| AspenTimes.com

A family man now, Marcel Hirscher again favorite for World Cup crown

SOELDEN, Austria — Marcel Hirscher's offseason preparations have been seriously hindered for a second straight year.

But few doubt it will affect the Austrian's chances of winning his eighth overall World Cup title in a row, with the new Alpine skiing season getting underway this weekend.

Last year, Hirscher fractured an ankle bone during his first day on snow in August, forcing him to sit out the entire prep period. Still, he ended up winning 13 World Cup races, more than in any season before, and easily earned his seventh crystal globe, while adding two Olympic gold medals in Pyeongchang.

This year, Hirscher's usual preseason routines were interrupted again as his wife, Laura Moisl, gave birth to their first child in early October.

"For me sport has always come in first place beyond doubt, my private life was always secondary. That will change now," Hirscher said.

The men's season kicks off Sunday with the traditional giant slalom on the Rettenbach glacier, a day after the women's season opens.

Hirscher is not only missing training days on snow, he will also not refrain from dropping races off his schedule if necessary.

"It might happen that I am needed elsewhere, that I won't travel to a ski race because something more important is happening," he said. "Many people have told me that this is not unusual in other jobs."

But Hirscher's job is not an ordinary one.

Since 2012, the Austrian has been the dominating force on the men's World Cup. No other ski racer, male or female, has won the sport's most coveted prize seven times, let alone seven times in a row.

His consistency in slalom and GS has always been the key to his success, and Hirscher won't change his winning formula. He has tiptoed into speed racing, but is now closing that chapter for good.

"It doesn't make sense. You need three, four years before you know all the downhill courses, and another year before you get really fast on them," he said. "So that's a project of five, six years. I am not willing to invest that much time anymore."

But even without speed races, and with skipping a technical race here and there, Hirscher is a strong favorite to gather enough points to finish the season on top again.

In the last three seasons, his winning margins in the final standings were huge: 335 points over Henrik Kristoffersen in 2018, 675 over Kjetil Jansrud in 2017 and 497 over Kristoffersen in 2016. Each race win is worth 100 points.

"Marcel won it seven times in a row, he is the favorite for sure," said Kristoffersen, likely Hirscher's main challenger again. While the Norwegian trailed by 335 points, the rest of the field, including the likes of Jansrud, Beat Feuz and Alexis Pinturault, was more than 730 points off the lead last season.

"For sure we want to give him a fight as much as possible," Kristoffersen said.

Like last year after his ankle injury, Hirscher has again been downplaying his chances, this time citing his changed priorities as a family man.

That, however, hasn't particularly impressed the Norwegian.

"He has been saying that for the last five years," the Norwegian said. "I think that he is going be the same that he has always been, and that he is going to do whatever he needs to do to compete."

The Norwegian certainly has a point.

Considering his future, Hirscher took some time off after winning Olympic gold and wrapping up another overall championship and discipline titles in both slalom and GS last spring.

He wanted to find out whether he still had appetite for more titles. The answer was an adamant "yes."

"I don't want to come second, that's a very strong feeling inside me. I try to squeeze everything out of me," Hirscher said. "It was no different at school and kids races. That won't change, no matter how much I might achieve. I want to get the maximum out of it."

It's not all about winning, though. Hirscher gets as much satisfaction from making details in his skiing even better than they are.

"I still try to improve. That doesn't mean I will win 15 races next season but maybe I can improve the left turn in my giant slalom skiing and that would be a benefit," he said. "So no, I have not yet reached the ceiling."

AJ Ginnis outduels David Chodounsky for World Pro Ski Tour win in Snowmass

Even if they just put up a few gates on the backyard hill, there will need to be a rubber match between A.J. Ginnis and David Chodounsky.

It all came down to the U.S. Ski Team duo on Saturday in the finals of the Rocky Mountain Pro Ski Classic at Snowmass, the second of three stops on the World Pro Ski Tour this winter. The two also met in the finals at Sunday River last year, Chodounsky sneaking away with the win.

The rematch didn't quite go his way.

"He got me this year. He's such a fast skier. It was a lot of fun just competing against each other," Chodounsky said. "The last round I made a mistake on the blue course. It definitely cost me that match. I held it together the second run there but I couldn't make up what I lost there. But no, I'm happy. Second place is sweet."

Chodounsky, a Minnesota native who moved to Crested Butte when he was 11, is a veteran member of the U.S. Ski Team and a two-time Olympian. The 33-year-old was the top American in last month's Olympic slalom in South Korea, placing 18th.

Ginnis, the 23-year-old native of Greece, said he's long looked up to Chodounsky.

"Dave is one of the guys I idolized growing up and when I made the (U.S. Ski Team) he literally took me under his wing and taught me the ropes," Ginnis said. "Last year he got me and I got him back this year. It's a great rivalry I guess."

The World Pro Ski Tour is built off the roots of World Pro Skiing, which Aspen's own Bob Beattie helped launch in 1969, and the U.S. Pro Ski Tour, which folded in 1998. Last year, Craig Marshall and a team that included organizers of those past tours launched the World Pro Ski Tour with that single event in Sunday River, Maine, won by Chodounsky.

It returned in 2018 with three events, the first of which was the White Mountain Dual Challenge on Feb. 10 in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, won by now three-time Olympian Nolan Kasper. Saturday's stop in Snowmass was its first foray into the American West.

"We were a little worried this morning. It was cloudy and grey and the weather was looking a little ominous, but in the end it was a perfect Colorado day," Marshall said after Saturday's races. "The snow was definitely a little soft and challenging the guys, but in the end it made it a lot more interesting. I think we had some really good matchups — some really close races. It's just another great event and Snowmass was an awesome host."

The dual slalom format of the World Pro Ski Tour had its heyday in the '70s and '80s, but there is hope of bringing it back to its former glory. Instead of racing the clock, skiers go head-to-head on parallel courses, with the winner being the first one to the bottom. The finals at Snowmass featured a 32-skier bracket, with each head-to-head matchup having two runs down the track, located on the Blue Grouse trail near the Spider Sabich race venue. Skiers were seeded based off Friday's qualifying.

"We talk a lot of smack with each other, so it's pretty cool to go head-to-head with each other," Ginnis jested. "When you are racing against the clock you have a game plan. You got to stick to it because you don't know what's going on. But in head-to-head if the guy next to you makes a mistake you kind of adapt and see what's going on."

Ginnis, who now calls Waitsfield, Vermont, home, made the most of his two runs in finals to take home the $10,000 check awarded first place. Minnesota's Michael Ankeny beat Slovakia's Andreas Zampa in the small final for third place. Zampa knocked out Kasper, one of the pre-race favorites, in the round of eight.

Ankeny entered the day as the top seed after recording the fastest time in qualifying, while Kasper was second, Chodounsky was third and Ginnis was fourth.

The final race of the World Pro Ski Tour season will be March 29-31 at Sunday River. Ginnis said he'll for sure compete — he's going to school at nearby Dartmouth — while Chodounsky said he'll have to wait and see how his schedule plays out. Whether the rubber match happens in Maine or elsewhere remains to be seen.

"I'm going to try and make him come, absolutely," Ginnis said with a laugh. "We need a rubber match."

While the organization is based on the East Coast, Marshall said he fully intends to have the World Pro Ski Tour back in Colorado, and possibly Snowmass, in 2019. For the athletes, it's something they hope will continue to grow as it provides them a different avenue to compete in outside of the more mainstream World Cup and Nor-Am races.

"I'd love to see more races over here in the West," Chodounsky said. "I think we can get a good crowd. It's great weather. It would be really cool if it gained some traction and people started getting a little more interested. It's just starting up. It's just going to take a little time before it gets going."

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Austria’s Hirscher wins slalom to lock up record seventh overall WC title

KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia — Marcel Hirscher capped his stellar season by securing an unprecedented seventh overall World Cup title on Sunday.

Dominating the penultimate slalom of the season, the two-time Olympic champion from Austria stretched his lead over his only remaining rival, Henrik Kristoffersen, to 289 points. The Norwegian, a specialist in technical races, cannot overtake Hirscher because he will only compete in two more events this season.

“This is so surreal, I can’t believe it,” said Hirscher, who also locked up the slalom and GS titles this weekend, two weeks before the season-ending races in Sweden.

“Now I am going for one week vacation to Are,” he quipped. “That is always really nice because the stress has gone away.”

Building on a big first-leg lead of 0.82-seconds over Kristoffersen, Hirscher did not hold back in his final run and extended the margin to 1.22 seconds, a country mile in the sport. Ramon Zenhaeusern of Switzerland was 1.61 behind in third, while Olympic champion Andre Myhrer, who was third after the opening run, dropped to 24th.

Shortly after finishing and with his skis still clipped on, Hirscher fell on his back and celebrated the victory.

“Incredible. You can’t believe it’s possible,” he said after becoming the first skier in the 51-year history of the World Cup to win seven overall titles. No other male skier has won more than five, and fellow Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell won six times on the women’s circuit in the 1970s.

Sunday’s victory also gave Hirscher this year’s slalom title with a race to spare, a day after he also locked up the season-long title in the giant slalom.

“With all the problems before the season started, with the broken ankle, it is… I can’t find the right words. It is very surreal,” said Hirscher, who missed all of his pre-season preparation after fracturing his ankle while straddling a gate on his first training day on snow in August.

“The summer really wasn’t easy. It went from a possible end of career to my best season,” Hirscher said after Sunday’s win, his 12th of the World Cup season and 57th overall.

Last month in Pyeongchang, Hirscher crowned his illustrious career by adding the only prize he was missing — Olympic gold. He won the combined event and the giant slalom, but came up short as clear favorite in the slalom, where he went out in the opening run.

“I don’t know, to be honest,” Hirscher said when asked about his next goals. “I am happy to go home now and enjoy this. I have to make up my mind where my journey goes next.”

Hirscher said the ongoing rivalry with Kristoffersen, who beat the Austrian for the slalom title two years ago, has enabled him to further raise his level.

“Hats off, the future belongs to this young man,” Hirscher said about the 23-year-old Norwegian. “He has made it really tough. He performed, performed, performed, and made no mistakes so I had to bring something extra all the time.”

Kristoffersen, who performed a deep bow to Hirscher at the prize giving ceremony after Sunday’s race, called the Austrian “the best ski racer in the world.”

“So it’s OK for me to be second. At the moment he is just better, so it’s OK when he wins the slalom globe, the GS globe, the overall globe,” Kristoffersen said.

The men’s World Cup continues with a downhill and a super-G in Kvitfjell, Norway, next weekend.

Aspen’s Hamilton confident about team sprint going to 3rd Games

Entering his third Winter Olympics, Simi Hamilton can still find joy in the competition. But after talking to one of his American teammates who is headed to his first Games, it became even clearer how special the opportunity is.

"It was fun talking to him to hear how psyched he was because it made me really appreciate that excitement of the Games," Hamilton said recently from Austria. "I'm just as excited as I was that first time. But I think now at this point in my career, going into my third Games, it's a little more focused on performing as well as I can and knowing what to expect once I get there."

Hamilton, the 30-year-old Aspen-raised cross-country skier, said it doesn't seem like it was that long ago when he made his Olympic debut at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Then he reflected on all the World Championships and World Cup seasons in between, and it dawned on him exactly how long it's been.

"It definitely seems like it was just yesterday that happened," Hamilton said. "It's still a fun journey to be on and it's still exciting every day. I think I'm drawing to a close, getting closer to being done with this career. But it's a great feeling to know I'm still skiing stronger and better every single day and still getting fitter even though I'm 30."

Hamilton has long been one of the top American male sprinters. He's ranked 14th in the World Cup sprint standings entering this month's Olympics in Pyeongchang, where he feels he could contend for a podium. Four years ago in Sochi he had similarly high expectations, especially for the individual skate race, but the stars simply didn't align for him in Russia.

"I just didn't have a great day that day in Sochi," Hamilton said. "I had some equipment trouble. I broke a pole. It was a really long and hard course, which I'm generally not very good at. I felt like that was a pretty big letdown for me as a skate sprinter."

With no individual skate event this year in Pyeongchang — they alternate classic and skate events each Olympics — Hamilton has his sights set on the Feb. 21 team skate sprint. He still plans to compete in Tuesday's individual classic and hopefully the Feb. 18 relay, but he thinks his best results will be in that team event.

"That's kind of why I'm looking toward the team sprint, because it's a skate event. But I also know I have the potential to put down a really good classic individual sprint as well," Hamilton said. "It's the ultimate goal to be on the podium and win some hardware. But it's ski racing and a lot of things need to go right. A lot of things can go wrong."

The men's cross-country ski races got underway early Sunday morning with the skiathon, which Hamilton was on the fence about competing in. His Aspen teammate, two-time Olympian Noah Hoffman, was set to compete. Having Hoffman, who was on the Olympic bubble, with him in South Korea is a nice boost for Hamilton.

Hamilton and Hoffman are two of the nine former Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athletes competing in the 2018 Olympics.

"We are all doing what works for us and it's a really cool reminder when we all get back together at the Games that our community is capable of producing some amazing talent," Hamilton said. "It makes us all really proud that we can look around and see so many other AVSC athletes and kids we went to high school with."

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Aspen ski racer Wiley Maple overcomes odds en route to first Winter Olympics

Wiley Maple's moment of clarity came early this season at Mammoth Mountain. The Aspen ski racer dipped over to the California ski resort prior to the start of training camp with the U.S. Ski Team in Chile, the first time he had been on snow in more than a year.

Freeskiing up in Mammoth's famed Cornice Bowl, it all made sense again.

"It was a pretty sweet little bump run," Maple said last week, "and I took two turns and popped over three moguls and landed and right when I did that, I was like, 'I'm so much better at skiing than I am at anything else in life.' It was kind of an obligation to keep going."

Maple, 27, recalled that moment while sitting through a snowstorm in Innsbruck, Austria, after his latest World Cup races. He was killing a few days waiting to head to South Korea where he'll make his Olympic debut this weekend in Pyeongchang.

The Olympic men's downhill — tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. mountain time Saturday — is just another race, according to Maple. But it's also the culmination of one of the best underdog stories at this year's Winter Olympics.

"The fact he made it to the Olympics is just so amazing," said Aspen's Sam Coffey, one of Maple's closest friends. "He fights so hard to keep going and he's just kind of the definition of a downhill racer. He skis fast and he's definitely a wild man and at times doesn't always listen to anyone beside himself. He kind of follows his own heart and path, which at times can be very different from the rest of the U.S. Ski Team."

"I know Wiley has speed"

Between injuries and other off-snow issues, Maple has always had an on again, off again relationship with the U.S. Ski Team. More than once since he made his World Cup debut in 2011 has the U.S. decided to go in a different direction. In fact, Maple isn't officially on the U.S. Ski Team this winter.

And for Maple, who is known for blazing his own trail, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"He loves to ski," said Mike Maple, Wiley's father. "Being successful at most anything takes passion. Without passion you can't get through the bumps in the road. That's been a key feature for him, and certainly he's a stubborn kid and willing to do what it takes, but he's got to do it his way. He's not playing necessarily off the playbook."

Wiley Maple wasn't named to the U.S. Ski Team this year after missing the entire 2016-17 World Cup season. Between his kneecap and bad back, Maple seems to be hurt more often than not. Prior to this winter, his last legitimate competition came when he won the March 13, 2016 downhill at the Nor-Am Cup finals in Aspen.

If it weren't for men's U.S. speed team coach Johno McBride, another Aspen native and former Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club coach, Maple probably wouldn't have received an invite to train with the national team in Chile earlier this year.

"I wanted to have the opportunity to work with him," McBride said ahead of December's World Cup races in Beaver Creek. "I know Wiley has speed. I know he has speed and I know he thrives in challenging environments."

"It's been a long crawl back up"

Maple loves to mountain bike, and he's quite good at it. And after not being named to the U.S. team, he decided to forgo his usual summer of training in Park City, Utah — the home of U.S. Ski and Snowboard — to instead stay home in Aspen and do his own thing, which included a lot of brown pow.

"He loves Aspen, just like all of us. It always kind of bummed him out that he was missing summers in Aspen," Coffey said. "It was really nice having him back here for the summer. I think it kind of cleared his mind a little bit. He was definitely nervous about coming into this season. He didn't know if he was still going to have it."

After his summer in Aspen and reinvigorating interlude in Mammoth, Maple found his way to Chile with McBride and the U.S. Ski Team. To save money, he decided to spend time with the Korean national team — which is hosting this month's Olympic Games — where he helped run their dryland training and taught them American staples like ultimate Frisbee.

Despite not being on the U.S. Ski Team, Maple earned starts in the first speed events of the season: November's races in Lake Louise, Canada. It was hardly a dreamy return to the World Cup circuit for Maple, who struggled to remain relevant early in the season.

His breakthrough race came Dec. 28 in Bormio, Italy, where he finished 24th in a downhill for his first World Cup points since taking 24th in a super-G at the Olympic test event Feb. 7, 2016, in South Korea. Then, a few weeks later in Kitzbuehel, Austria, Maple finished in the top 30 in a super-G and downhill on consecutive days.

He was sweating out the Olympic selection process like the rest of the Americans, but finally got the call he was hoping for.

"It feels pretty good. That was definitely a goal for the season and obviously a life goal," Maple said. "Last year this time I didn't even know if I would be able to ski again. Couple months later I was crippled with another back injury and kicked off the team. It's been a long crawl back up and it's definitely pretty surreal that it's come together."

"My anxiety is whether or not he achieves his dreams"

Before they even reached their teens, Maple, Coffey and Baker Boyd founded what in recent years has come to be called "The Freaks," which according to their Instagram page (@the_freakstagram) is Aspen's fastest ski gang.

More than anything — other than skiing itself, of course — Maple likes to return home to be with "The Freaks," a group that has helped turn the 2008 Aspen High School graduate into the ski racer he is today.

"He's so passionate, not just about ski racing, but skiing in general. We would never miss a powder day," Coffey said. "We are always pushing each other. Even on fun days, we are always trying to ski as fast as we can."

Not long ago it seemed Maple was destined to return to full-time status with the local boys. Then, in quick succession, he got healthy, made it back onto the World Cup, became a factor in the minds of the U.S. Ski Team coaches, and now is the latest to add his name to a long list of Aspen Olympians.

"Certainly in his career there have been many times that I thought he was done. If and when it ends, it ends, but his perseverance is phenomenal and we celebrate every day that he's able to compete realizing every day could be the last," Mike Maple said. "I don't really have much fear and anxiety about him getting hurt or anything like that. My anxiety is whether or not he achieves his dreams."

acolbert@aspentimes.com

High winds risk moving men’s Olympic downhill ski race back a day

JEONGSEON, South Korea — High winds in the weather forecast could move the Olympic men's downhill race from its scheduled Sunday slot.

Race director Markus Waldner told team leaders a Monday lunchtime start is the favored backup plan if needed, sandwiched between two runs of the women's giant slalom.

"This is my message: Be patient and flexible because now the next three days will be tough," Waldner said Friday after a practice run was affected by gusts of wind.

The weather forced a shortened training run to begin 564 feet (175 meters) lower down the Jeongseon race hill. The downhill start is at 4,495 feet (1,370 meters).

Waldner said conditions Friday were "good enough for training, but not good enough for a race."

Skiers risk being blown off a safe racing line in strong winds, which could also shut down the only gondola carrying teams and officials up the mountain.

On Monday, the women's giant slalom is scheduled on a different course at nearby Yongpyong with runs starting at 10:15 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. locally in Korea.

The men's downhill could start between those times, Waldner said, while cautioning that winds are forecast to continue into Tuesday. A third and final training run Saturday went off without issue, with Aspen’s Wiley Maple finishing 23rd.

As the first of 11 Alpine medal events, the glamour downhill race has options to run later in the program.

At the 2017 world championships, held in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the men's downhill was delayed by one day and then started lower down the mountain because of fog. That meant a signature feature, the steep "Free Fall" starting section, was not used.

Racers in South Korea want to decide their shot at Olympic gold on the full 1.8-mile (2.8-kilometer) course.

"If we can have the reserve days and wait out for an optimal day, it would be ideal," said Bryce Bennett of the United States, who was sixth-fastest Friday. "You got one shot — 1 minute, 40 seconds long."

It took just under 1 minute, 19 seconds for Christof Innerhofer, the 2014 Sochi Olympic silver medalist, to win a practice run affected by who got the best use of tailwinds.

"It was the wind that blew me down," said the flamboyant Italian skier who clocked the fastest speed at 71¼ mph (114.7 kph).

Innerhofer finished 0.01 second ahead of Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, the bronze medalist four years ago who is widely touted as a gold medal favorite in Pyeongchang.

"They want to do a downhill from the top and in fair conditions," Jansrud said. "I'm thankful to hear that, because that's the way it should be in the Olympics."

AVSC duo representing Aspen at Alpine Junior World Champs in Switzerland

At 16, Elle Murphy is one of the youngest competitors at the FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships in Davos, Switzerland. The Glenwood Springs native wasn't expected to compete for any podiums at this elite event, but simply being there is a big step for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athlete.

"For her, it's one of those eye-widening experiences," said Austin Nevins, the lead women's FIS coach for AVSC. "It's a great opportunity to look and see the top level of ski racing in the world. Some of the girls that are racing at World Juniors are people who have podiumed at World Cup ski races. They are no slouches over there. You are racing some of the best in the world."

Murphy is one of two current AVSC athletes, the other is Bella Wright, currently competing in Davos. Competition started Jan. 30 and runs through Thursday. With Murphy on the low-end of the age range, the 20-year-old Wright is competing in her first and last Junior Worlds.

The two join an impressive list of former Aspen athletes who at one time competed at Junior Worlds, including recent participants Galena Wardle, Katie Ryan, Wiley Maple and Alice McKennis. All four are either current or former members of the U.S. Ski Team. Maple and McKennis will compete in the Olympics this month.

A Salt Lake City native, Wright is in her second season as part of AVSC's post-graduate program. Her success this season on the Nor-Am Cup has her knocking on the door of the U.S. Ski Team.

"When I got the call, I remember feeling overwhelmed," Wright wrote in an email from Davos about getting invited to Junior Worlds. "The experience in Switzerland so far has been a huge eye-opener, and it's been such a fun and happy environment. I couldn't be happier to be in such a beautiful place, competing against the best juniors in the world."

As of Sunday evening, Wright had only competed in one race at Junior Worlds, where she failed to finish the women's super-G. An Alpine combined event was scheduled for Monday with the women's downhill scheduled for Thursday. Wright, a four-event skier, is expected to compete in both.

Still, Wright is having a strong season. Two years ago at the Nor-Am Finals in Aspen, before she had joined AVSC, Wright tore her ACL on a downhill training run. Last winter, her first with AVSC, was mostly about getting back up to speed from her injury.

This winter, back in top form, Wright has excelled. She's currently ninth overall in the Nor-Am standings and is fifth in both super-G and Alpine combined. Prior to Junior Worlds, Nevins spent time with Wright in Europe where she was invited to compete in only her second Europa Cup race — she was 48th in a super-G in Zauchensee, Austria — and was able to train with the U.S. Ski Team.

"It's been a super rad experience," Nevins said. "She's a hard worker. She's a great teammate. She's always trying to be supportive. She pushes all the other girls and pushes herself and works hard and has earned her spot over there. It's cool. It's not that often that non U.S. Ski Team members make World Juniors. To do that is impressive. It's a big feat, for sure."

While Wright is eyeing the World Cup circuit via the U.S. Ski Team, Murphy wants to take a different route. Through her father, Murphy has U.S. and Irish citizenship and represents Ireland on the international stage.

Murphy grew up skiing at Sunlight Mountain Resort near Glenwood, and has long been a fan of McKennis, the New Castle ski racer and AVSC product who is headed to her second Olympics. Murphy has similar dreams of competing on the biggest stages, although she'll proudly be representing her Irish heritage when she does.

"It may be easier than in the U.S., but I still need to work for the points," Murphy said of skiing for Ireland. "It's a pretty large step. I have final goals like every athlete, and the Olympics would be one of them if I could reach that and go to other events like Junior Worlds, maybe the Junior Olympics next year. Just focus on the big goal itself under the Irish flag."

Murphy's best finish so far at Junior Worlds has been 27th in the super-G. She was 34th in the women's slalom and 61st in the giant slalom. Prior to going to Davos, Murphy finished 12th in a Jan. 20 FIS super-G at Aspen Highlands.

The remainder of Murphy's competition season likely will be full of more FIS races. Wright is set to return to the Nor-Am Cup, which next hosts technical races Feb. 13-16 at New York's Whiteface Mountain. She remains in a good position to compete in the U.S. national championships later this winter.

"It has been a long trip, but a very productive and fun trip," Wright wrote about her past month in Europe. "I can't thank the U.S. Ski Team enough for inviting me, and for giving me the opportunity to pursue my dreams."

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Shiffrin opens up on recent struggle

SAN VIGILIO DI MAREBBE, Italy — Mikaela Shiffrin doesn't need to look at social media to see what people are saying about her.

After failing to finish two straight races with next month's Pyeongchang Olympics rapidly approaching, the overall World Cup leader knows what her critics are thinking.

"I can see it in my mind, 'Mikaela Shiffrin faltering before the Olympics.' And, 'The streak is coming to an end,'" Shiffrin said Tuesday after an uncharacteristic fall in the first run of a giant slalom. "But I'm not really worried about what other people think. That's a different place that I'm in this year compared to last year.

"I'm not invincible. I'm fighting every single race and you start to hear people say, 'It's boring because Mikaela is winning everything.' Well, it's not boring today," Shiffrin said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I am in a good place mentally and I don't feel like today or the race in Cortina (Sunday's super-G, in which she missed a gate) is a sign. There are logical explanations for why I DNF'd in both races."

In the GS, Shiffrin lost control of her inside ski coming around a turn as she entered the toughest section of a slope named Erta, which translates as steep. With a gradient of 61 percent in that section, Shiffrin slid a long way down the course but immediately got up and was not injured.

"These things happen," said Jeff Lackie, one of Shiffrin's coaches. "They don't typically happen with Mikaela because she's so consistent. But anytime you add speed you have to be that much more diligent about being well balanced over the outside ski."

It marked the first time in more than six years that Shiffrin failed to finish two consecutive races. The last time came in back-to-back slaloms in Courchevel, France, and Flachau, Austria, in December 2011 — before the American registered her first World Cup podium.

"Now is a good time if it has to happen," Lackie said. "I would rather it happen now and give her the opportunity to recalibrate and refocus."

Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany returned from two weeks in bed with the flu to claim her third win of the season on Tuesday, while Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway and defending champion Federica Brignone of Italy came second and third, respectively, at the Kronplatz resort.

Shiffrin had been undefeated this year in the technical disciplines of GS, slalom and parallel slalom with five straight wins. And while she has been dominant in slalom with seven wins in eight races this season, she has only won two of six GS races — with Rebensburg and Brignone gathering the other victories.

"There are many strong girls in the GS races," Rebensburg said "It's not just (Shiffrin)."

Still, Shiffrin was distraught after her error, retreating immediately to the team hotel without first stopping to review the race with her mother and coach, Eileen, as she usually does.

"I don't think she should be too disappointed," Eileen Shiffrin said. "She made a mistake getting on her inside ski. I'm sure she won't do that again."

Added Lackie: "You don't need to drag your face through the mud. She knows what she did wrong. Failure is not fatal. We'll move on."

After collecting herself in her hotel room, Shiffrin eventually came down and discussed the race. To lift her spirits, she played with the 5-month-old son of her ski technician, Kim Erlandson, while she spoke.

"It's really heartbreaking," Shiffrin said, wiping away a tear or two. "Because out of all the runs that I ski — and I train more than probably anybody — I don't crash and I don't DNF. … I place so much emphasis on making every single turn perfect."

Still, Shiffrin realizes that in the grand scheme of things, these races are not all that important. While she dropped slightly behind Rebensburg in the giant slalom standings, Shiffrin still holds a massive 843-point lead over the German in the overall standings.

"Today is not the focus. The Olympics is the focus," Shiffrin said. "But for me today is just a lesson to remember that nobody is invincible."

Dressen wins DH for 1st German victory in 13 years; Maple 22nd

KITZBUEHEL, Austria — Thomas Dressen ended Germany's 13-year wait for a men's World Cup downhill victory on Saturday, upsetting the pre-race favorites in the classic Hahnenkamm race.

Starting 19th and taking advantage of improved visibility during a brief spell of sunshine on a cloudy day, Dressen sped down the 3.3-kilometer Streif course in 1 minute, 56.15 seconds to beat then-leader Beat Feuz of Switzerland by 0.20 seconds.

"I couldn't believe it when I finished and saw the '1.' I thought they were making a joke," the 24-year-old Dressen said. "I had to look at the timing board twice to believe it. It's really been a dream to win Kitzbuehel one time. It's incredible."

Celebrating in the finish area and watched by more than 40,000 spectators, Dressen screamed for joy, holding both skis above his head before kneeling down for a moment.

"I was trying to soak up the atmosphere," said the first German winner of the Hahnenkamm downhill since Sepp Ferstl won it twice — in 1978 and 1979.

Attending Saturday's race, Ferstl was among the first to congratulate his successor.

"That Ferstl-Streif myth has finally ended," the 63-year-old Ferstl said. "I am happy that I can say now, 'Thomas has won it as well.'"

Hannes Reichelt of Austria, who won the race four years ago, was 0.41 behind in third, and Aksel Lund Svindal trailed by 1.12 in eighth. The Norwegian, who won Friday's super-G on the same hill, remained in the lead of the downhill standings, 10 points clear of Feuz.

The German men's team had not won a downhill since Max Rauffer triumphed in Val Gardena, Italy, in December 2004.

Another victory, however, seemed only a matter of time after the young German speed team of Dressen, Andreas Sander and Josef Ferstl, son of the two-time Kitzbuehel winner, posted several top results in the past two seasons. Ferstl won a super-G in Val Gardena, Italy, last month.

On Saturday, Sander placed sixth while Ferstl was 20th.

"We have a super team, also with the coaches, the ski technicians, the physiotherapists," Dressen said. "We try to learn from each other and that's what brings us forward."

A downhill silver medalist at the 2014 junior world championships, Dressen got his fifth top-10 result this season, including his first career podium by placing third in Beaver Creek, Colorado, in December.

"For me it is a surprise that it went so well," Dressen said following his win on one of the most difficult men's World Cup courses. "I struggled in the training, especially in the steep section. Today I skied that well for the first time."

Getting his first victory in Austria was special to Dressen, who moved to the neighboring country as a kid to study and learn racing at the ski school in Neustift in the Tyrol province. Also, he lost his father, Dirk Dressen, in a ski lift accident in nearby Soelden in 2005.

"I was in Neustift for a year and then in Saalfelden for five more years. That has definitely been the right way for me," said Dressen, who was born in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The Bavarian resort will host men's World Cup races next weekend.

Feuz, the downhill world champion, was starting to believe he had won the race after his leading time was still holding up after 18 starters, with nearly all favorites having completed their runs.

Several racers, most notably Olympic champion Matthias Mayer and fellow Austrian Vincent Kriechmayr, led the Swiss skier halfway through their runs but lost their advantage on the challenging finish section.

"I am very glad with second place. In Kitzbuehel you are always glad when you get to the finish," Feuz said. "Last year I crashed here so it wasn't easy to get that out of my head."

Aspen's Wiley Maple was 22nd to finish in the points for the second straight day. He was 29th in Friday’s super-G.

Who needs gold? Alpine ski star Marcel Hirscher insists that he does not

BEAVER CREEK — Think a gold medal is the end-all and be-all for Winter Games athletes? Well, meet Marcel Hirscher, who can reasonably stake a claim as the very best Alpine ski racer without an Olympic gold to his name.

Hirscher has accomplished just about everything else there is to accomplish in his sport. Six crystal globes that signify World Cup overall season titles — all in a row, too, and No. 7 is in his sights at the moment. Fifty-two World Cup race wins. Four world championship crowns.

Still, the question the 28-year-old Austrian gets asked over and over these days, with the first race of the Pyeongchang Games scheduled for a month from Thursday, is this: Does Hirscher need an Olympic gold medal to validate all of his success?

It truly is the only thing missing from his impressive portfolio. He scoffs at the implication.

"It won't change my life," Hirscher said in a recent interview. "Because if I had a choice between winning another globe or an Olympic gold medal, it is easy for me."

In other words: The globe would be his choice. And not much to debate, either, because he, like many other ski racers, considers that emblematic of consistent excellence, sustained over the course of months, through an entire season and through various types of races and mountains. An Olympic gold, the thinking goes, represents merely success in one event, on one day, and subject to the vagaries of such things as the weather and a particular course setting.

Indeed, Hirscher defined it as "an American mindset" that demands that he needs an Olympic gold to cement his status.

"For me, personally," he said, "and for the European mindset, no."

He is certain that his place in the pantheon of skiing greats is already secured, no matter what happens next month in South Korea.

Ask him who his biggest rival is these days, and Hirscher offers a quick answer.

"Myself," he said.

In the past, Hirscher has come quite close to climbing atop the top step of an Olympic podium. He earned a silver in the slalom four years ago at the Sochi Games, finishing as the runner-up to countryman Mario Matt. That is Hirscher's lone medal, though: He was fourth in the giant slalom in 2014.

At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Hirscher was fourth in the GS and fifth in the slalom.

He didn't get in his usual block of training to start the season after breaking his left ankle in August when he straddled a slalom gate during practice. He's quickly rounded back into form, with seven victories and another trio of top-5 finishes. He leads the overall World Cup standings by more than 150 points over Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway.

"I'm just skiing, skiing, skiing, skiing, since I'm able to ski again," Hirscher said. "More skiing than usual."

His biggest rivals aren't all that surprised by his quick return to the top of the sport, even if he did miss a big chunk of training time.

"He always downplays things and wins," Ted Ligety of the United States said. "You have to take what he says with a grain of salt."

Hirscher's the racer that everyone else studies. He watches his own runs over and over again, looking for ways he can improve. And he studies other racers, too.

"Every good athlete is helping me to improve my skiing," Hirscher said. "I can find, in every athlete, one good turn or two good turns. I can analyze why those turns were faster than other turns. And sometimes you can find out why athletes are better than other ones."

On the course, Hirscher is so composed that nothing seems to distract him — not even a falling drone. During a race in Italy in December 2015, a drone carrying a TV camera crashed to the snow just behind Hirscher as he sped down the mountain.

"He's mentally strong," Kristoffersen said.

There was a time when being mentioned in the same sentence as Austrian greats such as Franz Klammer (1976 Olympic downhill gold) or Hermann Maier (1998 super-G and giant slalom golds) used to make Hirscher a bit uncomfortable. But it's become part of the territory for someone who wins so often.

A few years ago, Hirscher and Maier filmed a commercial in which they raced around a track in motorized living room chairs.

The race ended in a draw.

Whatever comparisons are made nowadays — and might be made after the Pyeongchang Olympics — Hirscher is OK with them. And feels fine about his standing.

"It took years to accept that this is happening," Hirscher said. "Now I say, 'OK, it is part of my life' and so I'm fine with it."