Austria’s Max Franz kicked out of the start house on Saturday in Lake Louise with bib number one and didn’t look back. The 29-year-old charged the course from top to bottom and managed to hold on through 68 other racers to take his second career World Cup victory.

Sunshine and blue skies greeted the men of the speed circuit at the traditional kickoff to their season in the Canadian Rockies. Never known as the most challenging stop on tour, Lake Louise puts a premium on tactics and even a little luck in order to come out on top come race day. Franz cracked that equation in the downhill with solid technique, minimal mistakes, and taking advantage of a favorable wind in order to pull ahead of the rest of the field.

When things were all said and done, Franz held on to best a pair of Italian veterans with Christof Innerhofer and Dominik Paris finishing in second and third, 0.28 and 0.54 seconds back, respectively.

“I had a really good run,” Franz said after the race. “I made a little mistake in Fallaway at the left turn, I was a little bit down and at the U-turn also I had a lot of pressure on the edge but it looks like it was a good line. I think the weather also changed a little bit, it was a little bit windy on top but I had the luck on my side today and it’s really a great day.”

It was tough to gauge just how good Franz’s run was with bib one always adding an element of uncertainty for athletes and fans alike. For an athlete like Franz, having no other times to compare to at the finish can be a nerve-wracking situation, especially if things felt like they went well.

“After my run, I didn’t think [I would win],” he admitted. “Christof was pretty fast on the first four splits and was winning pretty much but, then, I don’t know, the weather changed a little bit.”

“My skiing looks pretty good but I had for the last two weeks a little problem with my knee so I was a little unsure if it would work for the races,” continued Franz. “I’m feeling pretty good today and maybe tomorrow I can make a really good run too.”

Innerhofer, wearing bib two, led Franz up until the final intervals where Franz was able to eek out his winning margin thanks to superb gliding and maybe a little help from Mother Nature by way of a changing wind. Nevertheless, Innerhofer was happy to begin his season with a podium at a venue that hasn’t treated him too well in the past. The Italian’s next-best downhill result at Lake Louise is a sixth place way back in 2008.

“Normally, I begin here with not so great positions but today I felt good,” the Italian shared. “When I came across the finish line I was still slower than Franz but I knew that my run was not bad so I hoped that I could be in the top 10. It’s my first podium again in downhill after four years, 2014 in Lenzerheide (Switzerland) was my last one. Everyone says I’m a World Champion in the training runs and I say it’s time for me to go up well in the race too.”

Innerhofer credits a renewed mental approach and refocusing on his technique to his success that he chalks up to his over 10 years of experience on the World Cup.

“From year to year, you learn something,” he explained. “I learned last year to really focus on my skiing and my technique and not think about results or podiums. I was really relaxed on the start. I was all the last months relaxed, much more than in the past. My skiing is good and I have nothing to lose so I said now it’s time to enjoy it and risk where you must risk, have good pressure on your skis, and try to make speed wherever you can.”

The second half of the Italian two-three punch, Paris, was also encouraged with his performance after a year of ups and downs toyed with his confidence last season.

“It’s a really good start, a good feeling too and I’m really happy,” Paris said in the finish. “Last year was a little bit of a difficult year for me. I didn’t have a good feeling or much confidence but I had a victory in Bormio, that was really important for me. I was trying a lot this summer to do better and better and I was confident after the training runs and it was a good result for the first race.”

As is often the case in Lake Louise, not much can separate podium-worthy runs from uninspiring ones. Even though it can be frustrating at times, Many racers on the Tour are thankful to start their seasons at the Canadian venue in order to ramp things up for the more demanding tracks to come later on in the year.

“It’s the best start to the season in Lake Louise because it’s some good speed and some technical turns,” added Paris. “To start the season like that is pretty good because you need the confidence for Beaver Creek, which is a little bit tougher downhill.”

It was a day of highs and lows for the American Downhillers as some encouraging performances were balanced out with more tame results from the rest of the team.

Veteran and team leader, Steven Nyman, led the squad in his first race back since tearing his ACL in January with a promising 11th-place finish, followed by up-and-coming Lake Tahoe native, Bryce Bennett, in 12th. Vermonter Ryan Cochran-Siegle proved that New Englanders are no slouches in downhill either, jumping up 34 spots to land in 20th place from bib 54 to round out the American top-30 finishers.

“Today was a little nerve-wracking,” admitted Nyman. “I had questions in my head but it’s always different. Being on the World Cup is totally different than training. I was skiing well in training this summer but we weren’t really delivered the greatest training conditions and World Cup conditions are just different. It was hard, responsive, strong snow … On race day, there was just a lot in my head of how I need to execute and what I need to do.”

“Super proud of Ryan,” Nyman added of Cochran-Siegle’s performance. “My injuries are nothing compared to what he went through … for him to lay down from back there was fantastic and creating another spot for the team is a big step forward, so congrats to him.”

Fellow veterans Travis Ganong and Jared Goldberg fell victim to the changing winds and ended up finishing in 38th and 47th place, respectively, while Thomas Biesemeyer — who is also returning from injury — and Wiley Maple fought from the back of the pack to finish just outside of the points in 33rd and 34th place, respectively.

The men now race super-G in Lake Louise on Sunday, Nov. 25. Start time is set for 12:00pm MTN.

Top 10

1. Max Franz (AUT) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
2. Christof Innerhofer (ITA) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
3. Dominik Paris (ITA) – Nordica/Nordica/Marker
4. Vincent Kriechmayr (AUT) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
5. Johan Clarey (FRA) – Head/Head/Head
6. Beat Feuz (SUI) – Head/Head/Head
7. Thomas Dressen (GER) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
8. Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) – Head/Head/Head
8. Matthias Mayer (AUT) – Head/Head/Head
10. Johannes Kroell (AUT) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer

For complete FIS results, please click here.

A Lake Tahoe native and University of Vermont graduate, Higgins was a member of the Catamounts' 2012 NCAA title winning squad and earned first team All-American honors in 2013. Prior to coming to Ski Racing Media, he coached U14s for the Squaw Valley Ski Team.