BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Ted Ligety simply can’t be caught these days. Not on these new giant slalom skis, anyway.
At least, that’s the prevailing feeling among a good portion of his competitors.
Ligety easily captured his second straight World Cup GS race with a flawless and fast final run Sunday. He finished in a combined time of 2 minutes, 25.59 seconds to hold off top rival Marcel Hirscher of Austria by 1.76 seconds. Davide Simoncelli of Italy was third.
“Ted is Mr. GS,” said Hirscher, the reigning overall champion. “He should have to ski two or three gates more than the other skiers.”
Certainly a good idea, given the way he’s crushing the competition.
So, is he unbeatable?
“At the moment, yes,” Hirscher said.
The last racer of the day, Ligety gained speed throughout the tricky course and built on his first-run advantage. Soon after finishing off his blazing run, Ligety bowed down and kissed the snow.
Everyone is pretty much bowing to him, because no one is coming close to him in his favorite event. And, really, this one was never in doubt.
“Ted is super. I (wanted) just to do my best — maybe for second place, because first place was impossible,” Simoncelli said. “Ted is on another level.”
Indeed. Although, he doesn’t see it that way.
“I’m skiing fast. But I don’t know if I’m skiing at a different level,” said Ligety, who now has seven podium finishes in Beaver Creek, including three wins. “If I keep skiing this fast, then, I guess, yeah, it’s mostly me that’s going to get in my own way. I think those guys have a chance to get up there and tackle me and take me down. I think it will be tough races ahead.”
Ligety expected the rule changes altering the shape of giant slalom skis would make them more difficult to turn and far less forgiving.
That’s why he was so outspoken when the International Ski Federation implemented equipment changes this season to make the discipline safer. The new skis require extreme exertion and patience.
But there’s something Ligety really didn’t expect: He’d be faster than the field.
Not by a little bit, either, but by chunks of time.
Ligety won the season opening GS in Soelden, Austria, in late October. He demolished the competition, winning by 2.75 seconds, which was the biggest winning margin since 1979.
On Sunday, Ligety picked right back up where he left off.
Must be the new skis, right?
“No. He is just an excellent skier,” Hirscher said.
Still, the skis do give him a slight advantage in the eyes of his competition.
“I think these (new skis) are better for Ted,” said Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, who wound up sixth after finishing runner-up in both the downhill and super-G this week. “Because Ted has a lot of force on the ski, after the (turn). That’s where these skis are better than old ones. The old ones were better coming into the turn, and I think Ted is really good with staying with it.”
Ligety’s biggest challenger acknowledges as much. Hirscher captured the discipline crown last season, ending Ligety’s two-year reign. Now, like the rest of the skiers, he’s trying to catch up to Ligety, who’s quickly mastered the new setup.
“Ted is incredible,” Hirscher said. “It’s always really amazing to ski with him. He is bringing the GS sport a bit farther.”
Ligety spent a lot of time in Chile during the offseason to figure out the new skis. Ever so steadily, the skier nicknamed “Shred” has found his rhythm.
And he’s even beginning to warm up to the new equipment changes.
“In a way, these skis will be a separator,” Ligety said. “The best guys will be able to ski on them pretty well. The second-tier group of guys will be a lot farther off.
“It’s going to take being more precise with your timing and being in better position with your body, because these skis really accentuate a skier’s weaknesses in their skiing.”
Ligety thought the changes to the hourglass shape would set the discipline back not years, but decades. Younger kids wouldn’t want to ski on them because, well, they’re so hard to turn and control.
But he’s put his beef on the back burner.
“I wanted to step it up, especially after the criticism I had of the rules changes,” said the 28-year-old Ligety, who’s from Park City, Utah. “I felt like I needed to really work hard and prove that those aren’t going to be an excuse for me not to be fast.
“It’s still pretty shady science. But I realized these skis could be good for me.”
So far, that’s quite evident.
“My GS skiing is going very, very well,” Ligety said. “Your margin for error is much smaller on the new skis, that’s for sure. They don’t have the range of ability we had on the old skis.”
Svindal feels the same way.
“I don’t mind them. But they’re way more influenced by conditions,” Svindal said. “In bad conditions, they’re bad. In good conditions, they’re good.”
The Beaver Creek course in Colorado is considered first-rate. But the grippy nature of the snow takes some getting used to.
“It’s kind of an awkward first run of GS here, because it’s always way grippier than any of us anticipate it being,” Ligety said.
He had no difficulty in run No. 2, easily pulling away from the field.
“At the moment, it is very, very hard to beat Ted,” Hirscher said. “I think there is no opportunity to stay (in) first place or make a victory.
“He is the fastest GS skier right now.”