For Brits, the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup just got interesting, while there was plenty of excitement elsewhere with big comebacks, records broken and the last races before the World Champoinships get under way in St Moritz. Big name races this month included the Chuenisbärgli, Lauberhorn, Kandahar and the biggest of them all – the Hahnenkamm.
My job with this piece is to give you a summary of all the Alpine Skiing Wolrd Cup events over the last month. Before I do that though, I’d like to talk a little about Dave Ryding. As a Brit, watching Alpine Ski Racing has usually been about watching and admiring other countries’ athletes. That is not to say that there haven’t been some talented, dedicated skiers from the UK over the years, but without funding, and with few places to train, reaching the top echelon has been so much harder than for athletes from other countries. The history of the sport contains countless names who have reached the top level, skied consistently in the top twenty, but never quite threatened the podium. This is all the more frustrating for a British ski racing fan since the sport of skiing around poles was a British idea. Sir Arnold Lunn invented the alpine slalom race and wrote down the first set of rules in 1922.
This month, Dave Ryding gained the first British podium in the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup for thirty-five years in the Kitzbuhel slalom. For the first time since Alain Baxter in 2001/2002 we have a British athlete to get behind who has a good chance of a win or a podium. Currently Ryding is ranked 5th in the world, although this changes with every race. This feat is all the more impressive given that alpine ski racing has had no UK sport funding since 2010.
I will come back to Kitzbuhel later, but January’s racing started in Zagreb, Croatia, with the Snow Queen Trophy on 3rd January. Mikaela Shiffrin’s unbeaten slalom finally run came to an end as Slovakia’s Veronika Velez Zuzulova put down the fastest time in both runs to be crowned Snow Queen, ending her own run of second places. Fellow Slovakian Petra Vhlova took third and Czech skier Sarka Strachova finished third. Shiffrin straddled in the first run to record an uncharacteristic DNF. In the men’s event two days later, Italy’s Manfred Moelgg was crowned Snow King, winning his first World Cup victory since 2009. Germany’s Felix Neureuther was second followed by Henrik Kristofferson of Norway in third. Dave Ryding gained a solid top ten result in seventh place.
The women moved to Maribor in Slovenia for the first GS of the year on 7th January, where Tessa Worley of France continued her winning form, edging out Soffia Goggia of Italy – who is racking up the podiums but still to take a win – and Lara Gut of Switzerland. The technical weekend continued with Shiffrin back to winning form in Sunday’s slalom. The America was followed by Wendy Holdener of Switzerland while last year’s slalom champion, Frida Hansdotter of Sweden, took her first podium of the year in third.
Over the same weekend the men raced on the famous Chuenisbärgli run in Adelboden, Switzerland. Austria’s Marcel Hirscher and France’s Alexis Pinterault continued their rivalry, with Pinterault taking first in the GS, Hirscher just 0.04 seconds slower, and Austria’s Philipp Schoerghofer in third. This win put Pinterault on 19 World Cup victories, breaking Jean-Claude Killy’s French record set in 1968. Hirscher’s second place marked his hundredth World Cup podium – a feat only achieved previously by Ingemar Stenmark on his way to 155 career podiums. For those too young to know the names, Killy and Stenmark are icons of the sport from the 1960s and 1970s respectively and are well worth a Google search. Sunday’s Slalom saw Henrik Kristofferson take the win by a huge 1.83 second margin over Manfred Moelgg, while Hirscher picked up his 101st podium in third.
While the men moved stayed in Switzerland for a week in Wengen starting with downhill training, the Women’s tour moved to Flachau in Austria for the Snow Space Princess race. Frida Hansdotter went from her first podium of the winter two days earlier to her first win of the winter. Norwegian Nina Loeseth took second and Mikaela Shiffrin tied with Wendy Holdener for third after a slow first run. The women stayed in Austria, heading to Altenmarkt-Zauchensee for a downhill. After bad weather forced the cancellation of two training days, a training run and the race were squeezed into Sunday 15th January. The crowd were happy to see Austrian and relative newcomer Christine Scheyer take the win. Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein took second and another newcomer, American Jacqueline Wiles came in third. Lindsey Vonn of the US took part in her first race of the season after breaking an arm in pre-season training and came in thirteenth. Unfortunately, two top ten athletes – Italy’s Nadia Fanchini and Hungary’s Edit Miklos – will be out of action for the rest of the season after training run crashes.
Over in Wengen, the Lauberhorn downhill had to be cancelled due to poor weather, but the Sunday slalom saw Henrik Kristoffersen take another win ahead of Marcel Hirscher and Felix Neureuther. Before the tour continued to Kitzbuhel, two big names announced that they would be out for the rest of the season. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal and the US’s Ted Ligety have both had to take time out to have surgery for recurrent injury problems.
The first race of the legendary Hahnenkamm kicked off in Austria’s Kitzbuhel with the super-G on 20th January. Matthias Maier of Austria took first place, followed by Italian Christoph Innerhofer and Beat Feuz of Switzerland. The following day’s downhill saw Dominik Paris of Italy take his second Hahnenkamm downhill win, after winning the same event in 2013. Two Frenchmen, Valentin Giraud-Moine and Johan Clarey, came in second and third place.
The Hahnenkamm week concluded with the slalom on Sunday 22nd. Marcel Hirscher gained his twentieth slalom victory, Russia’s Alexander Khoroshilov was third and Britain’s Dave Ryding made history in second place. Hirscher’s main rival for the slalom title, Henrik Kristoffersen, skied out in the first run along with Manfred Moelgg. Ryding’s second place is the best British result since Konrad Bartelski gained second place in a downhill in 1981 and follows a couple of top ten finishes earlier in the season to prove it was no fluke.
The women moved to Germany on 21st January, where Lindsey Vonn took first place in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen downhill – her second race of the season after returning from injury. Lara Gut of Switzerland was second and Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg third. Lara Gut moved up a place to take first in the following day’s super G, retaining an unbeaten record in the discipline this season. Austrian Stephanie Vener gained her first ever podium in second while Tina Weirather of Lichtenstein took third for the thirtieth podium of her career. Two days later in Kronplatz, Italy, Federica Brignone was a popular surprise GS winner on home snow. France’s Tessa Worley was second and another Italian, Marta Bassino came in third. Later the same day, Henrik Kristofferson took another slalom win in the Schladming night slalom to gain his third victory at the Schladming event. Marcel Hirscher and Alexander Khoroshilov completed the podium, with Dave Ryding coming in tenth.
The men moved to Garmisch to round out the month, with two downhills and a GS. The first Kandahar downhill on 27th replaced the cancelled Wengen race, and was won by an American for the first time on this piste. Squaw Valley’s Travis Ganong took first, followed by Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud and Italy’s Peter Fill. The scheduled Kandahar race on the 28th saw Austrian Hannes Reichelt beat Peter Fill and Beat Feuz to place first. The 29th gave Marcel Hirscher another GS victory, ahead of Sweden’s Matts Olsson and Germany’s Stefan Luitz. This win gave Hirscher twenty wins in GS to add to his twenty in slalom – another feat only achieved previously by Ingemar Stenmark.
The women’s circuit headed to Cortina d’Ampezzo to for their final speed races of the month. The downhill on 27th saw a first downhill win of the season for Lara Gut, while Sofia Goggia of Italy and Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec both made a return to podium form in second and third. For Stuhec, who currently leads the downhill standings, this was the first podium of 2017 after a run of victories earlier in the season. Stuhec continued this form by winning in the super G on 28th with Goggia second and Austria’s Anna Veith in third.
The final race day of the month took place in Stockholm with a City Race for both men and women. This was a parallel slalom format where Germany’s Linus Strasser beat Alexis Pinterault to take first place, Sweden’s Mattias Hargin took third ahead of Dave Ryding in fourth and Mikaela Shiffrin finished first ahead of Slovakia’s Veronika Velez Zuzulova and Norway’s Nina Loeseth.
In terms of current standings, Mikaela Shiffrin leads the women overall and in slalom, while Marcel Hirscher leads the men overall and in both slalom and GS. Hirscher is duelling simultaneously with Alexis Pinterault in GS and Henrik Kristofferson in Slalom. Dave Ryding is currently places fifth in slalom. In the speed disciplines, Ilka Stuhec is vying with Lara Gut in the womens’ competition. the men’s competition is pretty open with Peter Fill leading in downhill and Kjetil Jansrud in super G.
The racing season will continue with two weeks in St Moritz for the World Championships, beginning on 6th February.
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.