Sunday, March 19, 2023, saw the last alpine events of the World Cup season, and for the women, this was the Giant Slalom event, while the men had a Slalom race. This year, the FIS World Cup Finals in the alpine disciplines are being held in Soldeu, Andorra, and the weather in Andorra has been warm. The freezing line went across the middle of the course, resulting in tricky conditions for the racers, as they had to adapt to the change in snow quality mid-course.
Only the top 30 alpine skiers of a discipline are invited, along with the winner of the Junior World Championships, which in Giant Slalom was Sweden’s Hanna Aronsson Elfman. In addition, any athlete with 500 or more FIS points can opt to attend. This option was taken up by two-time Olympic Gold medallist Michelle Gisin from Switzerland, who had not qualified on the end-of-season ranking but had 552 FIS points to her name from the other three disciplines. Michelle Gisin has managed to compete in every alpine race this World Cup season.
Shiffrin had starting bib one and put down a flawless first run that remained untouchable for everyone who followed her. Second starter Lara Gut-Behrami lost her ski pole while attacking one of the top gates and skied most of the course slightly awkwardly with just one ski pole in hand, but still finishing in a solid sixth position despite this snafu. Third starter Marta Bassino put down a good run and skied into third place. Unfortunately, the Italian has had a recent family tragedy, with her brother’s wife passing away unexpectedly the morning after her 30th birthday. It shows incredible resilience that she has returned to racing so soon. Canada’s Valerie Grenier, who had bib 9, skied into second place with a terrific run that was only one-hundredth of a second faster than Marta Bassino’s.
Meanwhile, other favorites, like Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova and Federica Brignone, struggled with the course, the former sliding out at the bottom while the latter misjudged a roller leading into a steeper section, ending their respective bids for the podium in run 1. A total of five skiers recorded a DNF, including Shiffrin’s teammate Nina O’Brien, who got caught in a rut, resulting in her going backseat into the next gate, where the pressure of her outside ski ejected her from the course as she did not have the pressure to push it into the next turn — an unfortunate end to a good season for O’Brien.
The second run in Giant Slalom is in reverse order, meaning Shiffrin was last to go on run 2. All eyes were on the last six starters, and Lara Gut-Behrami pushed to the finish line, propelling her into the lead. However, the Swiss ski racer was immediately passed by Thea Louise Stjernesund from Norway, who beat her by a combined 0.46 seconds. Thea Louise held that leader position until almost the end, as neither fourth-last starter Maryna Gasiencia-Daniel from Poland nor third-last Marta Bassino could match their performances from the first run. Canada’s Valerie Grenier gave it her all to best the Norwegian and nearly lost control on multiple turns in her second run, but she pulled together a solid finish to make the podium in third.
Shiffrin put down a flawless but safer — and thus slower — run to win first place by a mere 0.06 seconds ahead of Stjernesund. It may have been safe, but it was enough to claim her 88th career World Cup victory, thus marking a new record. It is Shiffrin’s seventh Giant Slalom victory this season and marks 21 World Cup wins in that discipline. This breaks yet another record held for decades by Vreni Schneider, who had long held the record for most Giant Slalom wins by a woman in World Cup history with 20. Last but not least, Mikaela Shiffrin also beat Lindsey Vonn’s record for most career podiums, taking the new record number to 138 podiums.
In addition to winning the Giant Slalom event, Shiffrin was awarded the Giant Slalom Crystal Globe for the season’s most successful Giant Slalom skier. Shiffrin won the crystal globe with 800 points, almost 300 points ahead of second-ranked Lara Gut-Behrami with 532 points and third-ranked Marta Bassino with 515 points. It is only the second time that Shiffrin has won the Giant Slalom Crystal Globe, after first winning it in 2019.
Shiffrin was awarded the Overall Crystal Globe for the best Alpine Skier across all disciplines with 2,206 points — a personal best. It is the American’s fifth Overall World Cup title — a feat managed by fewer than a handful of other skiers. To put this feat in perspective: runner-up Lara Gut-Behrami only has 1,217 racked up for the 22/23 season.
Shiffrin received an adorable surprise after the race when the official FIS interviewer post-race was her partner Aleksander Aamodt Kilde. The American could barely contain her laughter, but rather than transcribe the interview for our SnowBrains readers, we have included the video for your perusal.