Alpine

Slalom World Cup Kicks Off in Levi

by
Megan Harrod
2016-11-11 10:27
 

KITTILÄ, Finland (Nov. 12, 2016) – It’s a winter wonderland in Kittilä, Finland—home to Levi, the ski resort that plays host to the Audi FIS Ski World Cup slalom opener. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Santa Claus country. Though the word on the streets of Soelden was not optimistic for the slalom opener, it seems that Ullr, the Nordic God of Snow and Winter, had different plans. Either that or Santa Claus came early. Either way, it’s a cold winter wonderland and the elves aren’t the only ones excited to get this show on the road!

The snow gods didn’t grace Levi with their presence last season, forcing a rescheduled race to be held for the women in Aspen. That sure didn’t bother Mikaela Shiffrin (Eagle-Vail, CO), who went on to set a record, winning by the largest margin in World Cup women’s slalom history—3.07 seconds ahead of Slovakia’s Veronika Velez Zuzulova and 3.26 seconds ahead of 2016 World Cup slalom title holder Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter. On top of that, Shiffrin won all five of the slalom races she competed in during the 2016 season, and she did it by a combined time of 10.56 seconds—that's a 2.11 second average margin of victory. And in three starts in Levi, Shiffrin has podiumed twice, in both 2012 and 2013.


Levi hosts the season-opening men's and women's World Cup slaloms this weekend. (Getty Images/AFP/Lehtikuva-Martti Kainulainen)

After a solid training block in Soelden, Shiffrin’s Head Coach Mike Day is optimistic both about Shiffrin’s skiing and the conditions at Levi, though is quick to note that Levi is a bit of a mystery. “They have plenty of snow here,” noted Day. “The training slope is super hard and well-watered, so it’s full on and ready to go. Things look good [with Mikaela] and I think Levi is a lot like Soelden in the sense that it’s a bit of an outlier and no one really knows where they’re at until it happens.”

Will Mikaela win a Lapland reindeer buddy for her 2013 prize reindeer “Rudolph” who resides in Levi? “We freeskied (the hill) today and the surface looks great. It’s perfect and race-ready,” said Shiffrin. “It would be nice to get Rudolph a buddy! No reindeer likes to be alone.”


Mikaela Shiffrin poses with her Lapland reindeer Rudolph, who she won after taking first at Levi in 2013. (Getty Images-Markku Ulander)

The battle is expected to be between Shiffrin and Hansdotter, who is no stranger to the podium in Levi either, snagging a second place in 2014.

Fierce and fun veteran Resi Stiegler (Jackson, WY) echoed similar sentiments about the World Cup slalom kickoff, but is excited to be back in action. “It’ll be nice to have the first race and get things going,” said Stiegler. “I do have some things I’m still working on and the body is still getting broken in for the season, so I’m going to stick with some simple things to think about and go out and enjoy on Saturday.”

Stiegler is feeling the good vibes across the team as well. “I think it’s going to be pretty exciting for our team—it’s fun to have the guys up here, too,” she remarked. “We have really good energy. I think everyone’s just really giddy and excited to be racing.” A force to be reckoned with on the NorAm circuit, 2016 NorAm Slalom Champion Lila Lapanja (Incline Village, NV) looks to find the groove and grace in her new home on the World Cup circuit.


David Chodounsky leads the U.S. men into Levi. (Getty Images-Fabrice Coffrini)

Over on the men’s side, veteran David Chodounsky (Crested Butte, CO) leads a group promising talent including Michael Ankeny (Deephaven, MN), Mark Engel (Truckee, CA), AJ Ginnis (Vouliagmeni, Greece) and Robby Kelley (Starksboro, VT). In what is an incredibly deep slalom field, Chodounsky will look to carry the momentum from his career-best 2015-16 season. Chodounsky finished last season ranked 15th in slalom and went on to win his fourth U.S. Championship title in Sun Valley, Idaho. Notably missing from action this Sunday will be Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen, the 2016 slalom title holder. Sounds like that podium is up for grabs.

Tune into Universal HD, as former U.S. Ski Team athlete Will Brandenburg will make his broadcasting debut alongside Steve Porino. Universal HD will cover the women's slalom on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET and the men's slalom on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. ET. You can also catch all the action streaming live on nbcsports.com.

CONFIRMED LEVI STARTERS

Men
Michael Ankeny (Deephaven, MN)
David Chodounsky (Crested Butte, CO)
Mark Engel (Truckee, CA)
AJ Ginnis (Vouliagmeni, Greece)
Robby Kelley (Starksboro, VT)

Women
Lila Lapanja (Incline Village, NV)
Mikaela Shiffrin (Eagle-Vail, CO)
Resi Stiegler (Jackson, WY)

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Levi was canceled in 2015 due to weather, and the women’s race was rescheduled for Aspen. In the rescheduled race, Shiffrin won by the largest margin in World Cup women’s slalom history, 3.07 seconds ahead of Slovakia’s Veronica Velez Zuzulova.
  • Of three starts in Levi, Shiffrin has podiumed twice – in 2012 and 2013.
  • Resi Stiegler had an outstanding 2016 comeback season, grabbing seven top-15 finishes, two top-10 finishes and ended up ranked 13th in the world in slalom.
  • Lila Lapanja scored her first World Cup points last season at Flachau, in just her third World Cup start.
  • David Chodounsky finished off the 2016 season with a career-best 15th slalom rank in the world, highlighted by a career-best fourth place finish in Val d’Isere.
  • Michael Ankeny scored his first World Cup points last year during the classics: Adelboden and Kitzbuehel.
  • Mark Engel had a solid 2016 season on the Europa Cup circuit with a podium in Zell am See and looks to carry this momentum to the World Cup.
  • Robby Kelley experienced success on the Europa Cup circuit—featuring a podium in Hemsedal—during the 2016 season and capped the season off with a second place finish at U.S. Alpine Championships in Sun Valley, ID behind Chodounsky. A member of the famous 'Skiing Cochran's’ lineage, Kelley is the son of Steve and Lindy Kelley. Lindy was a 1976 Olympian and eight-year member of the U.S. Ski Team in the 70's.
  • After sitting a portion of the 2016 season out with a torn meniscus, AJ Ginnis is looking for his first World Cup points.
  • Tune into Universal HD, as former U.S. Ski Team athlete Will Brandenburg will make his broadcasting debut alongside Steve Porino.
  • Universal HD will cover the women's slalom on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET and the men's slalom on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. ET. Live streaming of both races will be available on nbcsports.com.

QUOTES

Mikaela Shiffrin
The conditions are really, really good. They’ve added some terrain on the hill this year. There are always some knolls at the top, which makes it interesting and they added a few more so that’s going to be really fun. We freeskied it today and the surface looks great. It’s perfect and race-ready. It would be nice to get Rudolph a buddy! No reindeer likes to be alone.

Watching some of the other girls skiing today, I think there’s going to be tough competition out there tomorrow. I’ll do my best and ski as fast as I can like always and see what happens.

Mike Day, Head Coach – Mikaela Shiffrin
[On the prep period coming into Levi]
The training block in Soelden was quite good…we had a productive time. We had about a half meter of snow there at the end and Soelden did an amazing job scraping snow off the race hill for us. We finished up with a great session down there before we came up to Levi yesterday.

[On Levi]
They have plenty of snow here. The training slope is super hard and well-watered, so it’s full on and ready to go. Things look good [with Mikaela] and I think Levi is a lot like Soelden in the sense that it’s a bit of an outlier and no one really knows where they’re at until it happens. We have a lot of time on the backend of it to reevaluate what we’ll need to do better. Whether it’s a victory or not, we’ll always be figuring out what we need to do better and then the rest of the season begins with Killington. It’s good. Everything is positive. 

AJ Ginnis
We were training in Geilo [Norway] for four days before coming here. It was really, really good. The snow on the training hill is super icy so hopefully the same holds up on the race hill. My knee is feeling good, which is awesome.

Resi Stiegler
We’re up here at Levi, Finland and it is very chilly. Kind of exciting to be here in a winter wonderland. It feels like Christmas with all of the little snow elves running around. The trees are beautiful with lots of snow and there are gorgeous sunrises and sunsets within a couple of hours. The snow is rock-hard. It’s our first couple of days getting injected snow, so that feels good. It actually feels nice have these cold temps and hard snow.

Everyone’s skiing fast. It’ll be nice to have the first race and get things going, but I do have some things I’m still working on and the body is still getting broken in for the season, so I’m just going to stick with some simple things to think about and go out and enjoy on Saturday. I think it’s going to be pretty exciting for our team—it’s fun to have the guys up here. We have really good energy. I think everyone’s just really giddy and excited to be racing. It’s a good vibe to be around and see everyone you haven’t seen in a while. Just trying to keep it together as well as reminding myself that I’m out here having fun and getting the season started. No panic and just enjoy the ride.

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
Live streaming available on nbcsports.com.