The Alpine World Cup season kicks into high gear this weekend with the debut of a pair of Women’s Slalom competitions in Levi, Finland, nestled somewhere 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
Now, if you’re an average person you might be questioning if not outright shunning the idea of traveling to anywhere north of the Arctic Circle. But if you are a World Cup alpine athlete you are clearly not an average person. The women competing this weekend are chasing dreams, in the pursuit of glory, and executing that “perfect run” culminating in a top podium finish and walking away with (drum roll) a 1st place Reindeer! No, I’m not kidding.
In true Finnish custom (I know nothing about Finnish customs), the winners of Levi’s annual slalom are each awarded one of Lapland’s finest, multi-antlered reindeer with (most importantly) exclusive naming rights. And yes, the name “Rudolph” is already taken (you all are so predictable).
The clear favorite this weekend will be the returning Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) who is marking her first competition since the accidental death of her father Jeff Shiffrin last February. Shiffrin’s domination in the slalom event is punctuated by 34 wins in her last 43 slalom World Cup races, including earning four of the last seven reindeer in Levi (one of those she named Rudolph).
Challenging Shiffrin for this year’s native hooved mammal will be fellow reindeer owner and last year’s slalom Crystal Globe winner Petra Vhlova (SVK). Vhlova is fresh off a 3rd place Giant Slalom finish in Solden (Austria) and is posed to gain a swift advantage over Shiffrin for any mishap. Wendy Holdener (SUI) and Katharina Liensberger (AUT) will also be in hot pursuit of a Christmas-ready reindeer. Watch out for Holdener, the Swiss icon is likely to “leave it all on the course” as she has yet to claim her first victory in 24 podium finishes.
Notably absent from this weekend’s competition will be Swedish slalom specialist Anna Swenn-Larsson. She and the entire Swedish Women’s Ski Team are under quarantine after head coach Christian Thoma tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday. Though a disappointed Swenn-Larsson reported on Instagram that she tested negative four times in the last six days, the team will nonetheless remain under quarantine for the duration of their stay in Levi. Sadly, missing two of this year’s nine Slalom competitions will make it near impossible for Swenn-Larsson to accumulate the points needed in her pursuit of a Slalom Crystal Globe.
For a video preview of the tomorrow’s race see:
The races will be streamed or broadcast on NBC’s Peacock TV, Olympic Channel, and NBC Sports (delayed broadcast).