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    The rise of the Killington Cup — and Mikaela Shiffrin

    Mikaela Shiffrin is seeking her third straight top finish in the slalom.
    Charles Krupa/AP/file
    Mikaela Shiffrin is seeking her third straight top finish in the slalom.

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    The World Cup made its return to New England ski slopes for the first time in a quarter-century two years ago, and the record-setting crowds that followed made Killington Mountain Resort an obvious return destination for the International Ski Federation.

    Now in its third venture (Nov. 24-25), the Killington Cup has gone from trial run to becoming one of women’s professional ski racing’s most-celebrated stops, a convincing spectacle of both terrain and reception that has dusted off the stale notion that the East Coast can’t handle events of World Cup stature.

    Of course, having Mikaela Shiffrin on hand doesn’t hurt either.

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    The 23-year-old Olympic champion will look to make it three consecutive top finishes in the slalom event later this month, no doubt backed by a fervent crowd that has made the two-time defending overall World Cup champion and product of Burke Mountain Academy the de facto poster child for the weekend.

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    “I definitely feel like there’s a certain amount of hometown or home area vibe,” she said.

    Shiffrin calls Vail, Colo. home, but still connects with her East Coast roots. Her family lived in New Hampshire for a stretch before she enrolled at Vermont’s Burke Mountain Academy, and her grandmother still lives in the Berskshires (Lanesboro), giving Shiffrin added incentive for annual visits to New England aside from the circuit.

    It’s those connections that have made her a crowd favorite over the first two years of the Killington Cup, which drew an estimated 25,000 fans to the base of the resort’s famed Superstar slope over the event’s two days in 2016.

    “Superstar is really fun to ski,” Shiffrin said. “It’s good for both slalom and giant slalom and I think it’s really great for spectators because they get to see that entire face. If you’re standing at the bottom of the hill you can watch the Jumbotron, but you can also watch a really good section of the course — probably the most interesting section. So it’s kind of this perfect setup. And it’s always a pleasure to go back there and ski. The crowd is amazing.”

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    Last year welcomed an even bigger crowd, with an estimated 30,000 fans arriving over the course of the weekend, proving a certain sustainability for World Cup events in the Northeast. That was much to the surprise of Shiffrin’s peers, many of whom probably grew up with the notion that the only mountains of merit in the United States were somewhere west of the Mississippi.

    “The atmosphere is really electric,” Shiffrin said. “When I’m there, I’m obviously competing and just trying to focus on my skiing, but my competitors, girls from other nations, keep coming up to me saying, ‘This is amazing. We had no idea it was this big.’ ”

    Shiffrin said she had skied Killington just once before 2016, a visit that didn’t include Superstar, so it wasn’t like she was attaining some sort of home-field advantage aside from the crowd. She also considers her skiing style to be raised under the same harsh conditions that New England skiers and riders thrive upon.

    “That’s a really exciting part of it for me because when people say I’m an East Coast skier [that means] you’re a tough skier. And I definitely take a lot of pride in that.”

    No surprise then that the Killington Cup has had some weather-related snags over its first two years. Shiffrin relayed a story from 2016 when difficulties with the snow conditions warranted a visit from a Colorado expert who normally treats snow surfaces for a variety of World Cup races out west.

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    “We were telling him, ‘You have to put water in the snow because if it gets warm then the snow is just going to die basically,’” Shiffrin said. “They were all worried that it was going to be too cold and that it was going to be ice, and we were all like, ‘No, you can deal with ice, you can’t deal with slush.’ ”

    ‘When people say I’m an East Coast skier [that means] you’re a tough skier. And I definitely take a lot of pride in that.’

    Last year, windy conditions dried much of the snow out on Superstar, furthering the need to have officials figure out all the different conditions and weather that the Northeast can throw at an event.

    But the wild reception has made dealing with weather a small factor in big-time skiing’s return to the East Coast. March will also welcome the US Alpine Championships to Waterville Valley Resort in New Hampshire, where the slalom, giant slalom, and parallel slalom events will take place March 23-26. It’s an event that is on Shiffrin’s radar for the spring, though she is not yet sure if she will compete.

    She will at Killington, with even more hardware to pad her already burgeoning resume. In addition to another overall World Cup title, Shiffrin won gold and silver in the giant slalom and combined at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang last winter. She’s also had good success at Killington in the early running, something she can’t say about her first days in World Cup competition in Aspen, where the FIS has put a hold on events until the resort handles some technical requirements.

    “For the longest time, my track record in Aspen wasn’t great,” Shiffrin said. “Then I had a couple really great slalom races there, but it was just a place where I sort of struggled.”

    So instead of people asking about when she’ll get the first podium at Killington, Shiffrin has instead empowered the Killington event as her own to a certain degree, shedding any chance of repeating what she called, “the Aspen curse.”

    “There’s none of that going on in Killington, which makes it easy to go back,” she said.

    “I hope it’s sustainable. For me, whether we’re racing in Aspen or we’re racing in Killington it’s a pleasure. Aspen, I’m living in Colorado, so I’m home basically. But on the East Coast, I lived there for so long that it also feels like home. Really either of those two places, as long as we keep getting the World Cup back in the US, I think that’s the most important thing.”

    General admission for the Killington Cup (Nov. 23-25) is free, but premier tickets with grandstand access can be purchased at ($40-$125 per day). Women’s giant slalom races will take place Saturday, with slalom on Sunday. Parking passes are also on sale, for $20-$50 per day. Musical artists Guster, Michael Franti, KT Tunstall, and Paul Oakenfold will perform free concerts throughout the weekend. More information and a complete schedule available at killington.com.

    Eric Wilbur can be reached at ewilbs@yahoo.com.