Things you need to know about the 2020/2021 FIS alpine World Cup season

With calendars affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, Mikaela Shiffrin and Henrik Kristoffersen are amongst the skiers to watch as the season gets underway in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 17-18.

By Alessandro Poggi

The traditional opening event in Soelden, Austria, on 17-18 October marks the start of the 2020/21 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup.

After the premature conclusion of the previous season, the coronavirus pandemic has also affected the calendars of the upcoming campaign.

But we're still looking forward to some thrilling action on the slopes, with the top skiers battling for the titles and coveted crystal globes - Mikaela Shiffrin, Petra Vlhova, and Federica Brignone on the women's side, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, Henrik Kristoffersen, and Alexis Pinturault among the men's competitors.

But there are also a crop of young competitors coming through with hopes of race wins as we move closer to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Here's our guide to the things you need to know ahead of the new season.

Event changes for 2020/2021 season

The North American races (Killlington, Lake Louise, Beaver Creek) were cancelled and replaced by events at existing competitions in Europe.

Rigid COVID-19 protocols have been implemented: men's and women's events are kept separate, while technical and speed races have been split when possible (No combined events feature in the World Cup calendar).

The men will race 39 events across 18 venues in 9 different countries. The women will take part in 35 races (20 locations, 11 countries).

The ladies downhill and super G in Yanqing, China, on 27-28 February, were supposed to double as a test event ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, but they've been cancelled as last year's men's races.

Cortina d'Ampezzo, co-host of the 2026 Winter Games, will stage the World Championships from 8-21 February.

The 55th edition of the top alpine international circuit will wrap up with the finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, from 15-21 March.

Waiting for Shiffrin's return

Mikaela Shiffrin was supposed to make her return after nine months (Bansko Super G, 26 Jan), before announcing she would miss the season opener due to a back injury.

The two-time Olympic champion was on course to win her fourth consecutive overall globe, but she lost her lead after sitting out of competition for over a month following the death of her father Jeff.

When the American was ready to come back in Are in mid-March, the World Cup season was abruptly cancelled due to the spread of coronavirus cases, leaving her to finish second overall.

“I feel pretty strong and have had some good training,” she recently told the NYT.

“I’m ready to go but I don’t really know what to expect once we get there.”

Mikaela Shiffrin celebrates her Super G win in Bansko, Bulgaria, on 26 January 2020, her last competitive appearance to date.

The race for the overall globe will probably see Shiffrin battling out with Petra Vlhova, third last season and winner of the slalom globe, and defending champion Federica Brignone.

The 30-year-old emerged as the surprise overall World Cup winner, along with Aleksander Aamodt Kilde in the men's field, after a season heavily affected by the weather conditions and the COVID pandemic, which caused the cancellation of several events (including the finals in Cortina in March).

Giant slalom specialist Brignone leads a strong Italian team with Marta Bassino aiming to build up on the 6 podiums reached last year.

2019 Junior World champion Alice Robinson bagged two GS wins in what was her second World Cup season.

The 18-year-old aims to continue her growth path and establish herself in the circuit.

"(I aim at) being consistently in the top-three in GS," the Kiwi skier said during an Instagram live interview with the Olympic Channel.

"A big thing about winning the Crystal Globe is consistency, it's all about how well you performed for the whole season.

"I won a couple of races so I can be at that ski racing level, but for me it's more about being able to do it every race. That's kind of the biggest challenge."

In the speed events, downhill and super G queen Corinne Suter from Switzerland will face stiff competition from Brignone and PyeongChang ski and snowboard hero Ester Ledecka, who finished last season with three alpine podiums and her first victory in World Cup.

Austria's Nicole Schmidhofer, 2016 overall World Cup winner Lara Gut-Behrami and reigning downhill Olympic gold medallist Sofia Goggia will be amongst the ones to watch too.

Norway's Aleksander Aamodt Kilde emerged as the suprise overall winner in the 2019/2020 FIS World Cup season.

Kristoffersen favourite?

In the 2019/2020 men's season, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde was the most consistent skier, collecting points not just in the speed disciplines, but also in giant slalom and combined.

This season the 28-year-old Norwegian will have to fight to retain his crown, with last year's overall runner-up (and combined globe winner) Alexis Pinturault, and Henrik Kristoffersen, winner of the slalom and giant slalom titles, being his most dangerous contenders.

"Henrik is the great favourite this year with this calendar," Pinturault told FFS TV.

"[having no combined events] doesn't change much for him. He used not to race in this event, while Kilde and myself scored quite a few points.

"On the other hand he's a great slalomer and slalom is the discipline with most races this year."

With more technical races on the calendar (16 vs 21) it will be more difficult for speed specialists to compete for the big globe.

For the traditional downhill and super G races in Wengen, Kitzbuehel, and Garmisch, the ones to watch will be Switzerland's Beat Feuz and Mauro Caviezel, and the Austrian duo Matthias Mayer and Vincent Kriechmayr, along with Thomas Dressen from Germany and Italy's Dominik Paris, who has just recovered from a season-ending injury.

Sweden's Adam Hofstedt won 2 gold medals (Super G and Slalom) and one bronze medal (Alpine Combined) at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne.

Skiing's Gen Z

Two-time Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games champion Adam Hofstedt is one of the young skiers aiming to steadily compete in the World Cup.

The 18-year-old shares those lofty ambitions with fellow Swedish teammate Sara Rask who won GS gold at the last junior World Champs in Narvik, Norway, and following in the footsteps of Olympic slalom champ Frida Hansdotter.

Early this year, 19-year-old Magadalena Egger from Austria swept three gold medals in Narvick and is looking to emulate the achievements of 6-time junior champ Marco Odermatt: at 22, the Swiss has already reached four podiums in World Cup, including a win in the Beaver Creek Super G last year.

The hopes of the American team lie on the shoulders of three-time Youth Olympic gold medallist River Radamus and Luke Winters, who scored his first World Cup last season in the Val d'Isere slalom after finishing the first run in second position.

Europa Cup overall winners Atle Lie McGrath from Norway and Austria's Nadine Fest are also ready to make their breakthrough this season.

Fans during the women's Giant Slalom last season in Killington, Vermont. The North American race were cancelled from this seasons' calendars.

2020/21 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup calendar - Women

Information subject to change. Correct as of 19 January, according to the FIS World Cup Calendar

17 October 2020

Soelden (Austria): Giant Slalom

21-22 November 2020

Levi (Finland): Slalom (x2)

26 November 2020

Lech/Zuhers (Austria): Parallel Slalom

5-6 December 2020

St. Moritz (Switzerland): Super G (x2)

12-13 December 2020

Courchevel (France): Giant Slalom (x2)

18-19-20 December 2020

Val d'Isere (France): Downhill (x2), Super G

28-29 December 2020

Semmering (Austria): Giant Slalom, Slalom

3 January 2021

Zagreb (Croatia): Slalom

9-10 January 2021

St. Anton (Austria): Downhill, Super G

12 January 2021

Flachau (Austria): Slalom

16-17 January 2021

Kranjska Gora (Slovenia): Giant Slalom (x2)

22-24 January 2021

Crans Montana (Switzerland): Downhill (x2), Super G

26 January 2021

Kronplatz/Plan de Corones (Italy): Giant Slalom

30-31 January 2021

Garmisch Partenkirchen (Germany): Downhill, Super G

27-28 February 2021

Val di Fassa (Italy): Downhill, Super G

6-7 March 2021

Jasna (Slovakia): Giant Slalom, Slalom

12-13 March 2021

Are (Sweden): Slalom (x2)

17-18-19-20-21 March 2021

Lenzerheide (Switzerland): Downhill, Super G, Team Parallel, Slalom, Giant Slalom

Total events: 35 Downhill: 8; Super G: 7; Giant Slalom: 9; Slalom: 9; Parallel: 1; Team Event: 1

2020/21 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup calendar - Men

Information subject to change. Correct as of 19 January, according to the FIS World Cup Calendar

18 October 2020

Soelden (Austria): Giant Slalom

27 November 2020

Lech/Zuers (Austria): Parallel Slalom

5-6 December 2020

Santa Caterina Valfurva (Italy): Giant Slalom (x2)

12-13 December 2020

Val d'Isere (France): Downhill, Super G

18-19 December 2020

Val Gardena/Groeden (Italy): Super G, Downhill

20-21 December 2020

Alta Badia (Italy): Giant Slalom, Slalom

22 December 2020

Madonna di Campiglio (Italy): Slalom

28-29 December 2020

Bormio (Italy): Downhill, Super G

6 January 2021

Zagreb (Croatia): Slalom

8-9-10 January 2021

Adelboden (Switzerland): Giant Slalom (x2), Slalom

15-16-17 January 2021

Wengen (Switzerland): Downhill (X2), Slalom

22-23-24 January 2021

Kitzbuehel (Austria): Downhill (x2), Super G

26 January 2021

Schladming (Austria): Slalom

30-31 January 2021

Chamonix (France): Slalom (x2)

5-6 February 2021

Garmisch Partenkirchen (Germany): Super G, Downhill

27-28 February 2021

Bansko (Bulgaria): Giant Slalom (x2)

6-7 March 2021

Kvitfjell (Norway): Downhill, Super G

13-14 March 2021

Kranjska Gora (Slovenia): Giant Slalom, Slalom

17-18-20-21 March 2021

Lenzerheide (Switzerland): Downhill, Super G, Giant Slalom, Slalom.

Total events: 39 Downhill: 9; Super G: 7; Giant Slalom: 10; Slalom: 11; Parallel: 1; Team Event: 1