With three weekends in Val d’Isere, plus racing in Canada, Italy and Austria, the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup moved up a gear in the last month.
The speed season finally opened on the first weekend of December, with Val d’Isere replacing Beaver Creek for the men and Lake Louise hosting the women. These events also marked the introduction of new start order rules for World Cup downhill and super G races. For the first time, the top competitors get to choose their own bib numbers. Those athletes ranked in the top ten get to choose odd numbered bibs from 1-19, with even numbered bibs going randomly to the next ten ranked athletes. The new rules are designed to encourage television viewers to tune in for longer, by spreading the top racers further through the start list than previously.
Norway had a great opening weekend in Val d’Isere, with Kjetil Jansrud winning both Friday’s Super G and Satuday’s Downhill. His teammate, Aksel Lund Svindal, also gained two podiums with a second in the Super G and a third in the Downhill. Italy completed the top three in both races, with Dominik Paris taking Friday’s third place and Peter Fill coming in second on the Saturday. Sunday saw a return to the technical events with hosts France gaining four out of the top five spots in the GS. Mathieu Faivre gained his first victory, beating Austria’s Marcel Hirscher into second, while Alexis Pinterault took third.
Over in Lake Louise, the weekend belonged surprisingly to Ilka Stuhec. Starting back at 29th, the relatively unknown Slovenian took her career first podium to win the opening downhill of the season on the Friday. Italy’s Soffia Goggia and Sweden’s Kajsa Kling took second and third, both gaining the second podium of their careers. Stuhec continued her new found form the following day, winning the season’s second downhill, and the second podium and victory of her career. Lara Gut of Switzerland and Miklos Edit of Hungary came in second and third. The season’s first Super G on the Sunday gave Lara Gut a first place. Lichtenstein’s Tina Weirather came second and Soffia Goggia took her third podium by coming in third.
Back in Val d’Isere, the Criterium de la Premier Neige took place the following weekend. This event is older than the World Cup itself, dating back to 1955. The action moved from the ‘OK’ course to the steeper Face de Belvarde for two days of technical racing, starting with GS on Saturday 10th December. Alexis Pinterault and Marcel Hirscher maintained their GS form, taking first and second place respectively, while Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen took third. After a difficult start to the season, Kristofferson capitalised on his first podium of the winter by winning the slalom the following day. Marcel Hirscher took yet another second place and Russia’s Alexander Khoroshilov was placed third.
The women moved to Sestriere in Italy for another technical weekend. Saturday’s GS saw an incredibly tight race where just five hundredths of a second separated the top four racers after the first run. Frenchwoman Tessa Morley came from joint third to take first, saying she had been inspired by countryman Alexis Pinterault’s win in Val d’Isere that morning. Soffia Goggia gained another podium in second and Lara Gut came third. Sunday’s slalom was less tight, with Michala Schiffrin winning by over a second in a discipline where she is looking unbeatable. Slovakia’s Veronika Velez Zuzulova and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener completed the podium.
It was the women’s turn to ski Val d’Isere on 16th December for the first Alpine combined race of the winter. All three top spots were taken by first time skiers in the discipline, two of whom are fast becoming familiar names. Ilka Stuhek took her third win, and third podium, of both the season and of her career as a whole. Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin took second and Soffia Goggia gained yet another podium in another discipline in third. Stuhek continued her winning form in the downhill on the 17th, taking her third downhill win of the season and winning a cow for the victory in a Val d’Isere tradition. Cornelia Huetter of Austria was second and Goggia was on the podium again in third. In the third and final day of racing, Lara Gut came first in the super G after DNFs in the previous two races. Tina Weirather came second and Elena Curtoni of Italy third.
Meanwhile the men travelled to the Dolomites to begin the Italian segment of the tour, where the Norwegians again performed strongly in the speed events. The segment opened with the Val Gardena/Groeden Super G on Friday 16th, where Kjetil Jansrud and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde took first and second place ahead of the Canadian Eric Guay. Austria’s Max Franz won the following day’s downhill ahead of Aksel Lund Svindal and the American Steven Nyman. The action moved to Alta Badia for GS on the 18th, where Marcel Hirscher took another win, beating Mathieu Faivre and the Italian Eisath Florian. A fourth consecutive day of racing had Frenchman Cyprien Sarrazin beat Janka Carlo to the top spot in the parallel GS while Kjetil Jansrud beat Leif Kristian Haugan in a Norwegian battle for third place.
Tuesday 20th should have been the last women’s race before the Christmas break, but high winds led to the Courchevel GS being cancelled. Soffia Goggia was leading after nineteen skiers had raced, before the decision was taken to postpone, and ultimately cancel, the race.
The men’s Italian segment continued on 22nd December, with the oldest Italian World Cup venue, Madonna di Campiglio, hosting a night slalom. Henrik Kristoffersen took a second slalom win, followed by Marcel Hirscher and the Italian Stefano Gross.
Following the short Christmas break, the men resumed racing on 27th December with a super G at Santa Caterina replacing the cancelled Lake Louise race from November. Kjetil Jansrud took a third win, followed by Hannes Reichelt of Austria and Dominik Paris. Strong winds led to the cancellation of the following day’s downhill, but familiar names dominated the first men’s Alpine combined the following day. Alexis Pinterault, Marcel Hirscher and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde took first, second and third places respectively in the final men’s race of the year.
The women finished their year in Semmering, Austria, with three days of technical races. Mikaela Schiffrin gained a clean sweep, beating Tessa Worley into second twice in GS, before finishing first ahead of Veronika Velez Zuzulova and Wendy Holdener in the night slalom.
The next events are in Zagreb, Croatia, on the 3rd and 5th of January for the women and men respectively, with two nights of slalom before a weekend of technical events in Switzerland and Slovenia. At the moment, Marcel Hirscher, Alexis Pinterault and Mikaela Schiffrin seem to be the names to watch in the technical disciplines, while Kjetil Jansrud and Ilka Stuhec are the ones to follow for speed. Placing fourth overall with six podiums in four disciplines, but without a career win to date, Sofia Goggia could be one to follow as an all-rounder.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
Parallel GS, Parallel Slalom
In parallel events, skiers race each other head to head on parallel courses, rather than against the clock.
Read more from Ian on his website.