American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin took a big lead ahead of Slovenia’s Tina Maze after the first round of the World Cup slalom opener Saturday.
The 18-year-old slalom world champion overcame windy conditions at the top of the hill and a small mistake halfway down to clock 57.23.
Maze, last year’s overall World Cup winner, was 0.52 seconds back in second place. Maria Wallner of Germany started with bib No. 63 but surprisingly finished third, coming in just 0.69 seconds behind Shiffrin. Teammate Maria Hoefl-Riesch was tied with the same time.
Shiffrin emerged as a major star in the discipline last season, winning both the World Cup slalom title and the world championship race, making her one of the major medal favorites for the Sochi Olympics.
"She’s an amazing skier," Hoefl-Riesch said of Shiffrin. "We already knew that from last year, she is such a talented girl and strong in her head and we will have lots of fun with her the next 10 years I guess."
Occasional gusts of wind made things difficult for some skiers and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener went out at the same spot where Shiffrin struggled.
"I think on the top there was a little bit different wind conditions," said Hoefl-Riesch, who has won three World Cup slaloms in Levi and been on the podium here six times. "But my run was fine and I hope to end up on the podium today."
Marlies Schild of Austria, the slalom specialist who injured her knee in December 2012, returned for the first time since recovering fully but was already well behind Shiffrin by the time she missed a gate and skied out.
She said a lot of the skiers were held back by the wind, but was happy she felt no effects of the injury.
"Of course I wanted to race a second run but yeah, it’s not so bad at all," Schild said. "I’m in a good shape, I have no pain anymore and that’s very important for me and I just have to wait, I think, to get a good feeling."
Four-time former overall World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn skipped the Levi meet and will make her debut in the speed events in Beaver Creek, Colorado, after recovering from a right knee injury sustained in a crash in February.