Over the next few weeks, Mikaela Shiffrin will slalom between rest and rehab.
Usually so fast on a race course, the Olympic and world slalom champion is taking things at a conservative pace as she recovers from a torn knee ligament and painful bone bruise. There's no timetable for her return to skiing, either.
But there is some promising news: She won't need surgery. Just rest and rehab. Lots and lots of it after tearing the medial collateral ligament in her right knee during a wipeout while preparing for a giant slalom last Saturday in Are, Sweden.
"It's nice for me to know that, as far as everyone's said, I'll be able to ski before the snow melts," Shiffrin said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. "Getting back to racing is another story. It's tough to make any sort of predictions about when I'll be able to race again.
"If I don't feel like I can get in the starting gate of a race and attack the hill, I'm not going to."
There's a possibility the skier from Eagle-Vail, Colorado, could return to the slopes for the World Cup Finals in March. Now that would be quite a birthday present for Shiffrin, who turns 21 on March 13.
"You can only take it week by week first, and then day by day," Shiffrin's manager, Kilian Albrecht, said. "Obviously, there is hope that she can return as the season is still pretty long. But unfortunately all of the tech races are now, which is not good as she will for sure miss a lot of the races."
Shiffrin was hurt when she crashed during a free skiing session on the competition hill. She said she was making a right-footed turn when she hit a patch of icy snow. Her right ski slipped and then her knee buckled, before hitting some grippy snow that caused her to hyperextend her knee and skid into the protective netting.
As her coaches untangled her, Shiffrin feared the worst.
"I was like, 'I have to get up, and ski down,"' she said. "That was my first thought in the first 10 seconds when I got untangled. But I was sitting there on the side of the hill and there was no way I was even walking. Something was wrong, but I couldn't tell what."
She flew back to Colorado for more tests on her knee, which confirmed she had a bone bruise and MCL tear.
"I'm lucky that I don't need surgery and I'm lucky that there are no other implications," Shiffrin said. "It could've been really bad. You know Lindsey Vonn's knee injuries and how long it took her to come back, and countless other athletes. They all come back, but it takes a solid two years. I'm not looking at a timeline like that at all."
She was considered the top contender to Vonn in the World Cup overall race, especially with Tina Maze taking the season off and defending champ Anna Fenninger sidelined with a knee injury.
That's all but vanished for Shiffrin.
"It's pretty heartbreaking because I think everybody in the back of their minds, including me, was thinking a 20-year-old being able to battle it out probably with Lindsey Vonn for the overall — how that's pretty spectacular, no matter who comes out on top," said Shiffrin, who won the slalom at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and at the last two world championships. "That's how it was looking until this happened. It's definitely a bummer."
Shiffrin was in the midst of a stellar start, winning the opening two slaloms this season in Aspen by staggering margins, including one by 3.07 seconds, the largest margin of victory for the women's discipline in World Cup history. She also made her speed debut in Lake Louise, Alberta, this month and finished a respectable 15th during a super-G race won by Vonn.
While sidelined, Shiffrin said she plans to take some online classes in personal finance — "I'd like to know a little more about investing," she said — and improve her guitar playing. She also will go through rehab three times a day, even posting a video on social media Tuesday of her pedaling on a stationary bike while wearing a brace.
"I'm pretty positive right now. I'm not in any pain or anything," Shiffrin said. "I don't have a lot of swelling, so that's all a good sign. That makes me positive."