This weekend we head up north, nope further north, nope keep going, all the way up to where the sun don’t shine, 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle. For the second year in a row, after a Solden cancellation, the men’s World Cup season kicks off in Levi, Finland. It’s been a warm and rainy week leading up to the race, but with cold temps in the forecast tonight the race and clear skies on race day, we could end up having some nice conditions. The Levi Black is probably the easiest track on the World Cup, which makes it hard to separate. In the 2017 race, the top 30 after first run were separated by just 1.56 seconds. The winner gets to name a reindeer and fake Santa Claus is in the stands, if that doesn't get you fired up for some ski racing then I don't know what will! After a three week delay, we're all super excited for the season to finally kick off.
Where to Watch: NBC Sports has their gold package for 70 bucks that allows you to watch the races they don't televise plus a bunch of other random s#!t you have no interest in. So there's that option, or you can find an illegal stream somewhere but we didn't tell you to do that. (DM us if you need a link)
What to watch for:
Marcel Hirscher: We weren’t sure if we were going to see Marcel the Shell in last year’s race, and coming off of a broken leg and allegedly just 4 days of training he went on to finish a disappointing 17th place. That 17th place was remarkably one of only three tech races he didn’t win last season, and the only one in which he finished off the podium. In his four previous starts in Levi he has two wins and two second places. With a healthy leg and some new found dad strength look for him to return to the top two this year.
Henrik Kristoffersen: Everyone’s third or fourth favorite Norwegian finished last year’s race as the runner up, setting the stage for what had to be one of the most disappoingly successful seasons in recent memory, in which he had 12 second places in WC/OWG races to go along with just one victory (Kitzbuhel SL). The 2014 winner in Levi will be looking to start the season with a statement and let the world know that he can be a threat to Hirscher’s quest for 8 straight overalls.
Felix Neureuther: The only racer to go undefeated last season, Neureuther won the slalom opener in Levi and unfortunately suffered a season ending knee injury soon afterwards. The first race back from injury is always a tricky one to gauge but we expect Felix to be right back to podium form. (EDIT: Felix suffered a broken thumb and will not be competing in the year's race, look for his comeback later this season.)
Young Guns: It's an exciting time in Men's slalom with young new faces starting to emerge as stars. Look out for France's Clement Noel (b. 1997) and Switzerland's Loic Meillard (1996) to lead the charge for the youngsters.
Equipment Changes: Mattias Hargin: Atromic to Head, Dave Ryding: Fischer to Dynastar, Marc Rochat: Atomic to Nordica. Just three changes among the top 30 skiers in the world, but it will be interesting to see how the new equipment works/styles change for these three guys.
Team Finland: It's been five years since a Finnish skier last skied into a second run on home soil. Look for this year's team, led by veterans Joonas Rasanen and Jens Hentinen, to break that trend.
This year’s race is featuring five Americans. Hopefully the second run will feature five Americans as well. Here are our starters. Note that some of these are the same as our Solden preview. Nothing happened in Solden. Nothing has changed in our preview. Let it go.
Mark Engel: Bib 32. Our top ranked slalom skier and Nor-Am slalom champion is 27-year-old musician/Team Clif Bar athlete and former/future Utah Ute Mark Engel. Mark has shown serious speed in the past (3rd place first run in Zagreb for one) and has taken a lighter training load this summ
er to get his body fresh for the season. Look for him to be firing on all cylinders this Sunday, and watch for his exciting Hirscher-esque (but cooler) style of skiing as he hammers down the Levi Black.
Truckee, CA/Salt Lake City, UT - Sugar Bowl - Atomic
Hig Roberts: Bib 47. Higgy Baby Roberts is another member of Team Clif Bar, and our 2018 National SL Champion. The 27-year-old Roberts trains with the Canadians but is very much American. The Middlebury College grad recently switched to Nordica and after a couple really close calls last season is ready to snag his first World Cup points.
Steamboat Springs, CO - Steamboat Springs WSC/Middlebury College - Nordica
Luke Winters: Bib 48. An all arounder and future star on the US Team, Luke is ranked in the top 176 in the World in all five disciplines. He is the World Junior Bronze Medalist in Super G and won a Nor Am slalom at Stowe last year. The 21-year-old from Gresham, OR is making his World Cup debut, but don’t be surprised if he throws it in there.
Gresham, OR - Mt. Hood Race Team - Rossignol
Robby Kelley: Bib 52. We at Redneck Racing are most certainly not biased but we’ve got Robby winning in our fantasy ski racer this week. The 28-year-old from Starksboro/Duxubry, VT took the entire summer off to recover from hip surgery and build a mansion. Robby is a member/co-founder of a small independent ski team called Redneck Racing, not sure if you’ve heard of them but they’re pretty sick. He’s been back on snow for a bit over a month and the rust is off and he’s ready to win. (but we’re not biased)
Starksboro, VT - Cochran's/MMSC/UVM - Blizzard/Tecnica
River Radamus: Bib 77. Everyone’s favorite youth Olympian dominated the NorAm circuit last year earning himself a start in every World Cup race, in every discipline. He showed some serious speed from the back of the pack in his World Cup debut in Beaver Creek last year, and has been showing speed in training all summer. His unreal angles and cool guy haircut make the 20-year-old from Edwards, CO a fan favorite.
Edwards, CO - Ski Club Vail - Rossignol
Over/Under. Let us know if you’re taking the over or under in the comments.
Santa is shown on the live feed 137 times.
Time to qualify is +1.50 seconds.
The sun is visible for 20 minutes.
Two Americans qualify for second run.
3 DNFs in the top 30.
300 fans are in attendance.