When the FIS Alpine World Championships kick off this week in Beaver Creek, it will be only the fourth time since the event started in 1931 that a stand-alone world championships will take place on American soil (the 1960 and 1980 Olympics were also considered world championships). This event is perhaps even more significant because it comes at a time when the Americans are skiing as well as anyone in the world. For the first time since 1999, they'll have the opportunity to prove it at home.
The ladies field is particularly ripe with story lines. The 2015 Worlds are a homecoming of sorts for both Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin. Vonn, native of St. Paul, Minnesota, moved to Vail in the late '90s, and Shiffrin was born and spent most of her childhood here.
Vonn has been red hot since returning from a pair of knee injuries that kept her out of the Sochi Olympics. She recently broke the women's record for most World Cup wins in history, is leading the World Cup in both Downhill and Super G, and has won half of the races she's entered this season. She's in—from, motivated, and at home. Justifiably, she'll be the favorite in both speed events.
She'll have to contend with Switzerland's Lara Gut. The 23-year-old is coming off a Downhill win in St. Moritz, and won on Beaver Creek's new Raptor course when it was first put to the test during the 2013-14 World Cup season. She likes the course and likes racing in the U.S.
Shiffrin hasn't had quite the year Vonn has enjoyed, but does have two slaloms and one G.S. victories on the World Cup this season, and is ranked 2nd (slalom) and 3rd in the two technical disciplines. The 2014 Olympic gold medalist in slalom has proven she can step up in big races, and should be considered the favorite in her hometown.
Two other female skiers to keep an eye on are Julia Mancuso and Tina Maze. Mancuso is like the Cris Carter of ski racing—all she does is win medals. She won't contend for Vonn's all-time World Cup wins record, but she has four Olympic and five World Championship medals.
Maze leads the overall World Cup by virtue of sitting in the top five in all four disciplines. She is a consistent threat in any discipline.
On the men's side, the story for most American fans will be Bode Miller. Miller hasn't raced a World Cup all season while recovering from back surgery, but was named to the World Championship roster. He's expected to be a race-day decision. Expecting him to jump into his first race and contend would be a stretch. But then, this is Bode Miller.
Instead, look for Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud to be the favorite in both speed events. Jansrud is leading the World Cup in both Downhill and Super G, and recently won the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuhel, Austria (albeit on a shortened course). Jansrud also won the Downhill in Beaver Creek in December, and was 2nd in the Super G.
American hopes for a speed win realistically lay with Steven Nyman. The Utah native was 3rd on this course in December and is currently ranked 4th in the World Cup downhill standings, thanks largely to a win in Val Gardena, Italy, and a career-best 5th place in Kitzbuhel.
In G.S., look no further than Park City's Ted Ligety, the two-time defending World Champion. Ligety cleaned up at the last World Championships, in Schladming, Austria, in 2013, winning gold in the combined and the Super G, in addition to defending his G.S. world title from 2011. Ligety is currently 2nd in the World Cup G.S. standings, and won in Beaver Creek in December. Like Mancuso, he also has a reputation to stepping up for big events, including two Olympic gold medals and five medals (four gold) at the World Championships.
Austria's Marcel Hirscher, who currently leads Ligety in the World Cup G.S. standings, is also a name to watch in the Slalom. Hirscher currently ranks 2nd in Slalom, behind Germany's Felix Neureuther. Neureuther, the German national champ, has been more consistent than dominant. He has two slalom wins on the season, but has been on the podium in every World Cup slalom that he's finished (he DNF'd in Adelboden, Switzerland).
The FIS Alpine World Championships kick off on Tuesday, February 3, with the ladies Super G, and run through February 15.
For a complete schedule of events, go here.