Mikaela Shiffrin Wins First Slalom Race of the Season

This article originally appeared on Ski Mag

After three weekends of cancellations--in Solden, Zermatt and Lech-Zurs--the women's World Cup season kicked out of the gate in Levi, Finland. In the first of two slaloms of the weekend, 2022 Overall World Cup Champion Mikaela Shiffrin started the season where she left off--on top of the podium. In the first slalom of the season, Shiffrin bested her rival Petra Vlhova from Slovakia (2022 overall slalom champion) and Sweden’s Anna Swenn-Larsson to nab her 75th World Cup win.

There’s nothing like starting the season off with a victory, but Shiffrin, never one to focus on the numbers, is more pleased with her skiing than the result itself.

"I feel strong, fit, mentally everything is in a better place and exactly where I want to be when I start the season," said Shiffrin. She was especially pleased with the smoothness of her team, which includes a new ski tech and assistant coach. "My race skis felt amazing," said Shiffrin.

Shiffrin led the seven Americans on the start list with Bib 5. Paula Moltzan started 10th. Germany’s Lena Duerr was first out of the gate, and stayed in the leader chair through the entire field, with a comfortable .55 second lead over Sweden's Anna Swenn-Larsson. A more conservative approach landed Shiffrin in third place after the first run, .7 seconds behind Duerr. Vhlova was a mere .02 seconds behind Shiffrin, in fourth. Unfortunately, Moltzan--who Shiffrin notes has been pushing her hard in training--ended her day early, straddling a gate mid-run to collect a DNF (did not finish).

For Team USA, the surprise from later in the pack was 20-year-old Ava Sunshine, making her World Cup debut in Levi. Sunshine surprised everyone by skiing from the back of the pack with bib 45 to finish 25th in the first run. She was the only other American to nab a spot in the top 30 and qualify for a second run. Sunshine earned World Cup starts in all events this season by virtue of clinching the 2022 Overall NorAm title in her rookie season with the national team. Sunshine competes in all disciplines, and is the 2022 World Jr Super-G Champion.

With the flip 30 format (where the lowest ranked racers after the first run kick off the second run), Sunshine started sixth on the second run. On a vastly cleaner course she kept her composure and would move up to finish 21st in the final standings.

As fog shrouded the rolling upper section of the course, the big guns were undeterred. Vhlova's run put her another half second ahead of Switzerland's Wendy Holdener, but she could not hold off Shiffrin, who nailed the steep section and moved into first.

"I was able to ski this pitch really the way I wanted to with no mistakes," said Shiffrin. Swenn-Larsson landed between the two, assuring herself a podium, and what she later called, "a perfect start of a new season." That left it all to Duerr, who found herself in a familiar position--she also led the slalom after the first run in Beijing Olympics. But as in Beijing, she was unable to hold off her competition and ultimately finished fourth.

Levi has been a regular November stop on the World Cup Tour for men and women starting in 2006. Since 2020, Levi has hosted the women's tour only. At 110 miles north of the Arctic Circle, it’s one of the most snow-sure venues on the Tour, but even here, snow conditions can be a challenge.

To prep for this year's event, organizers stockpiled more than two million cubic feet of snow last spring, storing it under insulating blankets. This assured enough snow to open the training hill on October 7, and to start injecting the "Black" race trail on Nov. 1. This also allowed national teams to train onsite in the days leading up to the event, and to eliminate stressful travel.

Another unique bonus of the Levi’s far-north location: winners get a reindeer. Coming into the weekend, 2022 Olympic Slalom Champ Petra Vhlova had won five reindeer, including two each in 2020 and 2021, when she swept the weekend’s competitions. Shiffrin, meanwhile, had four going into this weekend but will add at least one more to her herd after today’s victory.

Shiffrin’s latest reindeer (yet-to-be-named reindeer) will join Rudolph (2013), Sven (2016), Mr. Gru (2018), Ingemar (2019), named in honor of Ingemar Stenmark, the Swedish skiing legend who holds the record for the most individual World Cup wins at 86). Shiffrin, who now owns the female record for World Cup podiums in a single discipline, trails only Lindsey Vonn (82) and Stenmark in total wins.

The women's World Cup races in Levi resume tomorrow at 4 a.m. ET.

2022 Levi World Cup Slalom #1 – Top 10 Results

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