Mike Walsh | Powder Report: Killington now a mecca for ski racing fans

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KILLINGTON, Vt. — Just as Ma in her kerchief and Pa in his cap settle down for a long winter's nap, the Powder Report is coming out of hibernation.

While Berkshire County's cross-country running prowess and the wedding of my former Little League first baseman down in Disney have kept your faithful follower of the shred off the slopes this November, despite Jiminy Peak's wonderful work in getting open the past couple of weekends, all that changed on Saturday.

I managed to get credentialed to cover the FIS Women's Alpine World Cup races up at the Homelight Killington Cup on Saturday and Sunday, with, as she puts "I'm not really from the east, but kind of from the east," native daughter Mikaela Shiffrin in town. It seemed worth the trek up to the Beast of the East to check this thing out.

The World Cup returned to New England for the first time since 1991 (Waterville Valley, N.H.) four years ago, when Killington got the OK to take over the Thanksgiving weekend set from Aspen, Colorado, which had the World Cup Finals later that year.

The results spoke for themselves, and that's why the final weekend in November has continued to become a de facto Vermont holiday.

In fact, according to Homelight Killington Cup head honcho and Chief of Media Tom Horrocks, it is the largest sporting event in the state every year. The Vermont State Marathon is bigger from a competitors perspective, but we're talking around tens of thousands of folks storming the mountain and partying it up all weekend long. This was something I had to see.

After getting Saturday's stellar The Eagle sports section out Friday night, I packed a bag, loaded my brand-spanking-new board (We'll get into that beauty in the column at some point) in the silver shred-mobile and set an alarm to make my way north at first light.

The two-hour drive to Killington is always an interesting one that goes from pretty, to interesting, to full-on despair and emptiness, and then back into pure beauty as the mountains rise once again. The mountain is pretty regularly a zoo of people, so I was prepared for your typical Saturday crowd of northeasterners making their pilgrimage to the mecca of New England vertical drop. Still, I was not prepared for what was there.

Reported attendance for Saturday was 19,500 people, in addition to the 6,000 who were at Friday night's concert and bib drawing. My lone college match course, Excursions in Modern Mathematics, tells me that's over 25,000 ski-and-Grace-Potter fanatics over two days, with the big slalom race still scheduled for this morning.

After a long and winding drive up to the base of the race course — getting press credentialed is not a bad gig if you can get it — I started wading through a sea of people like Brad Pitt in that mediocre zombie flick. Picture 15,000 people gingerly tip-toeing in bulky ski boots, many of whom had been hitting the Pacifico tall boys at the tailgates early.

I forewent the media pit at the finish line for Saturday's Giant Slalom, instead securing a prime perch at the 4241-foot Finish Pavilion where I could watch Shiffrin, Burke Mountain Academy product Nina O'Brien and the rest of the fastest women on the planet with my fellow commoner urchins and skies*.

Bottom line, the Homelight Killington Cup is worth checking out, and it's a darn-good thing America has a World Cup stop. Everybody in attendance recognized that, including Shiffrin, who picked up her fifth Vermont podium and will defend her Slalom title today.

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"The first year, was pretty miserable. I felt a lot of pressure," Shiffrin noted after her bronze in GS. "Brought the World Cup back to Killington, and I'm not really from the east, but kind of from the east, and everybody wants to see that win here on home soil, it was a lot."

However, the crowd that returns every year and mobs her for autographs and photos helped her realize the true meaning of shredding in her home country, just two hours north of where her mother grew up in Lanesborough.

Shiffrin told a story of an Instagram fan who sent her a message stating they recognized all the pressure she was feeling. However, that fan, and the thousands I came across Saturday, wanted her to know that they're there to support her and the sport.

"They said, you might feel this pressure, but no matter what, we're here to support you, so take that load off your shoulders," Shiffrin relayed. "It was a really meaningful thing to read at that time."

She finished her presser by joking about how, after the race, nobody really cares where she finished. That's a sentiment Italian GS runner-up and 2018 Killington Cup champion Federica Brignone echoed.

"I think the crowd here is excited to see racers. They are excited to see performance and watch us ski. They're just excited," she said. "This is great. I don't think anybody is judging."

Horrocks, media chief that he is, probably put it best during the post-race press conferences in a question to GS champion Marta Bassoni, "When the crowd is going crazy, because as we know out here at Killington, the crowd cheers for everybody, it has to be special."

Bassoni responded that she loves the Killington crowds.

While Shiffrin certainly got the loudest ovation of the day, with every skier down, the people around me went nuts with hoots, hollers, high-fives and plenty of cowbell, from Great Britain's Alex Tilley to Shiffrin's chief rivals Sofia Goggia of Italy and Petra Vlhova of Slovakia.

"That mindset has allowed me to enjoy this a little more," said Shiffrin.

I'm with her.

Until next time, keep your tips up and stay spoice.

Mike Walsh is an urchin snowboarder who can be reached in the local lift line or at mwalsh@berkshireeagle.com.


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