The 2012-13 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup debuted its competition season over the weekend of Oct. 27-28 at Soelden, Austria and Nov. 11-12 at Levi, Finland with giant slalom and slalom races.
And, after four events, three things are clear for the U.S. Ski Team. First of all, three-time World Cup giant slalom king Ted Ligety is still a monster. Secondly, reigning World Cup queen Lindsey Vonn is still getting used to new skis. And finally, Mikaela Shiffrin is no flash in the pan.
Defying blizzard conditions, Ligety served notice to his GS challengers at Soelden Oct. 28 with a 2.75-second win that was the biggest margin of victory in 34 years since Sweden’s legendary Ingemark Stenmark posted a couple of technical wins by four-second margins.
Ligety, 28, who won the same GS event at Soelden by .29 seconds a year ago, posted his 12th career World Cup triumph and six straight podium on the Rettenbach Glacier at Soelden. Only six other World Cup victory margins have ever exceeded what Ligety did in the soft snow and variable light.
He and other World Cup tech wizards battled through fog and soft snow at Levi on Sunday, Ligety finishing 13th in the slalom north of the Arctic Circle. The winner was reigning World Cup men’s slalom king Andre Myhrer of Sweden over last year’s overall champ Marcel Hirscher of Austria.
After two men’s events, Hirscher leads the overall standings with 140 points, Manfred Moelgg of Italy has 130 and Park City’s Ligety 120.
Meanwhile, Vonn, 28, skied conservatively on the first giant slalom run at Soelden Oct. 27 and stood 12th after the first heat, then she caught her arm on a gate trying to make up a 2.5-second deficit on the second run. She did not compete in last Saturday’s Levi slalom.
On Monday, Nov. 12, four-time World Cup overall winner Vonn was admitted to a hospital in Vail with an undisclosed illness, according to the U.S. Ski Team.
The news was more encouraging for 17-year-old Shiffrin, the Burke Mountain Academy senior who still doesn’t have a driver’s license or high school diploma. What Shiffrin had on Saturday at Levi was the second podium of a promising career that features only 12 World Cup slalom starts.
Shiffrin converted a trip to the Arctic Circle into the second Audi FIS Alpine World Cup slalom podium of her career after finishing third in Levi. Olympic slalom queen Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany won with Finn local Tanja Poutianen second as wind and challenging light drifted in and out.
At the close of the 2012 season, Shiffrin was voted by her peers as Audi FIS Alpine World Cup Rookie of the Year.
Shiffrin said, “I felt confident because I had a plan to just ski like I do in training and I knew I could do that. I wasn’t worried about what place I was going to come in. I was definitely nervous but I knew I could execute my plan. It’s so cool for me to race and be on the podium with these girls. They are still so much my heroes, but they are also my friends.”
After two events, Slovenia’s Tina Maze (150 points) leads the overall standings over Hoefl-Riesch (124), with Shiffrin (60) tied for sixth.
Coming up for the women: The Nature Valley Aspen Winternational Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 24-25 at Aspen, Colo. and the first speed races Nov. 30-Dec. 2 at Lake Louise, Alberta Canada. For the men, it’s speed racing at Lake Louise Nov. 24-25 followed by the annual Audi Birds of Prey race week Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Beaver Creek.
In other early-season World Cup races:
Oct. 28 at Soelden, Austria, men’s giant slalom: 1—Ted Ligety (U.S.) 2:36.02, biggest victory margin in 34 years in World Cup GS, and seventh greatest all-time in the discipline. 2—Manfred Moelgg (Italy) 2:38.77. 3—Marcel Hirscher (Aust.) 2:39.14. 19—Tim Jitloff (U.S.) 2:41.03. DNQ—Robby Kelley and Warner Nickerson.
Oct. 27 at Soelden, Austria, women’s giant slalom: 1—Tina Maze (Slovenia), her third Soelden win but first since 2005. 2—Kathrin Zettel (Aust.). 3—Stefanie Koehle (Aust.). DNF—Last year’s Soelden GS queen Lindsey Vonn (2nd run, hooked hand on gate) and Julia Mancuso (1st run, lost a ski). DNQ—Megan McJames and Mikaela Shiffrin.
U.S. Alpine team to be unveiled Thursday
The U.S. Ski Team including Olympic champions Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso will help kick off a historic 50th anniversary season at Vail, Colo. when the 2013 U.S. Alpine Ski Team is introduced during Nature Valley First Tracks Thursday, Nov. 15.
Following the 5 p.m. live program, members of the newly named 2013 U.S. Alpine Ski Team will be on hand to meet fans and sign autographs. Now in its third winter at Vail, Nature Valley First Tracks is just the start to a full weekend of activity that continues Nov. 16 with opening day featuring the dedication of a new gondola.
Thursday’s family event begins at 4:30 p.m. with hot cocoa, cookies and live music in Arrabelle Square at Lionshead. Following the 5 p.m. live program, fans can meet the U.S. Ski Team and get autographs from the athletes.
The celebration continues Friday, Nov. 16 with Vail’s opening day, including the dedication of a new, state-of-the-art gondola complete with heated seats and Wi-Fi at Mountain Plaza.
Chris Jarnot, Vail Mountain Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, said, “We’re honored to host the U.S. Ski Team announcement event for the third consecutive year and kick off on the eve of opening day of Vail’s 50th anniversary season.
“Having the country’s top alpine ski racing athletes in Vail for early-season training is tremendously inspiring for our community and a clear sign that the winter ski and snowboard season is upon us.”