the finals. O’Brien will need two more finishes like her ninth earlier in the season.

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A former U.S. Ski team downhill racer turned writer then broadcaster, Porino hails from a family of skiers. He put on his first pair of skis at age three. By six, he had entered the world of racing, and in 1981, at the age of 14, he enrolled in the Burke Mountain Ski Academy in Burke, Vt. In 1988, he earned a spot as a downhill racer on the U.S. Ski team and raced for the national team until 1992. Porino also coached the Snowbird Ski team in Utah from 1993-96 while completing his communications degree at the University of Utah. He currently resides in Sun Valley, Idaho, with his wife Amanda, daughters and son, and he still enjoys hitting the slopes.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Are you suggesting that Vlhova should took a bus or drive for 35 hours from Jasna to Åre and after the race other 35 hours to Lenzerheide? Is MS doing that?

    • No, but they (the other racers, including MS) probably flew commercial…many likely in coach…and even if they flew private, I doubt it was a plane this big, they likely paid for it themself, and it certainly wasn’t a government charter.

      Can you see the difference?

      • This season, Vlhova usually flies private plane payed by her sponsor – Slovak betting company Nike.
        I am not sure about Schiffrin’s arrangement but she did fly private plane to Slovakia before the race in Jasna.

        Yes the stars of the sport have bigger comfort. Petra deserves it. She didn’t get too much support from ski organization and her whole carreer was basically financed by her parents. Now she is able to have solid sponsor deals thanks to her results.

        Also no doubt Mikaela is a legend and again getting back into great form this year.

        The end of the season will be exciting and the next season Anna Swenn Larsson will hopefully return with her previous form to make slaloms even more competitive.

      • Vlhova is a member of a sport centre which hired the aircraft from the Ministry of Interior fleet. It’s not unusual for Slovak sport clubs or national teams (ice hockey or football) to hire a plane from them on non-commercial basis, paying only for expenses.

    • Not sure what article you were reading, but I suggested nothing of the sort. This was a nod to the imporatnce of her mission to bring Slovakia it’s first Overall title, that to a country of 5.5 M this is a very big deal … and a lot of pressure. While this service might be common for entire hockey and football teams, according her coach Livio Magoni, “We are not used to it, but this time it was perfect to have one more day of training.” He added that the plane “was organized directly by the government.” What she is doing, and has done, largerly on her own without any help from a now-folded federation is a real life David and Goliath tale. Numerous big name skiers use private jets, and helicopters, yes, but it’s not typical to have their goverenment partner with them. And I’m suggesting that is the cool part.

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