At the 2022 Winter Olympics, alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin is aiming to enter all five individual events. But away from the slopes, the three-time World Cup overall champion is concerned about the impact her skiing is having on climate change.
Originally published: November 19, 2021
Mikaela Shiffrin has always taken a big-picture approach to her alpine skiing career. It is a philosophy she developed early in life, aided by her parents Eileen and Jeff, who emphasized the importance of fundamentals and understood the inherent risk that comes with every run down the mountain.
This approach has often meant prioritizing solid training blocks over one-off race opportunities. As podium finishes began adding up and it became clear that Shiffrin could be a threat in any event, she remained reserved, not adding too much, too fast.
The result? Shiffrin – a three-time overall World Cup champion – is one of the greatest alpine skiers of all time. She has also managed to stay relatively injury-free, though back pain has become a more frequent part of life.
Now in her 11th season as a World Cup regular, Shiffrin still weighs a variety of factors before committing to a race. How is her back feeling? Should she skip a World Cup stop to get in more speed training? Does she have enough energy to get her to the end of the grueling season?
But as the 26-year-old looks towards the future – and even her eventual retirement – she is also contemplating a much more existential question. How is her career as a ski racer impacting the environment?
“I actually struggle with the fact that this sport requires so much travel,” Shiffrin said on Wednesday ahead of a World Cup stop in Levi, Finland. “I feel like there’s going to be a point in my career where I maybe stop just because… I can’t be taking this travel for granted and contributing so much to our global carbon footprint.”
The crux of Mikaela Shiffrin’s dilemma: Skiing impacts skiing
Alpine skiing’s World Cup season runs from October to March, and with pre-season training camps held during the summer and early fall, Shiffrin spends most of each year away from her Colorado home.
Skiing’s international federation (FIS) has said that it is looking for ways to reduce travel – and the resulting carbon footprint – of the annual World Cup season.
Shiffrin has also considered making her own personal calendar adjustments. “I’m very close to changing my early season schedule to account for the climate impact of all of the travel,” she explained. “That might be something I have to do in the future.”
She is not alone.
“I’ve considered making a promise to myself to not ride in the offseason and not travel across the ocean to go ride glaciers,” Anderson said. “It’s really hard to find that balance.”
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The worst impacts of climate change might still be years away, but athletes who compete on snow and ice have already gotten a preview of what the future holds.
And while Shiffrin is quick to point out that she isn’t a scientist or environmental expert, she is still concerned by what she has witnessed.
Alpine skiing depends on snow and consistent weather conditions. “And we’re not really getting that anymore,” Shiffrin said. “It’s like the environment telling us it is super temperamental and angry. And that we’ve done something very wrong.”
In the near-term, she is trying to do whatever she can to offset her own impact. She owns a plug-in hybrid car and installed solar panels on the house she built in Colorado.
But she also knows that this big-picture problem is bigger than just her.
“I think we’re quite behind,” she said. “It’s a serious topic. And there’s a lot of concern.”
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