“I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet.”
What Mikaela Shiffrin means is she’s not sure she’s completely processed becoming the winningest alpine skier of all time, male or female, in March 2023, when she surpassed Ingemar Stenmark to set a World Cup wins record of 87.
Over Zoom, Shiffrin was thoughtful and humble as she reflected on her record-setting 2022-23 season and her mindset as she prepared for the 2023-24 World Cup season. (We spoke about two weeks before the first World Cup giant slalom competition on Oct. 28, in which Shiffrin placed sixth.)
The wins record looms large over her season—indeed, how could it not?—but Shiffrin doesn’t want it to define her.
And there’s certainly still more to strive for. Though the wins record is a splashy feat, if she wins her sixth overall title this season—the most significant annual prize in Alpine skiing, represented by the coveted crystal globe—she would tie the female record, held by Austrian Annemarie Moser-Pröll.
“I was never like, ‘OK, I’m doing this sport so I can set this record,’’’ Shiffrin said. “It’s always been more like, ‘I’m doing this sport because I love the sport, I love to improve.’ This record itself for me is meaningless; what gives it meaning is the connections I’ve made working with incredible people and coaches and my mom, who’s also one of my coaches. To be able to get time with her in unique ways most mothers and daughters do not ever get.”
A self-described introvert, Shiffrin is easily exhausted not just by the demanding nature of alpine skiing but by the travel, events and “constant on-ness” of her job. Her small circle, which includes her mom, Eileen; her other coaches; her brother, Taylor, and sister-in-law, Kristi, who surprised her at the podium in Sweden in her 87th World Cup win; her physical therapist; and her sponsors, keeps her balanced, as does prioritizing downtime.
Longtime partner Barilla was Shiffrin’s first major non-ski company sponsor and has supported her since before she had even stepped on a World Cup podium. “That was a key turning point in my career,” Shiffrin said. “That support from Barilla through my entire journey, those are the things that make [the record] meaningful. The record itself is just a number.”
Most ski racers will retire with very little in the bank, and athletes on the U.S. national team are not supported by the government the way those in most other countries are, making personal sponsors indispensable in the sport. But there has to be a sense of authenticity, Shiffrin says. (Even today, pasta is one of the only things she can eat on a race day.)
“Among other partnerships I’ve had, there have been a couple one-offs that are hit-or-miss, but my long-term deal that I’ve had with Barilla, that has been the most supportive and the most authentically an extension of who I am,” Shiffrin said.
Shiffrin claimed one more win after setting the record of 87 last season, giving her 88 total. Having won 14 races last season, 100 wins is on the horizon for 2023-24. Only one winter sports athlete, Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen, has ever earned 100 World Cup wins.
But at the end of the day, that’s just another record—a collection of individual wins. And ultimately, the pursuit of them is not what’s really driving Shiffrin.
“When I look back on my whole career and kind of think about each individual win, I think about it more from a support perspective, and that makes it more meaningful,” Shiffrin said.