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Alpine Skiing World Cup 2017/18 roundup

Highlights from the first month of the Alpine ski racing calendar

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Ian Huyton | Val d'Isere Reporter | Published: 7th December 2017

The skiing World Cup kicked-off just over a month ago in Soelden, Austria, and then Levi in Finland, before crossing the Atlantic. So far, we have seen tight races, one cancellation, one race run with no ski lifts working and one big name retirement. Familiar names have stamped their mark on the competition, sometimes in less familiar disciplines, but newer faces have been claiming top three results as well.

The first race of the season was the Ladies GS in Soelden on 28th October. Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg took first place, followed by Tessa Worley of France and the Italian Manuela Moelgg. Seven different nations took the top seven places. While the ladies race was held under sunny skies in front of a crowd of almost fifteen thousand, the weather took a turn for the worse the following day. Stormy winds of up to 120km/h forced the cancellation of the scheduled men’s GS and the evacuation of the glacier ski area. According to the rulebook, opening races are not rescheduled so the men’s competition will be a GS short this year.

At the end of October, one of the sport’s most famous names and biggest characters officially announced his retirement. Aged forty, and two-and-a-half years after his last World Cup start, Bode Miller confirmed that he will no longer race on the top-level circuit. Miller ranks as the eighth best racer of all time is one of a handful of skiers to have scored wins in all five disciplines. However, he will be remembered equally for his reckless style on the course and his hard partying off it. Who could forget his skiing the Bormio downhill on one ski, or skiing on the safety fence at Kitzbuhel and still making the podium? Add in the win-or-bust approach that led to some spectacular crashes and you have a skier who will not be forgotten in a hurry.

The action moved north to Levi a fortnight later. The 11th November saw Slovakia’s Petra Vhlova beat reigning slalom and overall champion Mikaela Schiffrin (USA) to win the first slalom of the season. Wendy Holdener of Switzerland took third. The following day, the men finally got to race in their opening slalom of the season. Britain’s Dave Ryding led after the first run, leading to hopes of a first ever British win, but sadly he skied out in the second. Germany’s Felix Neureuther took first place with Norwegian Henrik Kristofferson second and Swede Mattias third. As is traditional in Levi, Vhlova and Neureuther were each presented with a baby reindeer for their victory. Vhlova named hers ‘Igor’, after her father while Neureuther called his ‘Matti’ for his daughter Mathilda. The two reindeer will grow up in Finland on a local farm.

Mid-November gave us a sad reminder of the dangers of this sport when French skier David Poisson was killed in an accident during downhill training in Canada. Poisson had been skiing on the circuit since 2004 and was a respected, senior member of the French team. He had podiumed in downhill at the 2013 World Championships and during the 2015 World Cup.

For the second half of November, the tour moved to North America. The first speed races on the calendar took place in Lake Louise, Canada. Saturday 25th saw Beat Feuz of Switzerland win the first downhill of the season with Austria’s Matthias Mayer and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway chasing. Sunday’s super G gave a fellow Norwegian, Kjetil Jansrud, the chance to take first place. Two Austrians, Max Franz and Hannes Reichelt completed the podium.

Meanwhile, the ladies stayed with the technical events in Killington, Vermont. The weekend opened with a GS on Saturday 25th. Viktoria Rebensburg claimed a second win in the discipline and Manuela Moelgg was once again third. Mikaela Schiffrin took the second-place spot this time. Schiffrin was back in untouchable slalom form on the Sunday. In front of a home crowd, she finished the two runs 1.64 seconds faster than second placed Petra Vhlova while Bernadette Schild of Austria came in third.

The men’s speed races continued with the Birds of Prey races in Beaver Creek, Colorado at the start of December. The super G is shaping up to be a battle between Austria and Norway this season. Vincent Kreichmayr of Austria won his first World Cup race on the first of the month with Kjetil Jansrud and Hannes Reichelt following. The downhill on 2nd December gave Aksel Lund Svindal his first win of the winter, proving the Norwegians are strong contenders across the speed disciplines. Beat Feuz was a close second. This was Svindal’s fourth win and Feuz’s third second-place result at the Beaver Creek downhill. The German skier Thomas Dressen came third to gain his first World Cup podium spot. The Birds of Prey series concluded with the season’s first GS on 3rd December. Last year’s GS, slalom and overall winner, Marcel Hirscher of Austria, took his first podium of the season to win the race. After his stunning successes last winter, Hirscher is returning from an ankle injury sustained in the summer. Henrik Kristoffersen was second and Stefan Luitz of Germany third.

The same weekend it was the ladies’ turn to ski Lake Louise, as their speed season opened with two downhills and a super G. The first downhill was a tight race between Austria’s Conny Huetter and Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather. The former took the win by less than a tenth of a second. Mikaela Schiffrin gained her first speed podium by coming third. The second downhill took place under somewhat challenging circumstances. A substation fire left the resort’s lifts out of action, so the athletes and crew were all towed to the top of the course by piste bashers. When the race eventually ran, Schiffrin cemented her speed success by winning her first downhill. Viktoria Rebensburg came in second followed by Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin. The Lake Louise racing finished with Tina Weirather winning the winter’s first super G; the discipline she won overall last season. Lara Gut of Switzerland took second place and Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria was third.

The tour returns to Europe this weekend, with the ladies heading to St. Moritz for three days of speed races. Meanwhile in Val d’Isere, the Criterium de la Premier Neige will open with a weekend of men’s technical racing. The traditional seasonal opener in the French resort will continue the following weekend with ladies downhill and super G. After this the men start their Italian leg while the ladies tour moves to Courchevel.

Looking ahead to the rest of the season, this is an Olympic winter so all eyes will be on the medal hopes for PyeongChang 2018. The games will take place from 9th to 25th February around the Korean city. Alpine skiing events will be split between the Yongpyong Alpine Centre and the Jeongseon Alpine Centre. The Olympic events will comprise of downhill, super G, GS, slalom, alpine combined and an alpine team event.

While the Olympics will dominate the headlines, the World Cup races will continue during the rest of the winter. It could be argued that a World Cup title should be a more prestigious achievement since it requires skiing consistently well throughout the whole season. Points are awarded for every race, from 100 points for first place down to a single point for the thirtieth placed finisher. All thirty plus races count towards the overall title (the exact number of races varies from year to year). A nine-kilogram ‘Crystal Globe’ is awarded to the male and female overall winners, with a three-and-a-half-kilo globe going to the winner in each discipline.

At the moment, the athletes to watch include Marcel Hirscher, who looks set to regain his incredible form of last winter after injury troubles over the summer. Mikaela Schiffrin’s recent speed performances could propel the slalom specialist towards another overall Crystal Globe. The Norwegians are likely to do well in the men’s speed races and the Austrians always do well overall. British fans should closely watch Dave Ryding, who last year gained the first British podium since 1983. Could this be the year he gets that first British win, or an Olympic medal?

Fact file – Alpine Ski Racing Events

If you are new to following ski racing it can take a while to get used to all the different types of races on the calendar.

All the events involve skiing down a course set with flexible red and blue poles. These are known as gates, and are normally set in pairs. A skier must pass through all the gates to complete the course, and the fastest skier wins. There are no time penalties – a skier who fails to pass through all the gates correctly is disqualified. There are four disciplines, divided into technical and speed, with the main difference being how far apart the gates are set.

The main events you need to know about are as follows:

Slalom
The most technical discipline. Slalom races have the tightest, quickest turns and the shortest, most agile skis. The gates are made of two single poles without flags, with 6-13 metres between successive gates. Slalom skiers wear a lot of protection and are expected to hit the gates with hands or shins.

GS – Giant slalom
GS is the most accessible event for a recreational skier, but the hardest to master. The gates for GS and other events comprise two sets of double poles with flags, or panels. Speeds are faster, but this is still a technical event with the skier passing a gate every 1-2 seconds. Gates are at least ten metres apart and typically 20-30 metres.

Super G
Super G is classed as a speed event, with the gates being set further apart than GS giving higher speeds, but not as far apart as downhill. Gates must be at least 25 metres apart.

Downhill
This is the fastest of the four disciplines, raced on the longest, straightest skis over a course with the fewest gates. Gates are set where needed, with no rules on how far apart they are. Unlike the other three disciplines, gates do not have to alternate in colour but can be all red or all blue.

Combined/Super-combined
An event where a run of downhill or super-G is combined with a run of slalom. While most racers specialise in either speed or technical events, combined races favour the all-rounders. Although in a sense it is not a separate discipline like the four above, it does have its own discipline prize in the World Cup and offers the chance of an Olympic medal to more all-round skiers.

Parallel GS, Parallel slalom, City Event
In parallel events, skiers race each other head to head on parallel courses, rather than against the clock. The two courses are set carefully to be as near to identical as possible. Parallel slalom races are often held close to cities under floodlighting, and are sometimes described as City Events. Parallel GS is a recent addition to the calendar; the first World Cup race was only held in 2015.

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