Shiffrin, Odermatt start as favorites in crammed World Cup ski racing season

Eric Willemsen
Associated Press
Mikaela Shiffrin speeds down the slope during the first run of a women's World Cup giant slalom on Dec. 21, 2021, in Courchevel, France.
Marco Trovati/AP

SÖLDEN, Austria — Alpine skiing’s World Cup produced three different overall champions in the past three seasons, on the men’s and women’s sides.

Few expect the streaks to continue this season as defending champions Marco Odermatt and Mikaela Shiffrin are widely regarded as the main favorites again.

The new season starts on Saturday with a women’s giant slalom in Austria, followed by the men’s race the next day.

Away from the slopes, skiing likely faces more changes in its second season under FIS President Johan Eliasch. Several commissions are working on plans for the future, including the centralization of marketing and broadcast rights.

Also, racers will earn more prize money. Compared to many other sports though, Eliasch said on Friday that skiers “are earning a fraction of what they should be earning.”

One visible change under Eliasch is the much-debated early opening of the speed season with the addition of a spectacular downhill that starts in Switzerland’s Zermatt and finishes in Italy’s Cervinia.

“It will be an iconic race, it’s phenomenal,” Eliasch said. “Every camera angle you see will have the Matterhorn in the background.”

The men are scheduled to race there twice on Oct. 29-30, and the women one week later. But a lack of snow on the Italian side has made the events questionable. A final inspection for the men’s race is planned for Saturday.

The Zermatt-Cervinia downhill is just one addition to the calendar; another is a second North American sweep in the men’s schedule.

Apart from the usual races in Lake Louise and Beaver Creek in November and December, the circuit will return in late February and early March for events in Palisades Tahoe and Aspen, raising the total number of men’s races in the United States to eight.

The women visit Killington and Lake Louise again in November and December for the fifth and sixth stops in what looks a crammed calendar with 42 races in 20 resorts; the men have one race more.

Shiffrin and Odermatt won the season-opening races in Sölden last year for an early lead in the overall standings.

Odermatt also ended the season by winning his last race – a giant slalom at the World Cup Finals in March – but the Swiss skier had long wrapped up his first overall title by then after his dominating campaign.

“The overall title was the biggest goal for me in ski racing,” Odermatt said. “I was lucky to finish the season with a victory, it was important to have those emotions on the podium.”

Odermatt finished a massive 467 points ahead of Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, but the Norwegian speed specialist won the discipline titles in downhill and super-G. Kilde was the overall champion in 2020. French allrounder Alexis Pinturault won the next year.

Odermatt collected another trophy on Friday, as he was voted skier of the year for 2022 in a vote by the international association of ski journalists.

On the women’s side, the winning margin was smaller: Shiffrin led former overall champion Petra Vlhová by 184 points after securing her fourth title at the finals week in France. Italy’s Federica Brignone, the 2020 champion, finished third.

Shiffrin added five race wins to raise her career total to 74, eight short of fellow American Lindsey Vonn’s women’s record, and 12 short of Swedish standout Ingemar Stenmark’s overall best mark.

“It is nice to start off after a full summer away from racing to regain that racing mentality,” Shiffrin said.

However, neither the American nor Odermatt wanted to put too much weight on the opening race weekend.

“If you perform well, it’s super nice, you can start the season with a good result and get a lot of confidence,” Odermatt said. “But if you don’t perform well, you still have enough time to make those small changes.”