Like Lake Louise, Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany is Lindsey Vonn’s downhill. The American has won the last four downhill races held on the Kandahar track, making this venue one of her historically most successful races. And yet, like Lake Louise this season, Vonn was forced to skip the Garmisch super-G and downhill events on Jan.25-26 due to nagging injuries.
“Unfortunately racing this weekend in Garmisch isn’t in the cards,” Vonn posted on Instagram on Friday, Jan. 25. “My knee is still not ready to race. I am working as hard as I can to be back as soon as possible.”
It was clear that Vonn was battling old injuries during her first races of the season in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy on Jan. 18-20, skiing more conservatively in the downhills than usual and failing to finish the super-G race. After that DNF, Vonn commented that significant pain may lead to her imminent retirement.
Though she still planned to start in the Garmisch race, Vonn and her team announced the day before the first downhill training run that an impact injury sustained in Cortina would prevent her from competing.
“We discovered the reason I had so much pain and muscle shut down in Cortina was due to an impact injury to my peroneal nerve,” Vonn posted on Instagram. “This most likely came from the final jump on the first training run in Cortina…After that training run, the pain got progressively worse each day and by Sunday my lower leg was in a lot of pain and my muscles had completely shut down…I’m taking things day by day and we will see what happens. I know that I might not get the ending to my career that I had hoped for, but if there is a chance, I will take it.”
With the reigning Garmisch downhill champ out of the running, all eyes turned to this season’s fastest women: Austria’s Nicole Schmidhofer, currently leading the World Cup standings in downhill; fellow Austrian Ramona Siebenhofer, fresh off back-to-back downhill wins in Cortina; Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec, currently ranked third overall in downhill; and Italy’s Sofia Goggia, last season’s Crystal Globe winner in the downhill and competing in her first race of the season after coming back from injury.
Garmisch Women’s Super-G
Due to weather concerns for Saturday, the women’s downhill race originally slated for Jan. 26 was moved to Sunday and the super-G took its place on Saturday. This change in schedule presented an added challenge to the weekend, since the ladies had spent the previous two days training for downhill on the difficult Kandahar track.
Like in Cortina, where a number of top downhillers had a difficult time transitioning from the straighter-set downhill to a turny super-G. Some of the top contenders in the Garmisch super-G struggled with two quick turns at the bottom of the course and ended up losing significant time or missing the gate entirely. Germany’s own Viktoria Rebensburg and Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin, frontrunners in the event, were among the 16 women who did not finish the race.
In contrast, those who skied tight, high lines through the first half of the course had no trouble in the lower section. This is where Schmidhofer and Goggia excelled. Goggia, racing with bib number 6, put down an impressive and aggressive come-back run and crossed the finish line with a huge lead of 0.66 seconds ahead of then-leader Corinne Suter of Austria.
Schmidhofer, starting with bib number 15, skied in her signature form—aggressive and tight in line and body throughout the course. By tucking in sections where others did not and turning well above the gates, Schmidhofer was able to cross the finish line 0.23 seconds ahead of Goggia, which was enough to earn her third World Cup victory this season.
Switzerland’s Lara Gut-Behrami, who won the last two super-G events in Garmisch but has struggled with consistency this season, surprised on Saturday with a fast and clean run good enough to land her back on the podium. She crossed the finish 0.22 seconds off Goggia’s time and 0.45 seconds behind Schmidhofer, sliding into third place.
Americans Laurenne Ross and Alice Merryweather also skied solid runs in Saturday’s super-G and collected additional World Cup points. Ross finished in 14th, while Merryweather squeaked into the top 30 with a 29th place finish.
Garmisch Women’s Downhill
Sunday’s downhill course on the Kandahar was perhaps the most difficult downhill track of the season for the women. It's extremely steep with a number of sharp turns and two big jumps, and the course rewards the fearless and those with technical prowess. Austria’s Stephanie Venier, who claimed her first World Cup podium in Garmisch last season, showed the most skill and confidence on the course and skied to her first World Cup victory.
Italy’s Sofia Goggia doubled-down on her second-place finish in Saturday’s super-G and again finished just 0.25 behind the leader to land in second—an incredible feat for the skier just coming back from a broken ankle sustained in training last fall. Germany’s Kira Weidle delighted her home crowd by rounding out the podium in third and scoring her second World Cup podium finish of the season on home turf.
And though Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin were not in the start gate for Sunday’s race, Americans in the crowd and watching on TV had reason to celebrate. Merryweather, who’s been consistently finishing in the top 30 but had yet to crack into the top 10, showed her best downhill performance of the season and skied to a career-best 8th place, finishing just 0.16 seconds behind Schmidhofer in seventh place.
Ross also seems to have found her groove at this point, improving upon her top 30 finishes at the beginning of the season to land her second 14 place finish this weekend.
Merryweather and Ross, who raced back to back with bib number 23 and 24 relatively late in the race, had to contend with added nerves and wait times before they started due to numerous race interruptions. Race officials paused the race at various times to modify the course after early racers were getting launched and hurt off the big second jump in the course.
“It took a long time to get to me today, and despite all the course holds, I kept a really calm head and I kept it together and I think that I skied the way that I know I can,” Merryweather told U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I’ve been skiing super well in training and just working on my mental state on the race day because I think that is what has been holding me back.”
Most racers who crashed, including the first racer Nicol Delago, were mostly uninjured and able to ski down from the course. However, Federica Sossio of Italy, the 42 starter, had a horrific crash off the jump that had her sliding in the nets. Sossio had to be evacuated via helicopter and race officials decided to cancel the race citing safety concerns after Sossio’s crash. The remaining 10 racers were not allowed to start, though the results through the 42 starter stand as official.
FIS Men's Alpine World Cup Recap: Paris Reigns in Kitzbühel
Coming Up on the Women’s World Cup…
Mikaela Shiffrin and the women competing on the technical circuit return to the start house in Maribor, Slovenia on Feb. 1-2 to compete in slalom and giant slalom. Shiffrin currently still leads the World Cup rankings in slalom, GS, and super-G, and is also the overall World Cup leader.
Following the races in Maribor the women and men on the World Cup circuit will head to Are, Sweden on Feb. 4-17 to compete in the annual FIS World Ski Championships. For the women, events kick off with super-G on Feb. 5, followed by their first alpine combined event of the season on Feb. 8.