Ahhh, the fall. Leaves are turning color, the air is getting crisper, and World Cup racing is set to kick off once again on the slopes of the Rettenbach Glacier in Soelden, Austria, this weekend. Serving as the traditional first stop on Tour for nearly two decades, the men and women of the World Cup converge on Soelden each October for the first giant slalom races of the long season.
The first of 88 total World Cup races across both genders this season, racing in Soelden begins on Saturday, October 26, with the women set to begin their first run at 10:00am Central European Time. Second run is scheduled for 1:00pm CET. The men will race on Sunday with the same scheduled start times.
Although the women have enjoyed regular races in Soelden for the past few seasons, the men have not raced at the venue since 2016. In each of the last two years, severe weather has forced the cancellation of the men’s race. Initial forecasts for the weekend look promising, however, so our fingers are crossed for fast and fair racing for both men and women.
Can Mikaela Shiffrin pick up where she left off last season? Who will step up on the men’s side now that Austria’s Marcel Hirscher is retired? Read on for some tips on what to watch for during this weekend’s races.
Click here to learn how to watch World Cup racing in the United States.
Yes, we know. The last time Shiffrin won in Soelden was 2014. That said she was 2nd in 2015 and 2016, 5th in 2017 (but less than two tenths from the podium) and last year she took third. In other words, she’s due for a win.
With the retirement of Hirscher, France’s Alexis Pinturault is now the most consistently fast men’s giant slalom skier still suiting up on race day. The 28-year-old Frenchman has not finished worse than third in the GS standings since the 2013 season and seriously challenged Hirscher for the GS globe in 2016 and 2017 up until the waning weeks of the season where untimely DNFs and bad mistakes took him out of the running. Pinturault is also the last men’s winner in Soelden, taking the 2016 edition of the race. If history is any indicator of future results, look for Pinturault to climb the podium — if not take another win — in Soelden on Sunday.
Worley earned the top spot in Soelden last year, and finished runner-up in 2017. As third in the women’s over all giant slalom standings last year, this Frenchwoman should not be counted out for a top spot. Soelden is a notorious beast to tackle, and if she’s brought down the house once, she can definitely do it again.
After making his mark on the World Cup with a stellar slalom season in 2017 where he dominated the discipline and took home his first crystal globe, the young Norwegian made it his mission to consistently challenge for wins in GS as well. It’s been a project a few years in the making but Kristoffersen’s persistence has paid off in a big way with 17 career podiums in the event, highlighted by two wins last season and a World Championship gold medal. With runner-up finishes in the season standings the last two years, 25-year-old Kristoffersen will no doubt be salivating for another shot at glory in Soelden, a venue where he has never finished better than sixth.
Brignone has a tendency to come out strong early in the season. Last year, the Italian came back from an off-season injury to finish second in Soelden, and followed her strong performance up in Killington as giant slalom champion. She’s stood on the top spot of the Soelden podium in 2015, maybe she can do it again in 2019.
The United States’ Ted Ligety is the most successful male racer ever at Soelden with four career victories to his name at the venue — he even won the 2012 race by a whopping 2.75 seconds. His most recent win came in 2015 and “Mr. GS” has dealt with more than his fair share of injuries and setbacks since. Now exclusively racing GS at the World Cup level, the 35-year-old will be looking to recapture some of the form that led him to four career GS globes. If there’s one thing we know about Ligety, it’s that he won’t be satisfied with anything other than a podium at one of the most dominant venues of his career.
Americans in the Mix
In addition to Ligety and Shiffrin, the Americans will be starting a total nine other athletes. Keep an eye on Tommy Ford. He’s currently ranked seventh in the world in GS (after the retirements and removal of Hirscher and France’s Thomas Fanara from the standings). Although Ford doesn’t have a great track record with the Soelden pitch, the men have not had the chance to compete in two seasons, which means there’s plenty of room for new faces to step on the podium. Many American fans are also looking forward to seeing what World Junior Giant Slalom Champion, 21-year-old River Radamus, has to offer. Radamus earned his first World Cup GS points on the steep and icy pitch of the Gran Risa in Alta Badia last season. Given his capacity to handle that course, we’re interested to see how he performs in Soelden. Additional U.S. men that will be starting are Vermont’s Ryan Cochran-Siegle and Dartmouth boys Bryan McLaughlin and Nick Krause.
Nina O’Brien is one to watch on the U.S. women’s side. She’s a four-time National Champion and reigning NorAm overall champion. She also took the NorAm GS title. O’Brien may have been unseated by fellow Soelden starter, Keely Cashman, in the race for GS National Champion in 2019, but she is the only other female starter that has actually earned GS points on the World Cup level aside from Shiffrin. Another woman to watch is the University of Denver’s Storm Klomhaus, who will be making her World Cup debut after fighting a multitude of setbacks to get back into the starting gate. The 21-year-old won the GS and overall at the Australia New Zealand games this summer. If coming back strong after six surgeries isn’t enough to light a fire in this up and comer, maybe she can ride the coattails of strong summer performances to show she has what it takes to conquer Soelden and score her first World Cup points. The NorAm downhill champion, AJ Hurt, will also be starting on the women’s side. She has a multiple World Cup starts under her belt but has not yet been able to put together two runs in GS.
The women’s giant slalom debut will be missing Austria’s Anna Veith, as she is still returning from a knee injury incurred in January. Ragnhild Mowinckel will also not be on the start list. The Norwegian had first day back on snow on October 1, and while we can expect to see here later in the season, Soelden will not be her comeback race.
Additionally, Austria’s Katarina Liensberger will not start for the women on Saturday. The 13th-ranked GS skier in the world, Liensberger has been embroiled in a snafu between her equipment suppliers and the Austrian Ski Federation over the summer and currently does not have a valid ski and boot contract, a requirement to race World Cup for the Austrian Ski Team. Previously a Rossignol athlete, Liensberger signed a ski deal with Kastle this off season but was not able to find a boot company in the Austrian equipment pool willing to supply her only with boots. The 22-year-old returned to training on Rossignol equipment but was unable to submit the proper paperwork in time for a start spot in Soelden. Liensberger is also ranked 7th in the world in slalom.
Don’t forget about the party
As with any of the World Cups – particularly the ones held in Austria – there is the fanfare and excitement of a ski-racing crazed party that colors the scene. In Soelden, the parade before the race (which happens down in town) revs the crowds before racing action kicks off.
For a more in-depth discussion and preview of this weekend’s races in Soelden, be sure to listen to the latest episode of our podcast, Tips and Tales. Listening is free and in addition to SkiRacing.com, you can also find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Who are your podium picks for this weekend? Let us know in the comments below!