Mikaela Shiffrin challenging her comfort zone
Mikaela Shiffrin earned 21 World Cup victories, two world championship titles, an Olympic gold medal and a pair of reindeer – that's right, reindeer – by racing within her comfort zone.
Next for the 21-year-old skier: Raising her speed limit.
She's working with a new coach – Mike Day, the former giant slalom mentor of Olympic champion Ted Ligety – in order to help Shiffrin, in her words, ''become comfortable with being uncomfortable.''
Because that's where she believes she can unlock even more speed and possibly more victories in her quest to one day win a World Cup overall crown.
''On one hand, it's nice to know I can ski within in my comfort zone and be on the podium,'' said Shiffrin, who will compete this weekend at the World Cup stop in Killington, Vermont. ''But on the other hand, I really want to win races, so I have to take it to the next level because there's always somebody willing to go a little bit harder, take a little bit more risk, and if I just ski within my comfort zone, they will come out on top.
''I've got to change what my comfort zone is.''
Shiffrin's always been so swift in the slalom, a discipline in which she captured gold at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Of Shiffrin's 21 World Cup wins, 20 have been in slalom, including the competition in Levi, Finland, two weeks ago when she won by 0.67 seconds.
That particular win came with a unique reward – a reindeer. She named him ''Sven,'' after the reindeer from the movie ''Frozen.'' Her other reindeer, the one she got by winning in 2013, is named ''Rudolph.''
''It's a pretty cool prize,'' said Shiffrin, who's from Eagle-Vail, Colorado. ''I'm not sure if this is allowed, but it would be fun to have a reindeer farm in Colorado.''
No time for any reindeer games now, though.
Her focus is squarely on revamping her giant slalom. She's fine-tuning her technique under the guidance of Day, who's also helped Bode Miller and Ligety – who's been referred to as ''Mr. GS.'' Shiffrin wants to compete with more of a go-for-broke style, similar to Swiss standout Lara Gut, the reigning overall World Cup champion.
''In training, if I can prepare to push the limit, push the line, get in some tough positions but make it happen because my technique is good enough, the speed will come out in the races,'' said Shiffrin, who's currently 80 points ahead of Gut in the overall this season after two competitions.
Nothing too drastic, of course.
''She doesn't have to ski with reckless abandon,'' Day said. ''Our goal is for her to ski within herself and still reach the top step (of the podium). She has 180 points out of a possible 200 this season and we haven't seen much risk in her skiing yet. To me, that's a positive sign.
''We don't want to ski a high-risk style, because we're already getting a nice reward. Consistency is important when chasing titles.''
Her knee is no longer any sort of issue, either. Shiffrin missed two months last season after tearing a ligament in her right knee during a wipeout while training in Sweden.
''It's been 100 percent for quite a while now,'' said Shiffrin, the charismatic competitor whose list of sponsors includes Red Bull, Barilla, Atomic, Longines and Oakley. ''(The knee injury) made me much more motivated this summer, to try to make the most of my strength and how much stronger I can get. Because maybe it gives me a shot to ski down the mountain harder than I otherwise would if I was weaker. I feel stronger right now.''
So much so, she's contemplating the addition of more speed events. She will race the upcoming downhill and super-G races at Lake Louise, Alberta, for sure, maybe even the speed events at Val d'Isere, France, in mid-December.
After that, her team will play it by ear, depending on how she's doing in the slalom and giant slalom.
Although tempting, Shiffrin's trying hard not to think about the overall World Cup race. But with four-time overall World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn sidelined by a broken arm and two-time overall champion Anna Veith (formerly Fenninger) trying to return from a knee injury, the door is open. It could come down to Shiffrin and Gut.
''It's becoming more of a thing in my brain all the time,'' Shiffrin said. ''Lara looks strong right now. Just have to wait and see how the first speed races of the season go. We'll kind of go from there.''