It was another tough season opener for the men and women on the World Cup alpine racing circuit this weekend. After 50 cm of new snow accumulated on the world-class Giant Slalom in Sölden, Austria on Friday night, the women who kicked off the first FIS World Cup event of the season on Saturday morning had to contend with a bumpy course, continuing snowfall, low visibility, and gusting winds.
The race proved to be not so much survival of the fittest, but survival of those most adaptable. It was Italian Federica Brignone who took the lead ahead of Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg by two tenths of a second after the first run. The difficult conditions were apparent in the unusually large margins between the top ten finishers, with Lara Gut managing to cling to 10th place though she finished nearly two seconds behind Brignone. The U.S.’ Mikaela Shiffrin, two-time defending overall champion of the event, found herself in fourth after her first run, two tenths of a second behind Tessa Worley from France in third. “I was a little bit disappointed with my first run, I wasn’t really fighting hard enough,” Shiffrin said.
Shiffrin and others took advantage of improving visibility to ski more aggressively in the second run. After hurling herself out of the start gate and taking a high and aggressive line in the top half of the course, Shiffrin almost lost it midway through after losing control of her outside ski, before making a herculean recovery and finishing nine tenths behind Worley, who moved up to first place after a superb second run. The race was Brignone’s to lose, and though she had a clean second run, it was not enough to keep her lead, and she nudged into second overall, six tenths ahead of Shiffrin.
“For sure my second run was better. It was not like pretty skiing but I was fighting harder. I had fun out there, but I also had some turns that were not fun at all,” Shiffrin said.
The women will next get a chance to face off in the first slalom event of the season in Levi, Finland on Nov. 17.
For the men, the Levi slalom event on Nov. 18 will be the first race of the season, after race organizers decided to cancel the men’s GS race in Sölden due to worsening weather and course conditions. The same thing happened at the same event last year, leading the International Ski Federation to change their race organization policy so that a cancelled opening race can now be replaced with another race later in the season.
Ted Ligety, Tommy Ford, Ryan Cochran-Siegle, River Radamus and others on the U.S. men’s team scheduled to start in Sunday’s GS race in Sölden will continue training in Austria until they officially kick off their season with the slalom in Levi.