When you learn about Mikaela Shiffrin’s family, it makes sense why she has enjoyed so much success at a young age. Mikaela’s parents, Jeff and Eileen Shiffrin, were both avid skiers who competed in adult competitions. When they had their two children, Mikaela and Taylor, they poured all their energy in helping them develop as skiers.
Their efforts paid off as Mikaela has become one of the best skiers in the world, and Taylor skied at the University of Denver. Many expect Mikaela to follow in Lindsey Vonn’s footsteps as the next great American skier. Mikaela already won a gold medal at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, and is expected to have a breakout performance at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
Her father Jeff is an anesthesiologist, while her mother Eileen put her nursing career on the back burner to travel with Mikaela. Aside from brief stints on the East Coast in places like New Hampshire, the family calls Vail, Colorado home.
Learn more about Mikaela’s family, and the role skiing has played in bringing the Shiffrins together.
1. Mikaela’s Mom & Dad Were Both Skiers
Skiing is something that has brought the Shiffrin family together. According to The New Yorker, Eileen learned to skate when she was three, and competed in high school. She earned her nursing degree at the University of New Hampshire, but the school did not allow her to compete in athletics while earning her degree.
Eileen met Jeff, an anesthesiologist, while working at an I.C.U. outside Boston, and he introduced her to a local league he competed in. Like Jeff, Eileen became hooked, and The New Yorker explained how serious she took the races.
Eileen, a meticulous and studious woman, was soon obsessed. She pored over videos of World Cup champions, read everything she could about the art of carving a turn, and mastered the methodical process of tuning skis. ‘I learned as much as a lot of the racers had in their ski-academy days,’ she said. Before long, she was winning national and international Masters championships. Jeff liked to tell her that she could probably walk on to the national team. ‘Hey, she might have been an Olympic skier,’ Jeff told me.
2. Mikaela Calls Her Mom Her Best Friend, & Eileen Travels With Her Daughter as One of Her Coaches
Mikaela is always around her mother, but she sees it as a good thing. According to CNN, Eileen travels with her daughter contributing in a variety of ways including coaching, cooking and mentoring. Mikaela spoke with CNN about her unique relationship with her mother.
“Probably one of the factors that has made a difference between my career and anybody else is having her to keep me on track, to help me stay sane, to be my best friend, to be my mum, to be my coach,” Mikaela told CNN.
Eileen explained to Outside the dedication it takes to help Mikaela reach her potential.
“You have to study the sport like you would study precalc or physics,” Eileen told Outside. “You have to be willing to think about it that in-depth.”
3. Mikaela’s Brother Taylor Skied at the University of Denver & Created a Smart Phone App
Not only did Mikaela catch skiing fever from her parents, her brother Taylor did as well. Taylor skied at the University of Denver, and was part of two NCAA championship teams in 2014 and 2016. Taylor has trained with Mikaela, and admitted he brings out the best in his sister.
“We definitely have a friendly sibling rivalry,” Taylor told SkiRacing.com. “In New Zealand, we trained together this summer. We would pull out the timing after setting up the course, and we would come down every run faster, faster. We would go head to head and every single time if one of us beat the other, then we were insistent on beating them the next run.”
Taylor has also found success in the tech industry, and is the founder of Invoize LLC. According to SkiRacing.com, the company developed Fluid Browser, an app designed to help iPhone users multitask better. Taylor is also involved in another tech project centering around snow and the ski/snowboarding industry.
4. Jeff & Eileen Developed a Ski Training Program for Their Kids at a Young Age
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As avid skiers, Jeff and Eileen wondered what would happen if their kids started training early. They created a plan to walk Mikaela and Taylor through every step as they first started skiing. The New Yorker detailed the Shiffrins’ training plan.
‘He [Taylor] was the practice brother,’ Jeff said. They had settled in Vail. ‘We had this concept that there had to be a gradual progression of skill acquisition,’ Jeff said. As with Taylor, they dragged Mikaela around the living room and the driveway on skis when she was a toddler, and then taught her to cross-country ski on the golf course. Next, hard boots, skis with edges, and then follow-me. They hardly bothered with the snowplow, the customary introductory gravity-mitigation technique. The goal was a proper turn, with the skis parallel.
The couple felt many of the youth training programs wasted time through competition. These involved intensive travel for only a few actual minutes on the snow. The family preferred to use that time practicing. The New Yorker noted the couple studied the training methods of the Austrians to perfect their philosophy.
The Shiffrins were disciples of the ten-thousand-hours concept; the 2009 Daniel Coyle book “The Talent Code” was scripture. They studied the training methods of the Austrians, Alpine skiing’s priesthood. The Shiffrins wanted to wring as much training as possible out of every minute of the day and every vertical foot of the course. They favored deliberate practice over competition. They considered race days an onerous waste: all the travel, the waiting around, and the emotional stress for two quick runs. They insisted that Shiffrin practice honing her turns even when just skiing from the bottom of the racecourse to the chairlift. Most racers bomb straight down, their nonchalance a badge of honor.
So far, it appears the Shiffrins’ plans have worked as Mikaela has won more than 30 World Cup races and a gold medal at the 2014 Olympics. She is expected to add to this total at the 2018 Olympics.
5. Eileen Studies German & Chemistry Alongside Her Daughter
If Mikaela and Taylor were going to learn a new thing, their parents wanted to try to learn as well. According to Outside, Eileen studied German and chemistry alongside Mikaela as she tried to learn for school. When Taylor failed to make the middle school soccer team, Eileen ordered training equipment and spent the next year running him through drills as Outside detailed.
[Eileen] brings her intense commitment to practice—along with a belief that if you study, you can master anything—to all parts of her life.
For instance, when Taylor was in sixth grade, he tried out for the soccer team but didn’t make the cut. Eileen bought four soccer nets for the family basement, ordered a complete set of World Cup soccer DVDs, and spent every evening that winter in the basement with Taylor, running him through drills. At tryouts the following fall, the coach thought Taylor played like Neymar’s little brother. ‘What on earth have you been doing?’ he asked Eileen.