Tensions swirled in the moments before the men took on their final downhill race of the season at World Cup Finals in Soldeu, Andorra. A brand new track for the men, nobody in the field had taken more than two training runs on the hill before Wednesday’s race. With Italy’s Dominik Paris breathing down the neck of standings leader Beat Feuz of Switzerland, exciting is almost not an appropriate enough adjective to describe the pre-race atmosphere in the finish area.

With Feuz leading Paris by 80 points in the downhill standings heading into Wednesday’s final, Paris could finish no worse than second and would need Feuz to seriously underperform if the big Italian was to have a chance at taking his career-first downhill globe.

Paris took the track with bib five and it was clear from the moment he kicked out of the start house that he was not going to leave anything on the hill when the day was done. Powerful and precise, Paris sped through the sweeping turns in Soldeu, building and building on his lead before crossing the finish line with an advantage of nearly a full second. Feuz followed with bib seven but could not match Paris, eventually finishing in sixth place.

At the end of the day, Paris took his sixth World Cup win of his season with a total time of 1:26.80 seconds, 0.34 seconds ahead of Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud in second place. Austria’s Otmar Striedinger finished in third, 0.41 seconds off the pace. When the final points were tallied, Feuz walked away with his second downhill crystal globe in a row by 20 points over Paris. Austria’s Vincent Kriechmayr finished third in the standings, 201 points back.

“Yeah, the season was awesome,” Paris said of his year. “Doing so much this season, four victories in downhill and two in super-G and the medal in World Championships, was fantastic. It was more than I ever expected and I’m very happy and very proud of it. Things are working well for me, I have a lot of fun for skiing and I have the right speed for every course. I try to understand the courses very well and yesterday I had a pretty good training run and knew about the lines and what I had to do today. I tried to push and bring the speed from the top to the bottom and it was working very well. At this moment I’m very happy to be the lucky guy today.”

Paris definitely had momentum on his side heading into the final race, but by his own admission was not consistent enough throughout the entire season to win his first downhill title.

“I think I lost the title in Val Gardena,” he explained. “Beaver Creek was not good enough, for sure, but that was the start of the season and you didn’t know how everything would look for the season. In Val Gardena I had no speed and was not good enough to make more points and I was out of the top 15, I lost a lot on that race … but I am happy about this season and my fight with Beat.”

Feuz also won the downhill title last season and was admittedly a little nervous before Wednesday’s race given how fast Paris had show himself to be in the final races of the regular season.

“Of course, it was a challenging day because it’s not each day that you are fighting for the globe so I was a little nervous because anything can happen on a given day,” Feuz said. “You don’t want to make a mistake so I tried to be really focused and really skiing as strong as possible and I’m really pleased by this performance.”

Feuz won his second downhill title in a row on Wednesday. Image Credit: GEPA Pictures/Christian Walgram

The Swiss has been undoubtedly the most consistent skier on the men’s downhill circuit over the past two seasons. In fact, he has not finished worse than eighth in a World Cup downhill since finishing 13th at the 2017 World Cup finals. Feuz said that in order to ultimately win the downhill globe, your consistency week after week is the biggest deciding factor.

“It has been very important for me in the last two years to be very consistent,” he continued. “This is something I was not able to do earlier in past years because my injuries, my problems with my knee, and my physical condition. In the last two years I really tried to be focused and to be consistent throughout the season because I know that maybe it is difficult for me to win as many races as some of the skiers in the past years have. To have a chance to beat them at the end of the standings, you really have to be consistent and I’m really proud of myself to have achieved this performance again.”

Travis Ganong led the American Downhillers in a solid 10th place, finishing his comeback season from injury in downhill on a high note with another encouraging performance.

“It’s the last run of the season in downhill so it’s pretty fun to just enjoy the perfect snow and a little easier track than we normally ski so you can kind of relax and focus on enjoying the skiing,” Ganong said in the finish. “There’s no stress, it’s a really fun, kind of flowy hill. There’s no big, scary jump or gnarly section so it’s a nice relaxing last race of the year. I finally feel like I’m staring to find my speed and my confidence in my skiing and it’s too bad the season’s over now but it feels good to go into the prep-period in the summer and into next year with a little confidence and mentally knowing that I still have it and I’m fired up for next year.”

Travis Ganong led the American Downhillers in 10th place. Image Credit: GEPA Pictures/Andreas Pranter

The most consistent American throughout the entire season was Squaw Valley’s Bryce Bennett. Bennett finished the season ranked seventh in the world in downhill. Although ending up a disappointing 21st in the Finals, the tall Californian had a lot to be proud of when he looked back on his breakout season on the World Cup.

“Last night I was spending a little time reflecting on the goals I had written down for myself,” Bennett explained. “In it was ‘become top 15 in the world’ and you have to be consistently in there each weekend. There were a few weekends this season where I really surprised myself where I was like, ‘Wow, I can compete with these guys when all the pieces are in line.’ I far exceeded my expectations about three races into the season and then I was able to keep it going for a while. Unfortunately here, I got a little food poisoning and I was really on the edge already with energy and it’s been really tough for me but it is what it is. I’m safe and hopefully we can make a few adjustments heading into next season and put ourselves in an even better position.”

For 37-year-old Steve Nyman, himself finishing up a comeback season from injury, he was able to prove to himself that he still was competitive at the top levels of the sport after back-to-back season-ending knee injuries in each of the last two seasons left him on the sidelines for the 2017 World Championships and 2018 Olympics. Nyman finished in 16th place on Wednesday.

“This year I wanted to re-prove myself,” he said. “It’s been two years of some bad injuries and I did, I showed that I can compete at the top and I’m nowhere near top form right now; I still have a lot of pain in the knee. Give me a full summer of prep and I think I can do really good things next year.”

The men now race the final super-G of the season on Thursday, March 14, in Soldeu.

Top 10

  1. Dominik Paris (ITA)- Nordica/Nordica/Marker
  2. Kjetil Jansrud (NOR)- Head/Head/Head
  3. Otmar Striedinger (AUT)- Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
  4. Mauro Caviezel (SUI)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
  5. Vincent Kriechmayr (AUT)- Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
  6. Beat Feuz (SUI)- Head/Head/Head
  7. Josef Ferstl (GER)- Head/Head/Head
  8. Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (NOR)- Head/Head/Head
  9. Carlo Janka (SUI)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
  10. Travis Ganong (USA)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic

For complete results, please click here.

For complete downhill standings, 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.