Night slaloms are fairly common in the ski racing world. Perhaps the best-known being the iconic Night Slalom in Schladming, Austria, where upwards of 50,000 spectators crowd the slope, creating one of the most raucous atmospheres in the sport. Night giant slaloms, on the other hand, are a rarity outside of Scandinavia where shortened daylight hours in the winter make night skiing a necessity. Friday’s World Championship men’s GS in Are, Sweden, presented athletes with a unique set of challenges with spring-like snow and an artificially lit hill.
Conditions for the technical races could not be much more different than earlier in the Championships where frigid temperatures were dealt with for the downhill and super-G races. Over the course of a few days, the weather in Are turned warm with salt needing to be thrown on the race hill in hopes of firming up the racing surface.
Nobody handled the conditions better than Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen who channeled his childhood skills of skiing on spring snow to overcome sitting in third place after the opening run to claim his first World Championship medal and first GS win since March of 2015 in Meribel, France. Austrian superstar, Marcel Hirscher finished just behind the Norwegian, 0.20 seconds back, for the silver medal and first-run leader, France’s Alexis Pinturault finished in third for the bronze, 0.42 seconds off the pace.
“You just had to go and I just went,” Kristoffersen said in the finish. “I don’t think there’s anyone that skis as much on salt as the Norwegians do and even though I haven’t trained on salt in GS in a long, long time, I have it from childhood and that’s what it’s all about, just train and do the right things that are best for yourself and you should become a better skier.”
For all of Kristoffersen’s success on the World Cup and Olympics, where he has two medals to his name, the 24-year-old had yet to find himself on a Word Championship podium before his gold medal on Friday.
“Yeah, it was about time to get a medal at least,” he added. “It’s really great, we’ve been working so hard together with my dad and the Rossi team and everyone has been working insanely so I think it’s amazing. I don’t know what to say, I haven’t won a GS since Meribel 2015. I’m working so hard and have been so close so many times but today was pretty good.”
Hirscher bounced back from a sickness that had him down and out on Thursday to add yet another World Championship medal to his extensive trophy case. Hirscher won both the GS and slalom at the 2017 Worlds in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
“Hats off for Henrik, he deserved it, definitely,” Hirscher said. “Really great skiing, especially in the second run. I’m super happy that I managed to get to be a part of today’s podium. I’m tired and looking forward to getting back to bed again and hopefully have the same physical level as I had today because today was no problem and pretty good. Yesterday at the same time as today, I thought there was no chance so I am happy to be here with a silver medal more in my collection. Hopefully I am healthy on Sunday. I’m here to be part of the podium.”
Although Pinturault was not able to hang on to his first-run lead, the Frenchman has still had a successful Championships with a GS bronze to go with his gold medal from combined earlier in the week.
“It was a tough race today, really difficult, especially in the second run it was really bumpy,” Pinturault explained. “At least it was a great fight and I’m really happy with what I did. I have no regrets because I tried to push and pushed over my limit. All I can say is a big congrats to Marcel and also to Henrik. When you are leading after the first run you know you have no choice but to push really hard in the second run. You have to risk, you have to be on the limit because otherwise you are so far behind afterwards. After the two runs it was really tight and Henrik made a really strong second run and for sure that made a huge difference.”
The Americans were led by veteran and three-time GS World Champion, Ted Ligety, in 11th place. Ligety was on his way towards a big jump in the standings before hooking his arm on a gate approaching the finish of his second run.
“That course was just a gunner, it was so, so straight and that’s far from my specialty, that’s for sure,” Ligety commented. “I was going for it, I had to take a lot of risk and when it’s a night race and this kind of snow, this much terrain, you just have to take a lot of risk. I had one huge mistake that probably cost me the lead at that point but wouldn’t have been enough to get a medal. I was just trying to cut line and be clean, there’s no margin for error when you’re going 60 miles-per-hour in there. I was going fast and just got hooked inside a little bit and just went through the middle of the panel. When you’re going that fast and something grabs you like that it throws you off line. I thought for sure I was going to fall.”
Ligety was followed by Tommy Ford in 12th place and Ryan-Cochran Siegle in 21st. Brian McLaughlin did not finish his first run.
The men now race slalom on Sunday, February 17, to close out the 2019 World Championships in Are.
1. Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
2. Marcel Hirscher (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
3. Alexis Pinturault (FRA)- Head/Head/Head
4. Loic Meillard (SUI)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
5. Marco Schwarz (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
5. Zan Kranjec (SLO)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
7. Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen (NOR)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
8. Alexander Schmid (GER)- Head/Head/Head
9. Stefan Brennsteiner (AUT)- Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
10. Marco Odermatt (SUI)- Stoeckli/Salomon
For complete FIS results, please click here.