Breckenridge, CO. (Nov. 14)-- Veteran Erik Schlopy (Park City, UT) marked his racing return as a member of the U.S. Ski Team by finishing in a tie for fourth place Sunday behind Austrian Benjamin Raich in the opening race of the $100,000 Super Series, a sun-splashed slalom at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Kristina Koznick (Burnsville, MN), still adjusting to new equipment, had the best showing for the American women, placing seventh behind Christel Saioni of France with Sarah Schleper (Vail, CO) 10th in the World Cup-level field.
Raich had the fastest time on the first run and made it stand up for a two-run time of 1:26.46. Didier Plaischy of Switzerland was second witha time of 1:26.72 and Rainer Schoenfelder, another Austrian, was third (1:26.79).
Schlopy, 27, a 1994 Olympian who left the pro tour a year ago and worked his way back to the U.S. Ski Team this season, tied reigningmen's World Cup overall champion Lasse Kjus of Norway for fourth in 1:27.11.
The men's field was equally high-caliber as European racers prep for the start of World Cup racing with the women's giant slalom Friday andslalom Saturday at nearby Copper Mountain. The men will race the following week at Beaver Creek, Colo., with dates to be announced in thenear future, based on snow conditions.
"I think this was a really good start for the season. Training's been going well," Schlopy said, "and today I took it as another training day--skiing consistently. It's a great start to give me a little confidence for the beginning of the season. Yeah, and to tie Lasse Kjus is more than I could ask for in the first race of the season. That's pretty cool. ...I'm looking forward to make my slalom as good as giant slalom."
He said the near-50 degree weather "felt good for a change. I was ready to freeze my butt off for about three weeks, but this was nice." The flip side, Schlopy said, was that the searing sun softened the snow and made conditions tricky. "Breckenridge did a terrific job pulling off these races in this weather, but unfortunately the sun beat down on it for too many hours. But, really, that doesn't bother me because I've gotto get used to skiing in tough conditions at the back of the pack because I'll be starting late."
A smiling U.S. Coach Thomas Erhard, who has known Schlopy since they both grew up in Stowe, Vt., and raced for Burke Mountain Academy, said Schlopy's performance "really wasn't a surprise. He's been skiing well in training and we've been keeping him healthy. The plan has been to have him train three days, take two days off...and it's worked well."
In the women's slalom, which concluded after the men, Saioni won in 1:29.42, nearly a full second ahead of Sweden's Anja Paersson with Slovenian Alenka Dovzan third. Koznick finished in 1:31.02 with Schleper 10th in 1:31.33.
"The snow was a little soft and a little broken up - the same as for the guys - and there's not a lot you can do with it's 80 degrees, or whatever," Koznick said. "I'm just not me yet and it's frustrating. I've been dying to race for a month now, but I'm still getting used to my newequipment - skis, boots, bindings. It'll just take some more time. I'll get it."
The Super Series races were shifted to Breckenridge from Winter Park Ski Resort because of poor snow conditions. The schedule continues Monday with another slalom for men and women at Breckenridge.