It’s been eight months since the pandemic put an abrupt end to the 2020 Alpine World Cup, before racers had a chance to go head to head in the World Cup finals in Cortina d’Amprezzo, Italy. But on Saturday, Oct. 17, a new season kicks off in Sölden, Austria, where the world’s best technical racers will look to pick up where they left off last March in their first giant slalom of the 2021 Tour.

With one notable exception: Mikaela Shiffrin, last season’s runner-up for the women’s Overall Title, will be sitting out Sölden’s inaugural race after tweaking her back during a recent training session.

“Much to my disappointment, I will not be able to start [in Sölden] this year,” Shiffrin posted on her Instagram on Oct. 9. “After tweaking my back skiing last week, I have been advised to sit Sölden out to let my back heal so I can race the rest of the season.”

The injury comes as another unlucky break for Shiffrin, who has been out of the start gate longer than her competitors after missing the final races of last season due to the sudden death of her father, Jeff Shiffrin, last February.

Despite Shiffrin’s absence from Saturday’s first GS race, the Sölden event promises to be an exciting start to the 2021 World Cup season. Here’s a recap of how things stand after the 2020 season, and who to watch during the first World Cup race in Sölden.

Related: FIS Cancels North American World Cup Stops on 2021 Tour

Women’s World Cup Giant Slalom, Sölden

Mikaela Shiffrin, Alice Robinson, Tessa Worley podium at Sölden World Cup GS, 2019

The podium finishers of last season's season-opening giant slalom in Sölden, Austria, from left to right: Mikaela Shiffrin (2nd place); Alice Robinson (1st place); Tessa Worley (3rd place)

The 2020 World Cup season ended with Italian Federica Brignone winning the women’s Overall and GS titles. The two Crystal Globes marked Brignone’s first—and the first for any Italian woman in the Overall category. Keep an eye on Brignone during Saturday’s opening GS race, as this is the Italian’s specialty and she’s known for starting her season on the podium in Sölden.

Then there’s Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, who has become a household name in women’s World Cup slalom and GS over the past two seasons, regularly giving both Brignone and Shiffrin a run for their money in the technical disciplines. Vlhova finished off the 2020 World Cup circuit as the Slalom Champion and runner-up in GS, just 74 points behind Brignone’s point total.

World Cup fans will remember that last season’s Sölden GS was won by then-newcomer Alice Robinson. The 18-year-old New Zealander burst onto the World Cup scene in a big way by taking last year’s win from Shiffrin by 0.06 seconds. While she was plagued by injury and inconsistent finishes throughout the remainder of the 2020 World Cup Tour, the young talent who ended up ranked fifth in the world in GS will also be one to watch this season.

There are also a number of women who made it onto the podium or hovered near it during multiple GS races last season: Italian Marta Bassino, who ended the 2020 season ranked fourth in the discipline; Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener, always a threat in the technical disciplines; Tessa Worley from France; and Norwegian Mina Fuerst Holtmann. If they can perform two strong runs, each of these ladies has the potential to podium at the season-opening GS in Sölden.

On the American front, keep an eye out for Nina O’Brien from Denver, Colo. O’Brien finished 20th in last season’s Sölden GS and continued to collect points throughout the Tour to rank 40th in the 2020 GS standings.

Besides Shiffrin, another big name will be absent from the women’s GS in Sölden: Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg. The three-time World Cup Champion in GS just recently announced her retirement from racing. In a Sept. 1 Instagram post, Rebensburg shared that she had struggled to come back from her most recent knee injury, sustained at the 2020 World Cup downhill in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, and made the difficult decision to retire:

“After my injury in spring [and] the past two months of snow training, I realized that I would no longer be able to reach my absolute top level.”

Get caught up: Top 10 Moments of the 2020 World Cup

Men’s World Cup Giant Slalom, Sölden

Tommy Ford on Birds of Prey GS Podium

American Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup podium win in the 2019 Birds of Prey men's giant slalom race. 

The men’s 2020 World Cup concluded with Norwegian Aleksander Aamodt Kilde winning the Overall Title, with France’s Alexis Pinturault and Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen ranking second and third, respectively, a mere 60-odd points behind Kilde. It’s those latter two who will be in the public eye at the men’s season-opening giant slalom in Sölden on Sunday, Oct. 18.

At the end of last season, Kristoffersen and Pinturault were neck-in-neck for the GS Champion Title, but it was Kristoffersen who walked away with the GS Cyrstal Globe. However, Pinturault, who ultimately had to settle for second behind Kristoffersen in the GS discipline, began his 2020 World Cup season on the top of the podium in last year’s GS event in Sölden and will surely seek to repeat that result again this year.

From the U.S. Ski Team, keep an eye on GS specialists Ryan Cochran-Siegle and Tommy Ford. Both Americans had phenomenal 2020 World Cup seasons, with both consistently scoring points in the Top 20 in the men’s GS events. Ford even won his first-ever World Cup event at last season’s Bird of Prey race on home soil, and thanks to strong finishes the rest of the season, ended the 2020 Tour ranked fifth in the world in GS.

American Ted Ligety, who ranked 12th in the 2020 GS world standings, is also expected to start in the Sölden GS event on Sunday. After finishing fifth at last year’s opening GS in Sölden, Ligety will have set his sights on the podium this year.

2021 World Cup Tour Schedule

2019 FIS World Cup Finals, Soldeu, Andorra; Mikaela Shiffrin, Marcel Hirscher

2019 FIS World Cup Finals, Soldeu, Andorra; Overal Champions, Austrian Marcel Hirscher and American Mikaela Shiffrin

Due to health and safety precautions as well as travel logistics surrounding the ongoing pandemic, FIS has decided to rejigger its traditional World Cup Tour schedule for the 2021 season. The organization has canceled the races scheduled to take place in North America, including the traditional women’s and men’s downhills in Lake Louise, the men’s speed races in Beaver Creek, Colo., and the women’s technical events in Killington, Vt. Additional races throughout Europe have been added to the calendar to make up for the canceled North American events.

Women’s World Cup Tour Schedule

  • Sölden, Austria: Oct. 17, Giant Slalom
  • Lech/Zürs, Austria: Nov. 13, Parallel
  • Levi, Finland: Nov. 21-22, 2x Slalom
  • St. Moritz, Switzerland: Dec. 5-6, 2x Super-G
  • Courchevel, France: Dec. 12-13, 2x GS
  • Val d’Isere, France: Dec. 18-19, 2x Downhill; Dec. 20, Super-G
  • Semmering, Austria: Dec. 28, Giant Slalom; Dec. 29, Slalom
  • Zagreb, Croatia: Jan. 3, Slalom
  • St. Anton, Austria: Jan. 9, Downhill; Jan. 10, Super-G
  • Flachau, Austria: Jan. 12, Slalom
  • Maribor, Slovenia: Jan. 16-17, 2x Giant Slalom
  • Crans Montana, Switzerland: Jan. 23-24, 2x Downhill
  • Kronplatz, Italy: Jan. 26, Giant Slalom
  • Garmisch, Germany: Jan. 30, Downhill; Jan. 31, Super-G
  • Yanqing, China: Feb. 27, Downhill; Feb. 28, Super-G
  • Jasna, Slovakia: Mar. 6, Giant Slalom; Mar. 7, Slalom
  • Åre, Sweden: Mar. 12-13; 2x Slalom
  • Lenzerheide, Switzerland: Mar. 17-21, World Cup Finals

Men’s World Cup Tour Schedule

  • Sölden, Austria: Oct. 18, Giant Slalom
  • Lech, Zürs, Austria: Nov. 14, Parallel
  • Val d’Isere, France: Dec. 5-6, 2x Giant Slalom
  • Val d’Isere, France: Dec. 12, Downhill; Dec. 13, Super-G
  • Val Gardena, Italy: Dec. 18, Super-G; Dec. 19, Downhill
  • Alta Badia, Italy: Dec. 20, Slalom; Dec. 21, Giant Slalom
  • Madonna di Camipglio, Italy: Dec. 22, Slalom
  • Bormio, Italy: Dec. 28, Downhill; Dec. 29, Super-G
  • Zagreb, Croatia: Jan. 6, Slalom
  • Adelboden, Switzerland: Jan. 8-9, 2x Giant Slalom; Jan. 10, Slalom
  • Wengen, Switzerland: Jan. 15-16, 2x Downhill; Jan. 17, Slalom
  • Kitzbühel, Austria: Jan. 22, Super-G; Jan. 23, Downhill; Jan. 24, Slalom
  • Schladming, Austria: Jan. 26, Slalom
  • Chamonix, France: Jan. 20-21, 2x Slalom
  • Garmisch, Germany: Feb. 5, Super-G; Feb. 6, Downhill
  • Bansko, Bulgaria: Feb. 27-28, 2x Giant Slalom
  • Kvitfjell, Norway: Mar. 6, Downhill; Mar. 7, Super-G
  • Kranjska Gora, Slovenia: Mar. 13, Giant Slalom; Mar. 14, Slalom
  • Lenzerheide, Switzerland: Mar. 17-21, World Cup Finals 

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