Val d'Isere, in southwestern France, will hold the men's downhill, Super G and GS races. PHOTO: US Ski Team
The men's World Cup tour was forced to pack up and move to France when the lack of snow cancelled five back-to-back North American races scheduled for Lake Louise and Beaver Creek. So far there's no word from FIS if or when the Canadian downhill and Super G will be replaced. However, the Beaver Creek races are confirmed for Val d'Isere, which include the season's first speed events: a downhill on Friday, December 2, and Super G on Saturday, December 3. In addition, Val d'Isere will also hold a giant slalom race on Sunday, December 4, replacing the canceled Colorado event.
The last World Cup downhill held in Val d'Isere for the men was in 2007 when French speed specialist Pierre—Emmanuel Dalcin scored his only career downhill victory beating Canadian duo Erik Guay and Mani Osborne-Paradis. Both the downhill and Super G will be staged on the iconic 'OK' speed track, which takes its name from two legendary Val d'Isere racers: 1948 Olympic Champion Henri Oreiller and Jean-Claude Killy—who remains one of two skiers in history to pull off alpine racing's Triple Crown, winning gold medals in downhill, giant slalom, and slalom at the 1968 Olympics—an accomplishment approaching its 50th anniversary.
American downhiller and veteran US Ski Team member Steven Nyman not only captured three podiums on Beaver Creek's Birds of Prey, but is one of the few current racers with experience on Val d'Isere's track. Nyman spoke with POWDER contrasting the two venues.
"It's unfortunate that Beaver Creek was cancelled, as it has the best combination of speed and technical turns. I'm one of the old guys who actually did well in Val d'Isere when I was young,” said the 34-year-old Nyman. “I like the track. It's a classic, traditional downhill. The course has high-speed gliding out of the start, then long swinging turns that move you side to side over the wide pitches."
Given his assessment, Val d'Isere's OK run could favor the big, strong gliders like Nyman and Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR).
Since 1955, Val d'Isere has hosted major alpine races, and in 1972 delivered the World Cup's youngest winner: Piero Gros of Italy, in the GS. With the cancelled Birds of Prey giant slalom moving to this storied French resort, the decades-old La Face de Bellvarde run will once again test athletes with its steep pitches and abundant challenging terrain. Though the course sets may be similar to Beaver Creek, one key element will be missing: perfectly groomed, grippy, forgiving Colorado snow. More importantly, Val d'Isere will continue the Ted Ligety (USA) and Marcel Hirscher (AUT) rivalry—this generation's heavy-weight battle—with the head-to-head GS podium count very close: Hirscher 31, Ligety 30 (adjusted for Ligety's injury time-out).
Based on previous performances, Hirscher's four-for-four wins could shift momentum his way leaving the rest of the field fighting for second place. That said, Ligety made a strong second-run statement at Sölden that, despite season-ending injuries in 2016, his form is returning quickly. Combine that with his two GS podiums in the last five Val d'Isere outings and Ligety could pick up number three. The only other potential spoiler with recent Val d'Isere momentum is Felix Neureuther (GER), who finished second in the 2015 contest. Ironically, with only one Val d'Isere GS podium between them, Frenchmen Alexis Pinturault and Thomas Fanara's results read more like a chapter from Les Misèrables, which has the local fans begging for redemption.
Running in parallel with the men, the women's World Cup tour is on in Lake Louise with three speed events: downhill races on both Friday, December 2, and Saturday, December 3, with a Super G on Sunday the 4th. The unfortunate news is that Lindsay Vonn (USA) will not be in the field. An arm injury sustained in a training crash at Copper Mountain on November 10 is keeping her out of the start house.
POWDER spoke with US Ski Team speed specialist, Laurenne Ross, who has a deep connection with Lake Louise. "I spent my younger years skiing in these mountains. Coming back to this area puts me at ease; it makes me feel small and allows me to breathe deeply,” Ross said. “My preparation has been strong; I feel really good going into this weekend. Though the start was moved down a bit and there's less terrain because the snow levels are low, the course still runs well and speeds will be up by race day. As a team, we are missing Lindsey and Julia [Mancuso], but it's exciting to have Mikaela [Schiffrin] here skiing downhill with us."
Vonn's void from the 'Lake Lindsey Classic' is huge as the American has earned more than a dozen downhill victories since 2004 while staking her claim to this Canadian event. Any one of several top 10 finishers from last season could fill this void. But in the best position to take Vonn's place on the podium is a pair of Swiss women: Fabienne Suter, who finished second in 2016's overall downhill standings with four podiums—Lake Louise among those—and seven top 10 results, along with teammate Lara Gut, who was first in both the 2016 overall championship and in Super G. Gut will be pushing hard for points in Canada after skiing out of the GS at Killington.
Whoever stands on top of the Lake Louise podium better enjoy the moment. Vonn is the tour's Come Back Kid and is talking about returning in January to continue her quest to surpass Ingemar Stenmark's 86 World Cup wins.
US Men at Val d'Isere (Start lists not finalized until the day before the race)
Downhill & Super G
Bryce Bennett: Squaw Valley, CA
Tommy Biesemeyer: Keene, NY
Travis Ganong: Squaw Valley, CA
Jared Goldberg: Holladay, UT
Steven Nyman: Sundance, UT
Andrew Weibrecht: Lake Placid, NY
Super G & GS
Ryan Cochran-Siegle: Starksboro, VT
Tommy Ford: Bend, OR
Ted Ligety: Park City, UT
David Chodounsky: Crested Butte, CO
Brennan Rubie: Salt Lake City, UT
Top Picks at Val d'Isere (Start lists not finalized until the day before the race)
Downhill: Svindal (NOR), Nyman (USA), Reichelt (AUT), Paris (ITA), Fill (ITA)
Super G: Kilde (NOR), Svindal (NOR), Jansrud (NOR), Weibrecht (USA), Theaux (FRA)
GS: Hirscher (AUT), Ligety (USA), Neureuther (GER), Fanara (FRA), Kristoffersen (NOR)
US Women at Lake Louise (Start lists not finalized until the day before the race)
Downhill & Super G
Stacey Cook: Mammoth Lakes, CA
Breezy Johnson: Victor, ID
Anna Marno: Steamboat Springs, CO
Alice McKennis: New Castle, CO
Laurenne Ross: Bend, OR
Mikaela Shiffrin: Vail, CO
Leanne Smith: North Conway, NH
Jacqueline Wiles: Aurora, OR
Top Picks at Lake Louise (Start lists not finalized until the day before the race)
Downhill: F. Suter (SUI), N. Fanchini (ITA), Cook (USA), Huetter (AUT), Gut (SUI)
Super G: Gut (SUI), Huetter (AUT), Brignone (ITA), Ross (USA), Rebensburg (GER)
Broadcast Times (check local listings for any updates)
Val d'Isere-Men's World Cup Races
Downhill: Friday, December 2, NBCSN 1 pm ET
Super G: Saturday, December 3, NBCSN 5 pm ET
GS: Sunday, December 4, NBCSN 5 pm ET
Lake Louise-Women's World Cup Races
Downhill #1: Friday, December 2, Universal HD 7:30 pm ET
Downhill #2: Saturday, December 3, Universal HD 6:30 pm ET and NBCSN 8 pm ET
Super G: Sunday, December 4, Universal HD 6:00 pm ET and NBCSN 6:30 pm ET