A winter storm made for an interesting start to the season-opening speed events of the women’s World Cup circuit in Lake Louise, Alberta this weekend. Despite heavy snowfall that delayed Friday’s downhill event, the first downhill and super-G races of the season proved successful for the American women, with Mikaela Shiffrin landing her first World Cup downhill podium since 2017 and teammate Alice McKennis staging a successful comeback from injury. Here are the highlights from the women’s World Cup stop in Lake Louise.
Ester Ledecka Clinches First World Cup Victory in Dec. 6 Lake Louise Downhill
The Czech Republic's Ester Ledecka, who made headlines by coming out of nowhere to win super-G gold at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, skied the fastest and most aggressive line of Friday’s downhill to win her first-ever World Cup podium. Switzerland’s Corinne Suter finished second, 0.35 seconds behind Ledecka, with Austria’s Stephanie Venier landing in third just 0.07 seconds behind Suter.
Heavy snowfall delayed the start of Friday’s season-opening downhill race and caused race officials to move to a reserve start, lower on the course. The snow also made for difficult visibility and course conditions, challenging the smaller women with less aggressive skiing styles. Experienced speed skiers known for an aggressive, powerful style, on the other hand, took advantage of the less than favorable conditions.
Mikaela Shiffrin, known for her technical precision, skied a clean yet more conservative run, landing her in 10th, 0.96 seconds off Ledecka’s winning time. Teammate Alice Merryweather, who consistently placed in the top 30 in downhill last season, finished 21st. Alice McKennis, bronze medalist in the 2018 World Cup downhill finals who was sidelined last season due to injury, placed 27th in her first World Cup race post-injury.
“After a couple costly mistakes it wasn’t the result I was hoping for,” McKennis posted on Instagram. “But I’m super excited to be back racing again and knowing I’ve got a lot more to give!”
All three American women collected points for their top-30 finish in Friday’s downhill. American Jacqueline Wiles, also returning from injury this season, just missed out on World Cup points by finishing 31st.
“Another top 10 in downhill and a million more experience points!” Shiffrin shared on Instagram. “Today was… interesting… but still so much fun … Also, shout out to my teammates [Alice McKennis] and [Jacqueline Wiles] for sending their first race back in some really tricky conditions.”
View full results of the Dec. 6 Lake Louise downhill here.
Mikaela Shiffrin Finishes Second in Dec. 7 Lake Louise Downhill
The weather cleared for Saturday’s second downhill race, and the women who were thrown by Friday’s bumpy course and low visibility took advantage. Austria’s Nicole Schmidhofer, last season’s World Cup Downhill Champion, crossed the finish with the fastest time, securing her first downhill victory of the season.
Mikaela Shiffrin demonstrated her technical precision by taking a tight, direct line and letting her skis run in sections where other racers had to pump the brakes. She crossed the finish line just 0.13 seconds behind Schmidhofer, placing second and landing her first downhill podium since her career-first downhill victory in Lake Louise in December 2017. Italy’s Francesca Marsaglia placed third to secure her first-ever World Cup podium finish.
After the race, media asked Shiffrin if landing on the podium in the downhill event was becoming her new normal. “[A podium in downhill is not normal], even racing downhill doesn’t feel normal,” she laughed. “I feel every year I get more experience, and I get more comfortable, and I’m certainly more comfortable with the long skis. Right now, I’m enjoying it.”
Both Alice McKennis and Alice Merryweather were able to improve on Friday’s downhill results by finishing back to back in 10th and 11th place, respectively. Teammate Jacqueline Wiles also moved up into the top 30 to notch her first World Cup points of the season.
“No hesitation for the firs time really since Åre in 2018 for my last podium,” McKennis shared on Instagram. “Thrilled with a top ten result in my second race back.”
Some staples on the women’s downhill circuit were conspicuously absent from the podium in both Friday’s and Saturday’s races, including Slovenia’s Ilka Štuhec and Italy’s Sofia Goggia. Štuhec—a two-time World Champion in the downhill event (2017, 2019)—was unable to crack the top 10 in either races over the weekend. Goggia, an Olympic gold-medalist in the event who finished in the top-two in seven of her last nine downhill appearances on the World Cup, finished sixth in Friday’s downhill and 12th in Saturday’s event.
View full results of the Dec. 7 Lake Louise downhill here.
Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg Wins Dec. 8 Lake Louise Super-G
While super-G events tend to immediately follow downhill events on the World Cup circuit, many racers struggle with the transition from longer downhill skis and wide-open courses to shorter skis and a tighter course with more turns for the following super-G. The inaugural super-G of the season in Lake Louise was no exception.
As nine women failed to complete Sunday’s super-G race, including seasoned pro Sofia Goggia, Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg rose to the top to claim her fourth career super-G victory. Italy’s Nicol Delago followed in second by 0.35 seconds, while Switzerland’s Corinne Suter claimed her second podium of the weekend with a third-place finish.
Expectations were high for Mikaela Shiffrin, winner of last season’s World Cup Super-G Champion, but she too struggled to find her timing in Lake Louise’s super-G course and ultimately finished in 10th place.
“It’s one of the trickiest events—maybe the trickiest event, because you only get one run and you don’t get training,” Shiffrin told U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “The speeds are high, but the technique is kind of similar to GS. You have this combination of everything wrapped into one event and you have to nail it on the first run.”
Teammate Alice McKennis kept up her trend of climbing the ranks over the course of the weekend, finishing in 13th in Sunday’s super-G, while Alice Merryweather again scored points by finishing 23rd. Jacqueline Wiles narrowly missed out on points by landing in 32nd.
With multiple slalom, giant slaloms, and downhills now in the books for the 2019-20 World cup season, racers are starting to tune into the overall World Cup rankings. Shiffrin, who has competed in all four events since the start of the season, now leads the overall standings with 472 points, 237 points ahead of Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg. She also leads the rankings in slalom and giant slalom and is currently ranked fourth in downhill thanks to her strong finishes in Lake Louise. Alice Merryweather is currently ranked 13th in downhill, while McKennis finds herself in a respectable 15th rank in the event.
View full results of the Dec. 8 Lake Louise super-G here.
From Lake Louise, the women’s World Cup circuit moves to St. Moritz, Switzerland on Dec. 14-15 for super-G, parallel slalom, and slalom. Tune into SKImag.com’s Racing channel for coverage and results.