February was dominated by the Alpine Skiing World Championships, held every second year, which kicked off in St Moritz on 6th February. Over 13 days, 589 athletes from 76 countries competed in eleven competitions in front of 165,000 spectators.
The championships opened with the women’s super G where Austria’s Nicole Schmidhoffer won the gold medal, followed by Lichtenstein’s Tina Weirather and Swiss skier Lara Gut. Erik Guay of Canada took the men’s super G gold a day later, ahead of Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud and fellow Canadian Manuel Osbourne-Paradis. The women’s combined was up next and the home nation put in a strong showing with Wendy Holdener and Michelle Gisin taking first and second place respectively for Switzerland. Austria’s Michaela Kirchgasser came in third.
After training days and weather delays, two downhill races were held on 12th February with the scheduled women’s downhill followed by a rescheduled men’s downhill. Ilka Stuhek of Slovenia took the gold followed by Austrian Stephanie Venier and American Lindsay Vonn. Vonn is continuing to make a strong comeback after missing the early part of the season through injury. The crowd was happy to watch Switzerland’s Beat Feuz finish just ahead of Erik Guay and Austrian Max Franz in the men’s downhill to give the home nation their second gold medal of the championships. The Swiss soon added another gold with Luca Aerni winning the following day’s men’s combined, beating Austrian Marcel Hirscher and Swiss teammate Mauro Caviezel.
The 14th saw the team event run in a parallel slalom format. After a day of upsets, France took the team gold beating Slovakia in the final while Sweden beat the Swiss hosts to take the bronze medal.
The championships switched to the technical disciplines for the second half, beginning with GS. In the women’s race, Tessa Worley of France took her second gold (the first being in the team event), followed by American Mikaela Schiffrin and Italian Sofia Goggia. The following day’s men’s race saw Austrians Marcel Hirscher and Roland Leitinger take first and second place with Norwegian Leif Kristian Haugen in third.
The final events of the championships were the men’s and women’s slalom. Mikaela Schiffrin took her third consecutive World Championships slalom gold medal, having won in Vail/Beaver Creek in 2015 and Schladming in 2013. Wendy Holdener and Swede Frida Hansdotter made up the top three. Austria performed well again in the final race of the championships, with Marcel Hirscher winning and Manuel Feller gaining his first podium in second. German Felix Neureuther came in third for the bronze.
After a successful World Championships fortnight, the World Cup tour resumed in Kvitfjell, Norway on 24th February for three days of speed races. The first was a downhill to replace the cancelled Lake Louise event earlier in the season. Slovenian Bostjan Kline took his first World Cup win ahead of Austria’s Matthias Mayer and Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud. Local racer Jansrud would take the win in the following day’s downhill ahead of Peter Fill of Italy and Beat Feuz. Peter Fill would claim his first super-G win on the third day of racing in Kvitfjell. Austria’s Hannes Reichelt came in second followed by Erik Guay.
Meanwhile, the women moved to Crans-Montana in Switzerland for three days, starting with a combined race rescheduled from Zauchensee in Austria. The super-G component was restarted after the first three racers skied out at the same jump, and the lower reserve start was used. Italy’s Federica Brignone took her first career win ahead of Ilka Stuhec and Michaela Kirchgasser. Stuhec took first place in the super-G the day after, beating Elena Curtoni of Italy by half a second, and Stephanie Venier by a full second. Another day of combined racing saw slalom queen Mikaela Schiffrin win her first combined with Federica Brignone coming in second. Ilka Stuhec’s third place gave her first place in the discipline over the season – winning her the first Crystal Globe to be decided this year, although she would have to wait until Aspen for it to be awarded.
The women moved on to Jeongseon, South Korea for their next races to test out the downhill course for next year’s Winter Olympics. After nine podiums this season, Sofia Goggia finally won her first victory ahead of Lindsay Vonn and Ilka Stuhec on 4th March. Goggia would soon add her second win in the super-G a day later with Vonn and Stuhec making up the same podium as the previous day.
The men spent the weekend at Kranjska Gora in Slovenia, for the 56th edition of the Pokal Vitranc. The Saturday GS saw Marcel Hirscher cement his legendary status, winning not just the race, but the Crystal Globes for both the discipline and the overall title. Leif Kristian Haugen and Sweden’s Matts Olsson made up the podium. Austria’s Michael Matt picked up the first win of his career in Sunday’s Slalom, beating Stefano Gross of Italy and Felix Neureuther.
The last races before the finals were a pair of technical races in Squaw Valley, California on 10th and 11th March. Michaela Schiffrin picked up another win in the GS ahead of Federica Brignone and Tessa Worley before winning the Slalom to claim the Crystal Globe for the discipline. Czech skier Sarka Strachova and Austria’s Bernadette Schild made up the slalom podium.
The finals of the World Cup tour kicked off in Aspen, Colorado with men’s and women’s downhills on 14th March. Both Crystal Globes were still up for grabs, and it was the Italians who were celebrating after the men’s race. Dominik Paris won the race, while teammate Peter Fill took second place to win the Crystal Globe – edging out Kjetil Jansrud who took third in the race and second in the season standings. In the women’s race, Ilka Stuhec won both the race and the Globe. Lindsay Vonn came in second while Sofia Goggia was third in the race and second in the standings.
Super-G was the next event to be decided, with the women’s title still open although Kjetil Jansrud had already laid claim to the men’s Globe. Tina Weirather won the women’s race, and the Globe, ahead of Ilka Stuhec and Federica Brignone. Jansrud did not feature on the podium for the last race, with Hannes Reichelt first, Dominik Paris second and a tie between Swiss Mauro Caviezel and Norwegian Aleksander Aamodt Kilde for third.
The finals moved onto the technical disciplines with the men’s GS and women’s slalom running on 18th March. The Crystal Globes for both had already been won by Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Schiffrin, and Hirscher would move further ahead with another win. Felix Neureuther and France’s Mathieu Faivre came in second and third. Petra Vlhova of Slovakia won the final women’s slalom with Schiffrin coming in second and Frida Hansdotter third. This result gave Mikaela Schiffrin her first overall Crystal Globe to go along with her four slalom Globes.
The final day of the World Cup season saw the Italian ladies take a clean sweep in the GS, with Federica Brignone, Sofia Goggia and Marta Bassino filling the podium. Tessa Worley in fifth place took the Crystal Globe for the discipline. Sweden’s Andre Myhre won the men’s race with Felix Neureuther second and Michael Matt third. Marcel Hirscher led after the first run but dropped back to fourth. He still walked away with the Crystal Globe, giving him two discipline Globes, the overall Globe and two World Championship medals for the season.
In the Nations competition, the Italian women took a rare victory from the Austrians who have dominated over the last few years, and who won this year’s men’s competition.
There are still a few weeks left of the skiing season, but the World Cup is over for the winter. With next winter being an Olympic year, there are plenty of names to keep an eye on. British skiing fans should follow Dave Ryding closely. The skier from Lancashire finished eighth in the slalom standings with one second place podium and six top ten results over the season.
Read more from Ian on his website.