What now? While we understandably obsess about women’s World Cup ski racing, and the entire world thinks that Mikaela Shiffrin will four-peat as the overall champion, who knows what’s going to happen this season with the men?
The great Marcel Hirscher announced his retirement last month, and since he’s won the last eight World Cup championships in dominating fashion, no one has any idea who ascends the throne.
In 2011, the last time Hirscher didn’t win, Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic brought home the globe, followed by Switzerland’s Didier Cuche and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal. They’re all retired.
Italy’s Christof Innerhofer finished fourth — he’s now 34 — and Switzerland’s Carlo Janka, the Iceman, 33, took fifth.
We are likely going to see a whole new generation emerge from Hirscher’s shadow when the men kick out of the gate in Soelden, Austria, on Sunday for the traditional season-opening giant slalom.
Following the path
Historically, the World Cup champ raced in all five disciplines — downhill, super-G, GS, slalom and combined. (The parallel slalom/GS/city event wasn’t a thing yet.)
In addition to winning an unprecedented eight titles, Hirscher redefined how to win those globes. He dominated tech events — crushing the giant slalom and slalom while entering the occasional combined.
Hirscher never entered a downhill during his entire career. He raced just 22 super-G, winning just one at Birds of Prey, not surprising given that it is one of the more technical speed courses on tour.
Another thing that helped Hirscher and likely benefits Shiffrin, certainly more of an all-around racer than the Austrian but whose wheelhouse is GS and slalom, is that there are more technical events than speed on the modern schedule.
Straight up, the men have 21 tech races (nine giant slaloms and 12 slaloms) and 18 speed races (10 downhills and eight super-G’s). Now add in the new genre of parallel giant slaloms/slaloms/city events and combined events, which favor the tech racers and the techsters have 26 events to the speedsters’ 18.
So, as we try to guess who emerges in a post-Hirscher world, tech specialists might be a place to start.
The leading contenders for this path would be France’s Alexis Pinturault and Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen. The Frenchman finished second in the points last year, while the Norwegian was fourth. Both have been laboring in Hirscher’s shadow.
Pinturault might be the next Mr. GS, with apologies to Ted Ligety. He’s finished either third or second in that discipline’s point chase for the last seven seasons. Of his 23 career World Cup wins, Pinturault has won 11 times in GS and has eight wins in combined.
Kristoffersen had a better year last season in GS with his two World Cup wins and a gold medal from the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in that discipline, but his background is slalom. Fifteen of his 18 career wins are in slalom.
Need for speed
As noted, with fewer speed races on the slate, it’s harder for the pure downhiller to win the overall. One has to go back to Cuche in 2006-07 for a true ski-tips-down guy winning the big globe.
Yes, Janka (2010), Svindal (2009) and Bode Miller (2008) were good at speed, but 75 percent of Cuche’s points in 2006-07 were from downhill and super-G.
Piinturault finished last season with 1,233 points, the most among male racers not named Hirscher, followed by Italy’s Domink Paris (1,119), who is the top returning speed stud, followed by Kristoffersen (1,101).
Other speedsters to watch are Austria’s Vincent Kriechmayr, Switzerland’s Beat Feuz and Mauro Caviezel and Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud.
The wild card?
In an increasing world of specialization, Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde is the closest racer there is to an overall guy along with Pinturault. Kilde finished eighth in the points last year
Not as well known as the rest of the Fighting Vikings — Svindal, Jansrud, and Kristoffersen — Kilde does have the tools and is only 27, still young coming from a predominantly speed background.
Just keep an eye on Kilde.
As much as it would be cool to have a speedster rule the roost — go Paris — we still like Pinturault or Kristoffersen to capture the globe in the post-Hirscher era.