Mikaela Shiffrin skied to first place at the World Cup slalom opener in Levi, Finland. (Getty Images/Agence Zoom-Christophe Pallot)
KITTILÄ, Finland (Nov. 12, 2016) – Mikaela Shiffrin (Eagle-Vail, CO) overcame Audi FIS Ski World Cup slalom opener nerves, skiing two clean and solid runs en route to her first World Cup victory of the 2017 season. Switzerland's Wendy Holdener grabbed second, .67 seconds out, while Slovakia's Petra Vlhova rounded out the podium in third, .75 seconds behind Shiffrin.
It was a beautiful, crisp day up in Lapland, with a picturesque sunrise and perfect rock-hard conditions on the race track. Starting lucky number seven, Shiffrin laid down a smoking first run, finishing .72 ahead of 2016 World Cup slalom title holder Frida Hansdotter and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener. The battle between Shiffrin and Hansdotter ended when Hansdotter straddled on the pitch second run and skied out. Shiffrin knifed the bulletproof pitch and maintained her lead all the way to the finish, earning herself another prize Lapland reindeer and a buddy for her 2013 prize reindeer Rudolph. His name? Sven.
Shiffrin pets her new reindeer, Sven. (Getty Images-Martti Kainulainen)
Shiffrin channeled early race day nerves to work in her favor. "I didn't have many expectations. I was quite nervous this morning," recalled Shiffrin. "I just tried to put it aside, put my head away and just ski really hard. I made a few small mistakes—a couple things that hopefully the next race I can clean up a little bit. I know these other girls aren't going to wait around. They're trying to beat me, so I have to keep going."
Much like Soelden, Levi is a bit of an outlier race on the World Cup circuit—no one really knows where they are until it happens. Though Resi Stiegler (Jackson WY) typically struggles with losing time in the final split, she was able to make up some time at the bottom of her second run, skiing into a solid 16th place. Prior to the race, Stiegler she noted that she was still working on dialing in her skiing and body for the season, but she is relieved to have the first race in the books. "First run I think I had some nerves," said Stiegler. "Then second run I was like, 'It's time to improve. Let's just ski better second run and not worry too much about the result today,' and it was better. There are still some things I need to work on, but I'm happier that I improved for that run. It's so beautiful here and it's nice to have some winter conditions finally. Everything feels really good. The snow was excellent—it's nice, hard snow—and a great atmosphere."
Shiffrin stands on top of the podium. (Getty Images-Christophe Pallot)
The final American starting in Saturday’s slalom and a relative newcomer to the World Cup circuit, Lila Lapanja (Incline Village, NV), had solid top splits that would have had her well into qualification for a second run but struggled moving forward coming on to the pitch, causing her to get low and behind. She’ll walk away knowing that she has the speed to hang with the top 15.
The women will head to Colorado for a training block before traveling to the highly anticipated Killington World Cup on November 26 for a giant slalom, followed by a slalom on November 27. It is Killington’s first time hosting a World Cup and the first time the east coast has hosted a World Cup since 1991.
Resi Stiegler raced to 16th at Levi. (Getty Images-Christophe Pallot)
Mikaela Shiffrin On first run performance First run felt good. I was quite nervous this morning, so I’m really happy with where I’m at and I attacked really hard. Sometimes when I’m nervous I get really passive, so I tried to go the opposite direction and almost try to ski too hard. It ended up being just the right balance. I think I can clean it up second run even better. We’ll see what happens. I’m psyched with where I’m at right now.
On the race today It was a great race. The hill was in really, really perfect condition and it was a beautiful day. So, I'm happy...but I also know I can be faster. I think the other girls will be faster as well. It takes a lot of energy. It's fun, and when I ski my best it's easier. The better I ski, the easier it is, and more simple. So I always shoot with the most simple skiing and just try to get to the finish as fast as I can. I'm psyched with how that worked today.
On race day nerves I didn't have many expectations. I was quite nervous this morning. So I just tried to put it aside, put my head away, and just ski really hard. I made a few small mistakes—a couple things that hopefully the next race I can clean up a little bit. I know these other girls aren't going to wait around. They're trying to beat me, so I have to keep going.
On being unbeatable I am not unbeatable. I can tell you that. And I think a lot of these girls know that and they're shooting to be the first to beat me now. So every race I have to be faster, and it's certainly not a comfortable position.
Resi Stiegler First run I think I had some nerves, and then second run I was like, 'It's time to improve. Let's just ski better the second run and not worry too much about the result today,' and it was better. There are still some things I need to work on, but I'm happier that I improved for that run. It's so beautiful here and it's nice to have some winter conditions finally. Everything feels really good, the snow was excellent—it's nice, hard snow—and a great atmosphere.
TV SCHEDULE Saturday, Nov. 12 – women’s slalom – Universal HD, 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Nov. 13 – men’s slalom – Universal HD, 2:00 p.m. ET