Lara Gut likes a downhill course icy and extreme, with just a touch of technical elements along the way.
No wonder she felt so comfortable on the new Beaver Creek track, finding speed in steep spots where others tapped the brakes.
Quick in training all week, the Swiss star carried it over to race day. She breezed to her second World Cup win of the season, taking the season-opening downhill on Friday in an event Lindsey Vonn skipped to rehabilitate her right knee.
Gut was nearly flawless along the challenging course, finishing in 1 minute, 41.26 seconds. She beat Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein by 0.47 seconds. Elena Fanchini of Italy finished third.
Gut had the fastest time in two of three training sessions this week on the course built for the 2015 world championships. This difficult hill almost felt custom made for her.
“I like the snow. I like the slope, because you just have to fight,” said Gut, who also captured a giant slalom race in Soelden, Austria, in October. “I’m in good shape right now. Everything is going well.”
That was hardly the case four years ago when Gut dislocated her hip during giant slalom training and missed the entire season, including the Vancouver Games.
These days, everything the 22-year-old skier does is with an eye on the Sochi Olympics in February next year.
“I’ve been working so hard to be back,” Gut said. “I had to build everything again, my body, my skiing skills, my feeling on the snow. I think right now, just everything is paying off.”
The US skiiers did not have an ideal day on their home hill, with Stacey Cook turning in the best finish in 19th place, 2.23 seconds behind Gut. Julia Mancuso wound up 20th.
“We really wanted to represent our team well to the home crowd,” Cook said. “I don’t think that happened today.”
The US squad was missing Vonn, who was over in nearby Vail squeezing in some morning super-G training runs as she strengthens her knee. Vonn did not attend the race because she said watching would be “too hard on me.”
The reigning Olympic downhill champion was planning a return for this race after tearing ligaments in her knee during an accident at the world championships in February. She was on target, too, before her crash during training last week at the speed center in Copper Mountain.
Vonn remains hopeful of a return next week in Lake Louise, Alberta.
“It’s looking a lot better than everyone expected,” Vonn said of her recovery. “Things are going well.”
Asked if it mattered that Vonn was not in the starting gate, Gut said: “It’s not like a tennis match where two people are playing against [each other]. Here, we’re 60 in the gate. If Lindsey is not here, we’re 59. She’s a really a strong skier, but World Cup is not just about Lindsey.”
Gut won two silver medals at the 2009 world championships in Val d’Isere, France, about seven months before the crash in which she hurt her hip. She was skiing well and, if healthy, might have been a factor when Vonn won her Olympic downhill in Vancouver.
“Nobody asked Lindsey if it was different that I wasn’t at the Olympics,” Gut said, smiling.
“If you win, nobody cares who was there and who was not,” she added.