ASPEN - A slick, technical giant slalom course humbled some of the world's top skiers in Saturday's Aspen Winternational.
Kathrin Hoelzl was in her element.
"It was very, very icy. ... You have to fight for every gate," the 25-year-old German said. "That's what I'm like."
Hoelzl, who burst onto the scene in February with a giant slalom win at the World Ski Championships in Val d'Isere, France, triumphed on Aspen Mountain's famed Ruthies Run course to notch her first World Cup win. The second competitor out the starting gate, Hoelzl posted the first run's top time. She made her advantage stand up on an overcast afternoon, charging to the finish in a combined time of 2 minutes, 9.63 seconds.
She raised both hands in the air and mustered a large grin after spotting the scoreboard.
Austria's Kathrin Zettel (2:09.87), a podium regular here, finished second, and Italy's Federica Brignone (2:10.76) took third in just her fifth World Cup start.
"My material was perfect - I had very strong edges," Hoelzl said. "This is unexpected, but I feel great today. I was ready to race today."
Olympic Valley Calif.'s Julia Mancuso, the reigning Olympic GS gold medalist, finished 3.16 seconds off the pace in 13th on a day when the U.S. contingent struggled. Three of six Americans failed to qualify for a second run, among them two-time World Cup Overall champion Lindsey Vonn. The 25-year-old from Vail, who was coming off a second-place finish in slalom in Levi, Finland, hit a rock midway down the course. She wound up 36th out of 67.
"My right foot wouldn't hold anymore. I slid out about four times," Vonn said afterward. "It ran over the outside edge ... On this pond ice, you have no chance unless you have a sharp edge.
"This is the first time this has ever happened. Unfortunately, it's in Aspen."
Vonn wasn't the only big name to struggle on this day. Sweden's Anja Paerson finished more than 4 seconds behind Hoelzl in 22nd. Finland's Tanja Poutiainen, a winner in the season-opening GS in Soelden, Austria, was 26th.
Hoelzl had no such problems, and became the second skier in as many years to pick up their first World Cup win in Aspen. French 19-year-old Tessa Worley, who accomplished the feat last November, finished 15th Saturday.
Zettel was nearly .2 seconds faster that Hoelzl during a near-flawless second run, but she had to settle for a spot on the podium for the fourth time in the last five years. The 23-year-old won the Winternational GS in 2006.
Brignone made her first trip to Aspen a memorable one. The 19-year-old finished no better than 21st in four previous World Cup starts.
"... when I'm on difficult slopes, when it's icy I'm good," she said.
Mancuso excelled in tough conditions, too, vaulting into ninth after one run. While she dropped in the standings - one year after finishing seventh here - she said she was pleased with the effort.
"I'm psyched. I definitely could've skied better, but it's nice to put down two solid runs," added the 25-year-old, who battled injuries and inconsistency last season. "It helps a lot [to know I'm healthy]. Just knowing you can charge again when you go out of the gates. ... You don't want to be tentative."
Mancuso's finish highlighted a tough day for the U.S., which is competing on home soil for the only time this season. Americans have not finished on the podium in Aspen in four years and 10 races.
Stacey Cook and Leanne Smith failed to qualify for a second run. Megan McJames missed a gate on her second run, and Sarah Schleper wound up 23rd.
"I'm a little disappointed," said Schleper, from Vail. "I feel like I have more potential with the way I'm skiing right now."