Women's ski season opens with Shiffrin-Vlhova slalom duel

Following a string of cancellations, and almost a month after the men started their World Cup skiing season, the women finally hit the slopes on Saturday and Sunday above the Arctic Circle in Finland.

The men managed to ski the traditional season-opening giant slalom on the glacier in Soelden, Austria in October but bad weather prevented the women racing.

A lack of snow put paid to the next three events: men's and women's weekends in Zermatt in Switzerland and a mixed weekend in Lech in Austria.

Lapland is welcoming the skiers with temperatures well below freezing, the countryside dusted in white and the slopes covered snow stored during the summer for the World Cup piste in Levi, thanks to investments in "snowfarming".

The women will ski slaloms on Saturday and Sunday, opening the season with  a duel between the two best female skiers in the world, Mikaela Shiffrin and Petra Vlhova in their strongest discipline.

The American Shiffrin is the reigning overall World Cup champion but has been deposed as slalom queen by the Slovakian Vlhova, who is Olympic champion and holder of the small globe of the speciality.

Vlhova has five victories in Levi, including four straight: two in 2020, two in 2021.

Shiffrin won in Finland in 2013, 2016, 2018 and, most recently, in 2019, the year she claimed the last of her six slalom World Cup titles.

Looking forward to the start of the season, Vlhova said she struggled with motivation after edging Shiffrin to slalom gold in Beijing in March.

"I have already won everything I wanted to win," she said.

"I was a little removed from the world of skiing before my recovery in June. After the Olympics I felt 'empty'. But the desire is back and I'm happy."

Vlhova  won the overall World Cup title two years ago. Last season she competed not only in her speciality 'technical' disciplines of slalom and giant slalom, but also the in 'speed' races super-G and downhill. She ended the year exhausted.  She finished fourth in the giant slalom standings.

"We will focus like last year on the technical races," promised her coach Mauro Pini.

"We want to confirm our number one status in slalom, a huge challenge, and move up a notch in giant," said Pini. "For the speed, we will decide race after race."

Shiffrin already has 74 World Cup victories to her name in all disciplines and is rapidly closing on compatriot Lindsey Vonn's female record of 82 wins and the overall record of 86 held by legendary Swedish slalom king Ingemar Stenmark.

rg/bm/pb/nr