All good athletes have winning records. But truly great athletes have a fire, whether you know anything about their sport or not, you can feel their excellence. It’s euphoric—stronger than the high of watching one of the greats win a championship or an Olympic gold. It’s the unique feeling of being pulled into the fun.
The power of that isn’t lost on Shiffrin. Growing up in the sport, she idolized Tina Maze, one of the greatest skiers of all time. “I think it was my second year racing in the World Cup circuit and she podiumed in almost every single race—it was arguably the best season that anybody’s ever had,” Shiffrin says. Maze had some surprising advice for her: “She said, ‘Don’t do this, it’s exhausting, it’s tiring, and you lose your passion.’ You could see on her face: She wasn’t enjoying it.” Maze’s words are always echoing in her head. “If I ever feel like I just don’t want to see a mountain for a long time, then it’s probably time to retire, I guess.”
You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to understand the burnout. Taking something you love more than anything and turning it into your paycheck—your legacy—changes it. Good thing Shiffrin loves the work. “I love the grind of the season,” she says. “It can get monotonous at times to be doing it every single day, but I still really love it. When I’m able to get through an incredible push of races that I know is just going to be grueling, and come out on the other side and feel like I’ve enjoyed it, I think that’s the biggest victory.”
Elevating Her Sport
Shiffrin is very much not thinking about her retirement. With a current tally of 60 World Cup wins, she’s happily barreling toward GOAT status. But she has started to think about her legacy and how she wants to leave her sport.
“The one thing that I’m sure about is that I want to have pushed this sport to a higher level,” she says. “I want to get to this coming season and still be one of the top racers, but also be pushing my own limits, pushing the limits of the sport, and pushing the other girls to push themselves.” Shiffrin wishes she’d had that when she made her pro debut at 16. “In order to perform your best, you have to be able to feel confident,” she says. “In order to feel confident, you have to feel like the people around you are supporting you, like they’re care about you, like you’re in a safe space. All my teammates were a lot older than I was, so they had different interests. I was just alone.”
Now as a veteran on the U.S. Ski Team, Shiffrin is doing what she can to make sure the younger women in the sport have the best setup to smash their own records. She wants to make sure they feel secure and confident on the world stage and on the road, shepherding them through the stressors, however minuscule, that can feel all-consuming when you’re scared and alone and away from home. “All those little pieces are part of my way of helping to build up the sport, and not only compete in it but help to elevate it,” Shiffrin says.
For now, Shiffrin seems more concerned about the present, using every second of her time on snow to push herself and her sport to be—you guessed it—the best. What all those record-breaking runs mean for her future legacy is less important right now. “Records are made to be broken—that’s part of the reason I don’t necessarily care about breaking records, because, hopefully, somebody is going to come up and break at least some of my records,” she says. “Otherwise, I didn’t do a good job of inspiring anyone.”