LAKE LOUISE, Alta. — Aleksander Aamodt Kilde opened defence of his World Cup downhill title with his first career victory in Lake Louise, Alta., on Saturday.
The Norwegian took up the mantle from former teammates Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud, who combined for three downhill victories at the Banff National Park resort in a span of five years from 2010 to 2015.
Kilde claimed the men's downhill and super-G World Cup titles last season.
The 30-year-old also finished second in the overall to Switzerland's Marco Odermatt.
The leader of Norway's "Attacking Vikings" was relieved to start the season strong in Lake Louise.
"It's a lot of weight off the shoulders for sure, coming from a really good season last year, taking the globe, it comes with a lot of pressure," Kilde said.
"Winning the first race is always nice because you know the speed is there. You know you're doing something right."
Kilde, starting sixth, was quickest down the three-kilometre course by over a second until Austria's Daniel Hemetsberger, two starters later, sliced into that lead.
Hemetsberger challenged Kilde down the course, but lost time on the final straightway to place second by just six hundredths of a second.
"It's always so nerve-wracking sitting there and seeing the best the best skiers in the world hammering down there," Kilde said.
Odermatt placed third to start his bid for back-to-back overall crowns.
The Swiss skier's strength is giant slalom, but winning the overall crystal globe requires top results across the other disciplines of downhill, super-G and slalom.
"I think downhill will be the key discipline again this year for the overall title," Odermatt said.
"One of my biggest rival Alek showed again his ambition for the overall title as well, so he will definitely try to beat me and we will have many more fights this season."
Brodie Seger of Whistler, B.C. and Calgary's Jeffrey Read were the top Canadians in 26th and 27th amid a field of 69 starters from 15 different countries.
Friday's downhill was called off because of heavy, wet snow and rescheduled to Saturday, which replaced one of two planned super-G races.
Saturday's downhill ran under mostly cloudy conditions and a temperature of minus-7 C.
A super-G is scheduled for Sunday when more snow is forecasted. The Canadian men's speed team as a group is currently stronger in super-G than downhill.
A skier's base goal is a top-30 finish, because that is where World Cup points and prize money are.
Points determine rankings, which factor into start positions in subsequent races.
A top-30 start is considered advantageous because the skiers traverse a more pristine course than later starters do.
A win at Lake Louise is also worth 50,000 Swiss francs (C$70,000), down to 550 for 30th.
Seger was the 34th man to kick out of the start hut Saturday and Read was 37th.
"Right now, I need to chip away every race at getting in the top 30 and just collecting points every where I can," said Seger, 26.
"This might not be as many points as I'd like, but I'll take it to the bank."
Read, who lost a ski and crashed in the first training run in Lake, Louise, earned his first career World Cup points there.
"The top 30 is where they hand out points and money," said the 25-year-old. "To get my (start) bib lower and be more competitive in World Cups, I've got to get myself into that top 30.
"I need World Cup points to get there. This is a drop in the bucket of what I need, but something I'm happy with."
Toronto's James Crawford, starting 18th, was fastest in the week's first training run and third in the second.
But the 25-year-old hit a bump, crossed his ski tips and landed on his haunch on the upper portion of the course Saturday.
Crawford recovered to cross the finish line, but lost a second and a half on Kilde with the mishap and ended up 47th.
"The day ended before it even started, unfortunately," Crawford said. "Luckily we have another race tomorrow.
"I think I had a really good shot today. The skiing was definitely there to contend and put down something that could have been special for myself.
"Unfortunately it didn't happen, and I've got to just try again tomorrow."
Broderick Thompson of Whistler, B.C., was 50th and Calgary's Trevor Philp placed 57th.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2022.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press