Austrians dominate Winternational

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Austria's Nicole Hosp wins the 2014 World Cup slalom at Aspen Mountain. Hosp retired after last season.
Alessandro Trovati / AP | AP

ASPEN — The Austrians brought their own script to this year’s Aspen Winternational.

With their second World Cup victory in as many days, the Austrian ski racers demonstrated that they are not interested in any Hollywood endings in Aspen.

Nicole Hosp, the 31-year-old veteran of the Austrian Ski Team, made sure of that.

Hosp, who hasn’t won a World Cup race since 2008, came from behind in the second run Sunday to overtake the field and win the World Cup slalom on Aspen Mountain.

The Austrian surpassed first-run leader Mikaela Shiffrin, the teenage Olympic gold medalist from Eagle-Vail, who had a midcourse bobble on the second run, finishing fifth overall.

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Shiffrin had finished sixth Saturday in the giant slalom as the Austrians turned Shiffrin’s made-for-TV weekend into an Austrian reality show.

Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter, 28, also rallied in the second run Sunday, finishing second.

Austrian Kathrin Zettel — the queen of Aspen Mountain — finished third, expanding her record to 10 podium finishes at World Cup races in Aspen. Zettel, 27, was second to teammate Eva-Maria Brem in Saturday’s giant slalom as Austria landed two skiers on the podium each day in Aspen.

“This victory is like my first victory,” Hosp said, recounting a long struggle back from a series of injuries. “It was a really, really hard time. … I had a lot of injuries, a lot of bad years.”

Comeback kid

Hosp, who competed in her first World Cup race at age 17, rose to the top of the skiing world in 2007 when she won the overall World Cup title.

But after her 2008 victory in Maribor, Slovenia, the winning stopped.

Until Sunday.

“The second run was really difficult, really turny,” said Hosp, who was seventh-fastest in the first run, 0.82 seconds behind Shiffrin. “Also … (with) the altitude, it’s hard to have enough power.”

But Hosp found the power, linking smooth turns and recording the fastest time in the second run (54.62).

Shiffrin posted a 56.52 in the final run to finish 1.08 seconds behind in the two-run combined time.

Hosp said she was healthy entering the season, coming off a strong summer of training.

“And my skis are working really, really good,” she said with a nod to her Fischer racing skis and her ski technicians.

Asked why the Austrians excelled in Aspen over the weekend, Hosp said, “I think … because the hill is really difficult to ski. There are a lot of rolls; there’s not much that is the same. And I think we are really good (technical) skiers.”

Hosp, who has won a combined 10 medals at the Olympics and World Championships, raced on the same slopes on Aspen Mountain two years ago in NorAm races as she tried to rebuild her World Cup points.

Zettel, her Austrian teammate, said the challenging course down Strawpile, across W. 5th Avenue and down E. 5th Avenue suits the Austrian team.

“I love difficult places,” Zettel said. “Aspen is one of the toughest races we have in the World Cup.”

She said she felt good in the first run, a 59-gate course set by the German coaches.

“I was horrible in the second run. … I didn’t think it was enough for the podium,” she said of the 60-gate second course, set by the Swiss coaches.

Zettel said she was motivated in the offseason by her struggles last season. And she was motivated by her previous success in Aspen.

“For me, Aspen has such a big heart,” Zettel said in her emotional post-race news conference. “I always love to come here.”

Crowd cheers Shiffrin

Shiffrin, the wunderkind with two World Cup slalom championships on her brief resume, was bidding for her first victory on American snow and a record 10th World Cup slalom win. She’s currently tied with American racing legend Tamara McKinney for the most wins by a U.S. slalom skier.

McKinney, who won in Aspen in 1981, was in the huge crowd Sunday at the finish area as the Austrians dashed the American dreams in spite of deafening cheers for Shiffrin and the other U.S. racers.

Resi Stiegler, who started her racing career at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, sparked the Aspen crowd with a dynamic first run. She weaved her way through the gates and finished 11th, much to the delight of a delegation of Wyoming fans who made the trip to Aspen.

She posted an identical second run to finish 11th, a smile-producing finish for the American.

Hailey Duke, another dramatic recovery story and a skiing independent, completed the first run but did not qualify for the second.

Paula Moltzan, of Minnesota, was knocked off course early in the first run but managed to get back on line.

She slid down again on her hip and was one of 10 skiers who did not finish the first run.

Shiffrin was reflective after the weekend of racing in Aspen.

“I have a little bit of work to do on my slalom, honestly, and I knew that coming into this race,” Shiffrin said. “I’m really trying to get back to the skiing where I know that it’s good enough no matter what and I can step into the gate with confidence.”

She said she knew she would have to have a strong second run even with her first-run lead.

“I think I had to pull something special out in the second run in order to win. Some of those other girls did that,” Shiffrin said.

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