At last month’s World Cup opener in Soelden, Austria, Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen was nowhere to be found. I should clarify that he in fact was there, just not where we all expected him to be. As the chief challenger to the now-retired Marcel Hirscher’s dominance of the slalom, giant slalom, and Overall titles for the past several seasons, Kristoffersen was finally in prime position to emerge as the best skier in the world and begin his reign as the new King of Tech.
Then, he finished 18th. Whoops!
Polish up that big crystal globe and hand it to Alexis Pinturault because there’s no way Kristoffersen can afford a finish like that this season, right? Oh, how wrong we all were.
Sunday’s slalom in Levi, Finland, was in such stark contrast to how Soelden unfolded that it might as well have been a scene from the upside-down in Netflix’s Stranger Things. Up was down! Left was right! Well, not really, but you get the picture.
Kristoffersen won in dazzling fashion through snow and fog and Pinturault, who looked unflappable on the sun-soaked slopes of Soelden, couldn’t even find the form necessary to qualify for the second run. Just like that, Kristoffersen was back in the driver’s seat in the race for the Overall title.
“After Soelden, it was a terrible start to the season, we showed now that we are in pretty okay shape,” Kristoffersen said in the finish. “There’s still things to improve but it’s looking okay.”
A quick-tempo, turny first-run set saw 22-year-old French phenom Clement Noel set the early pace, looking to have only gotten faster after a breakout 2019 season where he took three slalom wins on the World Cup. Kristoffersen sat in fourth, 0.68 seconds back, and smelled blood in the water after it was clear Pinturault would not be around in the second run.
Luke Winters, the lone U.S. starter, provided the fireworks for American fans as the 22-year-old Oregonian picked apart the first run and was on pace for a top-five finish before sliding out less than a handful of gates from the line. Word from American coaches is that the reigning U.S. slalom champion has been skiing within himself and faster than ever thus far this season and Sunday’s first run was highly encouraging for a U.S. slalom team desperate for scoring results early in the year. Notwithstanding the unlucky fall, if that was Winters’ speed while skiing within himself, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a serious threat on the World Cup.
Second run action saw the speed and tempo increase and the standings get a serious shakeup. Kristoffersen, not traditionally a strong skier on the flats, bled some time on the top of the course but dominated the field once the hill steepened. The Norwegian maintained his line on the tricky bottom pitch and carried that speed to the finish to leapfrog his way to his 19th career World Cup victory. Noel narrowly finished in second place, 0.09 seconds back and was joined on the podium by Switzerland’s Daniel Yule, 0.18 seconds off of Kristoffersen’s winning pace.
Also of note was Great Britain’s Dave Ryding. Ryding sat in second after the first run only to fall victim to the final gates in the second, echoing his almost-but-not-quite performance from 2017’s race in Levi where he won the first run and skied out later that day as well.
“Today was a good day, for sure,” Kristoffersen shared. “It was definitely a step in the right direction. Super happy about the skiing down the pitch in the second run, I was on the limit. There’s still things you can do better, but I’m really happy to start off like this. I lost a lot of time on the flats in both runs, but that’s how it is. We still have some work to do but I’m quite happy with the day.”
When asked about the high expectations on him this season, Kristoffersen acknowledged their existence but insisted that his own expectations of himself far outweigh those anyone else might have.
“I have the most expectations for myself,” he said. “Even though everyone has expectations that I have to be on the podium or I have to win the races, I expect more of myself than anybody else does. That makes it more difficult in one way but also easier in one way. In the end, it’s just skiing.”
Noel’s previous best finish in Levi was only 26th place, which came last season. Even though he felt the stinging disappointment of losing such a substantial first-run lead, the Frenchman saw things start off in a positive direction in a season where he enters as a clear favorite for the slalom title for the first time in his young career.
“I was disappointed because when you win the first run, you want to win the race, it’s logical, but I’m not really disappointed because second place to start the season is my best result here in Levi and it’s a really, really good result,” he explained. “I wanted more after the first run but did some mistakes in the second run and Henrik was better than me in this one so I have to improve for the next one.”
Yule was also pleased to find the podium early in his season. Like Kristoffersen, the upper flats are not a strength of the 26-year-old Swiss but he managed to find the right form on Sunday. Sitting seventh after the first run, Yule saw himself primed to make a play for a podium and took full advantage in the second run.
“I think I was in a good position,” he explained. “I was close to the podium but not on it so I was really able to attack and not have too much pressure. Also, I think that the course setting in the second run suited me, there was maybe a bit more speed and that’s usually what I like. Overall, I felt really confident in the starting gate for the second run.”
Outside of the podium, a pair of attack-from-the-back performances also highlighted an exciting day of World Cup slalom. Sweden’s Kristoffer Jakobsen scorched the second run, jumping from bib 51 to finish in sixth place. Jakobsen’s raw speed has been known on the World Cup for some time now, but he has rarely been able to find the consistency necessary for two fast runs. Joining Jakobsen in the top 10 was Germany’s Linus Strasser, who finished in eighth place from bib 47 thanks to the second fastest second run.
Canada’s Trevor Philp was the lone North American top-30 finisher in 26th place. Simon Fournier did not qualify and Erik Read did not finish the first run.
After Sunday’s race, Kristoffersen now leads the Overall standings by 13 points over Pinturault. The next showdown between these two tech titans? The Beaver Creek GS on December 8.
The men’s Tour now heads to North America for the opening downhill and super-G races of the season in Lake Louise, Canada, November 27-December 1.
- Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) – 1:48.55 Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Clememt Noel (FRA) – +0.09 Dynastar/Lange/Look
- Daniel Yule (SUI) – +0.18 Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Ramon Zenhaeusern (SUI) – +0.27 Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Andre Myhrer (SWE) – +0.34 Head/Head/Head
- Kristoffer Jakobsen (SWE) – +0.53 Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Christian Hirschbuehl (AUT) – +0.74 Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Linus Strasser (GER) – +0.89 Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Sebastian Foss-Solevaag (NOR) – +0.92 Voelkl/Marker/Dalbello
- Manfred Moelgg (ITA) – +0.98 Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
For full results, click here.