It wasn’t the usual spirited kickoff to the World Cup season, but all things considered, the opening giant slalom races in Sölden, Austria, went off without a hitch this weekend. Despite the pandemic, missed training opportunities over the summer, and the absence of cheering fans, the best technical racers in the world attacked the fabled Rettenbach glacier in Sölden as they would any other year and gave racing fans plenty to look forward to in coming months. Here are the highlights from the opening races of the 2021 World Cup circuit.
Italians Dominate Women’s GS, Paula Moltzan Finishes 10th
Heavy fog and low visibility during Saturday’s opening race didn’t stop Italians Marta Bassino and Federica Brignone from picking up right where they left off at the close of the 2020 World Cup. Bassino, who less than a year ago scored her first World Cup victory at Killington’s World Cup, took the win by 0.14 seconds ahead of teammate Federica Brignone, 2020’s World Cup Giant Slalom and Overall Champion. Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, who skied the fastest second run to claw her way back from 10th place after Run 1, rounded out the podium in third.
The rest of the Top 10 was also stacked with the usual suspects. France’s Michelle Gisin, who started climbing the ranks in the speed events last season, skied to a fourth-place finish in Saturday’s GS, proving that she’ll also be a contender in the technical event this season. Norway’s Mina Fuerst Holtmann, in third place after a technically clean first run, finished in fifth after a slightly less aggressive second run.
New Zealander Alice Robinson, winner of last year’s opening GS in Sölden, skied a strong first run to tie Gisin for fourth place, but after a major mistake at the bottom of Run 2, had to settle for 12th place overall.
Perhaps the biggest surprise and highlight for American fans was the phenomenal performance of slalom-specialist Paula Moltzan (Prior Lake, Minn.). Starting with bib number 62 in only her second World Cup giant slalom, Moltzan skied a strong first run that landed her in 17th place. She then doubled down in her second run, skiing an aggressive and fluid line and finishing with the fourth-fastest time in Run 2. In the end, Moltzan’s combined time put her in 10th overall, her best World Cup finish to date.
Teammate Nina O’Brien (Denver, Colo.) also had a strong start to the season, finishing Saturday’s race in 15th place and besting her 20th place result in Sölden last season.
“I’m a bit shocked,” Moltzan told U.S. Ski and Snowboard after the race. “I knew I was skiing well through training and I had a lot of people tell me it was there, but for it to actually come to fruition in the race is mind-boggling,” said Moltzan. “But I’m really happy with how I skied and happy that both Nina and I today got into the top 15. I think it's really a strong statement for the U.S. to come into our first race this strong."
From Sölden, the women’s World Cup circuit will take a short break before heading to Lech/Zürs, Austria, for the first parallel event of the 2021 season on Nov. 13.
Norwegian Young Gun Wins Men's GS
Twenty-year-old Lucas Braathen, of Norway, won his first-ever FIS World Cup event in Sölden on Sunday. The charismatic skier's second run bordered on chaos multiple times, but Braathen was able to keep it together well enough to take the podium from Switzerland's Marco Odermatt by 0.05 seconds. Odermatt's Swiss teammate Gino Caviezel rounded out the podium in third place, 0.46 seconds off of Braathen's time.
Despite blue skies and ideal conditions on the Rettenbach course, a number of more experienced GS skiers had trouble on the first half of the tightly-gated course. After earning the tenth-fastest first run, American favorite Ted Ligety lost a ski during his second run on the same gate that also threw off several other veterans. France's Alexis Pinturault, Norway's Henrik Kristofferson, and Slovenia's Zan Kranjec all seemed to take the wrong line on this gate, losing valuable time in the process.
Two Americans—Tommy Ford (Mt. Bachelor, Ore.) and River Radamus (Vail, Colo.)—completed their second runs, finishing 22nd and 27th, respectively.
“I feel like I skied pretty well,” Ford said after the race, according to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team. “I’ve been struggling with my body, so it’s nice just to be on snow and have two decent runs. We have some testing to do, but otherwise, I think I was solid mentally, and with my skiing, and this is a good place to move from. I’m psyched to be racing again.”
Full Results from Sölden: Men's 2020 GS
The next men's World Cup event will be a parallel slalom event in Lech/Zürs mid-November.
Jon Jay contributed reporting to this article.