Coach Mike Day credits luck more than talent for being paired with three of the top U.S. ski racers of all time.

Of course, those athletes might disagree. And so would the ski academy and U.S. ski team that recruited him.

Day, the former Auburn resident whose love for the sport blossomed in the backyard of his home and on the slopes of nearby Lost Valley, is starting his third year as personal coach to Mikaela Shiffrin – the 23-year-old American who posted her 44th World Cup win in the season-opening women’s slalom, an event she’s dominated since entering World Cup competition at age 15.

She’s won two overall World Cup titles, five slalom World Cup titles and three Olympic medals, including two gold.

Day spends roughly 250 days a year with Shiffrin, largely on the road. They are in Killington, Vermont, this weekend for the second slalom and giant slalom of the season.

It’s a homecoming for both Day and Shiffrin; he calls Vermont home these days (with his wife and two children), and Shiffrin graduated from a Vermont ski academy.

Coaching Shiffrin

Day said Shiffrin makes coaching her easy.

“What separates her, in my opinion, is work ethic on the hill and off the hill,” he said. “I think she outworks everyone I know at this point, currently, and I’ve worked with previously.”

Day became Shiffrin’s personal coach in the spring of 2016. A mutual friend asked whether he would be interested in working with her. Day had left the U.S. team three years earlier to become the boys’ coach at Green Mountain Valley School, a ski academy in Fayston, Vermont.

“It all came together from there after extensive communication and conversation, and talking through how things work with her,” he said.

Once everyone agreed it was a good fit, the U.S. ski team hired Day as Shiffrin’s coach. A strength and conditioning coach also works directly with her on and off the hill, Day said.

Shiffin’s mother is ever-present and plays a major role in her daughter’s personal and professional life, Day said. His hope was to complement her involvement and build on her success.

“That’s something we discussed a lot even before I was hired,” he said. “We laid everything out there and were very clear on how things operated and ultimately for me, her mother has had the biggest influence on her skiing career, period. She made her from scratch, both as a human and as an athlete. So if you try to come in and disrupt that balance, it’s not going to work.”

Day said he intended to “enhance the really successful situation and professional environment.” In the past two seasons Shiffrin has “been historically successful, so clearly something is working quite well,” he said.

Shiffrin has battled nerves and fatigue, which were blamed for a disappointing showing at last winter’s Olympics, where she finished fourth in slalom, an event she had been heavily favored to win. But, Day said, “She’s improving for sure.”

“I think everybody on our team, from her mother to the coaches to the physiotherapists, play multiple roles, and I think that’s part of creating a safe and consistent environment for her to perform in,” he said.

All ski racers deal with fatigue, especially with an Alpine World Cup program expanded to six disciplines. But Shiffrin has learned to cope, Day said.

“Sleep is a multifaceted performance enhancer and recovery enhancer,” he said. “I think that she uses both napping and overnight sleep as a recovery tool, not only recovery for her body, but recovery for her mind.”

He said Shiffrin “can pull off a nap in almost any environment, and I think that’s really a form of meditation for her, and just being able to escape and get into a good place to focus on performing her best.”

Even with her remarkable ability to recharge, Day said Shiffrin can’t compete in every World Cup race. Her schedule this season, like last year, is expected to include all technical races in slalom and giant slalom. She’ll ski in all other disciplines but in limited numbers.

Speed events carry a higher injury risk, Day said.

“Her pure speed in her downhill and Super-G is high but her experience is low,” he said. “So we’ve been working to bring up her experience in volume to meet how fast she is. Ultimately she only has so much time to train for all disciplines, and it’s our job as coaches and managers to make appropriate decisions as to how she competes and trains.”

Shiffrin’s coaching team is “constantly juggling to try to make sure she has the volume she needs to be confident but also is fresh and not fatigued,” Day said.

The only recent change to Shffrin’s team was last spring’s loss of her serviceman of six years, responsible for maintaining her equipment. But if results are any indication, that hasn’t appeared to be a detriment. She finished third in the giant slalom at Solden, Austria, and won the first slalom of the season a week ago in Levi, Finland.

Day said before that race that Shiffrin had been skiing well and with confidence, but wasn’t sure how competitive her speed was.

Now she knows.

Miller and Ligety

Shiffrin isn’t the only elite ski racer Day has been asked to coach.

Following his graduation in 1989 after five years at Carrabassett Valley Academy, Day went to college in Vermont, where he skied competitively before starting a career in finance.

But staring at a computer screen in an office all day “wasn’t going to work for me,” he said.

After six months he got a call from CVA’s headmaster, asking whether he’d like to return. Without hesitation “I threw my stuff in my car and drove up there, and started my coaching career,” he said.

He coached a group of boys, including Bode Miller.

“I was fortunate to meet him and start working with him at a very young age,” Day said. “And then, also, lucky enough to be coaching on the World Cup level with my first national team when he was winning his first World Cup races (in the early 2000s) as well as his first Olympic medals.”

Day said: “We’ve had a long friendship and relationship.”

Early on, he saw in Miller raw speed, great athleticism and a “very unique approach to ski racing,” Day said.

When Miller applied his unorthodox technique to shape skis, “all of a sudden, everything started working,” Day said.

Miller was the extreme opposite of Shiffrin, whose technical and tactical skills were finely honed by the time Day started working with her, he said.

Miller won 33 World Cup races, stood on the podium 79 times and capture overall World Cup titles twice. He earned six medals in five Winter Olympics.

After leaving CVA, Day moved to Park City, Utah, where he spent three years coaching Ted Ligety, who went on to win two Olympic gold medals and 25 World Cup races.

Proud Mainer

Day never loses sight of his roots. His mother still lives in Auburn.

“One thing that I appreciate is being a Mainer and having grown up with a love of ski racing and the sport of skiing right there in a small town, and at a small ski area,” he said.

“Lost Valley was sort of a springboard for me and it’s rare these days that a little ski area like that has influenced so many quality coaches and quality racers as well,” including Julie Parisien, a three-time Olympian who three World Cup gold medals.

“I’m proud to be a Mainer and to have started my career in ski racing right there in Maine,” he said.

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