Soelden is in the books and the 50th World Cup ski season is officially underway. The Rettenbach Glacier, which is accessible via a race course of switchbacks up an access road from the village of Soelden, is the site of the opening weekend, and has been for the last 20 years. It is the rare site where World Cup men and women race on the same weekend.
Winners this season are Lara Gut of Switzerland, the defending overall 2016 champion, and Frenchman Alexis Pinturault, who was third overall and second in GS last season.
As always, Soelden reveals some interesting insights that might, or might not, reflect what we can expect this winter.
From the U.S. point of view, we had two contenders involved. Mikaela Shiffrin, who has scored World Cup points at Soelden four times, earned her third podium at the venue on Saturday. Ted Ligety, a four-time Soelden champion, was well out in the first run, and finished in fifth, 1.65 seconds off the winning pace. Both of them were the only U.S. athletes to score World Cup points this weekend.
The women’s podium displayed a youth movement, averaging 22 years of age with Gut at 25 in first, Shiffrin, 21, in second and Italian Marta Bassino surprising even herself with third at age 20. Bassino’s previous best result had been fifth in Jasna, Slovakia, on March 7, 2016, but it is worth noting 11 of her 15 career scoring results have come in GS. She is definitely one to watch.
Canada’s Marie-Michele Gagnon got 17th for the day, and her teammate Valerie Grenier posted 31st in the first run, missing the flip by eight hundredths of a second. Canadian Candace Crawford and American Megan McJames also failed to qualify for the second run.
Also worth a look-see is Ricarda Haaser, the Austrian national GS champion. She recorded just her second World Cup points, finishing in 13th.
Eva-Maria Brem, the 2016 World Cup GS champion, scored five points with a 26th place finish, and was more than five seconds off the winning pace. But just about everybody was well off the winning pace. Gut posted a 1.44 second winning margin. Stephanie Brunner, in fourth, was over two seconds back.
There was a more veteran feel to the men’s race. It was the 16th career World Cup win for Frenchman Alexis Pinturault, and his seventh in GS. He had not won at Soelden previously, but he had recorded plenty of success with second place finishes in 2011 and 2013 and a third in 2014.
In second was five-time overall champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria recording his 92nd career World Cup podium in 148 scoring finishes, roughly a 62 percent chance of making the podium in any race entered. That’s good.
Third place was Germany’s Felix Neureuther, who was born as a World Cup elite. It was his 41st World Cup podium, which is more than double the mark of his dad, Christian.
Speaking of historic names, it was just the second World Cup scoring finish for 17th-place finisher and Junior World Champion Marco Odermatt, who also scored points in St. Moritz, Switzerland, last March.
For the U.S. men, the results were okay, but far from exciting. Tim Jitloff did not finish the second run, having finished 26th in run one. David Chodounsky, Ryan Cochran-Siegle, Tommy Ford, Keiffer Christianson skied to 39th, 45th, 52nd and 70th in the first run, respectively, and did not qualify for a second run on the glacier. Canada’s Trevor Philp skies to 47th and Dustin Cook to 63rd. Phil Brown did not finish the first run.
Austria’s annual stranglehold on the Nations Cup appears to be on target, but a bit more work is needed. Austria (six skiers) and Italy (five skiers) tied for the lead of the women’s Nations Cup standings with 151 points each. The U.S. was fourth with 80 and Canada tenth with 14. France took the early lead of the men’s Nations Cup standings 192-103 over Austria. The U.S. is seventh with 45 points.