Coach, Mike Day, with Michaela Shiffrin. PHOTO: Courtesy of Mike Day
Coach, Mike Day, with Michaela Shiffrin. PHOTO: Courtesy of Mike Day

The Coach Behind Mikaela Shiffrin’s Success

Mike Day is an unassuming, yet powerful, figure in ski racing, coaching the best American ski racers toward the podium

PHOTO: Lyndsay Young

What do Bode Miller, Ted Ligety, and Mikaela Shiffrin have in common?

They've all been coached by Mike Day, an unassuming yet powerful figure in the sport of ski racing. With a calm demeanor, an incredible consideration for his athletes, and the ability to simplify top-level ski racing concepts, for the past 20 years the best American ski racers have sought Day to be a mentor and guide.

Day was the coach behind Ligety's historic three gold medals at 2013's Schladming World Championships in Austria. But he got his start in the mid '90s, coaching at his alma mater, Sugarloaf's Carrabassett Valley Academy, when Miller was a junior athlete. From Sugarloaf, Day moved to Park City, Utah, which is where he first started working with a then aspiring Ligety and later, reunited with Miller on the U.S. Ski Team during the 2002 Olympics. Since then, Day has relocated to Stowe, Vermont, to be with his family, and recently took over as the head men's coach at the Green Valley Mountain School.

"It's an amazing profession to be able to do your entire life," says Day. "I feel blessed in a certain way to have been able to do this while raising a family."

This season, however, Day got back on the road. Shiffrin sought Day's mentorship and hired him to be her primary coach. Going into Aspen, the duo have a chance to write their own history and capture the women's overall World Cup Title. Shiffrin, who turned 22 years old this week, would be the third American woman to win the title and the youngest American World Cup overall winnner in the last 40 years. It would also be the first time Day has coached an athlete to win the title.

After Shiffrin's sweep in Squaw Valley, California, last weekend, the overall title is a very real possibility at Aspen. We caught up with Day to learn more about his tactics and methods to support the best ski racers in the America.

What you guys see at home and in the media is real. That is her for real. It's not an act. It's not scripted.

Mike, you had a good thing going at home in Vermont. Why did you decide to come back and coach on ski racing's biggest stage?

For me it was a rare opportunity to coach one of the best ski racers in history and, historically speaking, as advanced as anyone at this age. So it was really exciting from that standpoint. As good as [Shiffrin] is, she is still learning on a daily basis and it was an opportunity to be with an athlete at a high level that still enjoyed input and coaching and worked with it.

PHOTO: Eric Schramm

As a family man, how do your children see your new role as Shiffrin's coach?

Mikaela is a pretty special person in and outside of the sport. I have a daughter and really felt like Mikaela could easily be a role model for her whether she raced or not. For my son, too. That was important to me as we decided to make the sacrifice to be on the road for as many days that we are. [Shiffrin] works hard, she's super appreciative of the effort that goes on around her, and she's just a really good person. What you guys see at home [and in the media] is real. That is her for real. It's not an act. It's not scripted. She's easy to get behind. So that was the tipping point for me.

What have you enjoyed the most about coaching Mikaela this season?

I would say what strikes me the most is that she is easily the hardest worker out there, male or female. Especially on snow, she skis a greater volume than any other athlete I've ever worked with at any level. Truthfully, it's inspiring.

Also, it's really fun to be working with an athlete that is just getting to know the speed events. That's really inspiring for her to be a beginner in a way in Super G and downhill disciplines. She really enjoys those blocks of time where we are able to pursue them and I think that helps keep the whole program fresh.

Finally, on a daily basis, I would say my biggest success with her this year has been providing and creating an environment for success where people are getting along. It's positive, safe, and fun.

What were the goals for the season and now, going into the Aspen World Cup Finals?

First off, keeping an eye on the season goal, which was to get the slalom globe back. She was injured in the middle of the last season and wasn't able to compete for it. The second one was a heavy focus on the GS globe, which she still has a chance for. Our secondary goal for this season, which we hadn't considered very much, is the overall globe. The big one. It's impossible to ignore. I think we, as a team, do a really good job of focusing on the present and focusing day-to-day.

She is a very process-oriented athlete and that ensures that every day we're working on getting better and competing better. If you can do that, the results will come.