LAKE LOUISE, Alta. — Nicole Schmidhofer and Mikaela Shiffrin made significant gains in defending their World Cup crowns finishing first and second respectively in Saturday's downhill in Lake Louise.
Austria's Schmidhofer won a pair of downhills a year ago at the Alberta resort en route to claiming the season title in the discipline.
American ski star Shiffrin is the reigning overall World Cup champion who regularly wins slalom, giant slalom and super-G races.
Lake Louise was profitable for both women Saturday. Italy's Francesca Marsaglia was third for the first World Cup podium of her career.
Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., was the top Canadian in 26th.
Schmidhofer was the only woman in a field of 47 to go under one minute 50 seconds with a time of 1:49.92.
The 30-year-old Austrian was the quickest on the finishing flats squeezing her compact five-foot-two frame into an even more aerodynamic tuck.
Schmidhofer was the ninth woman to push out of the start hut and thus had to wait to see if her time would withstand challenges.
"For my nerves, a lot of work today," Schmidhofer said. "I was really nervous sitting there when I saw Mikaela and Francesca."
Finishing seventh in Friday's season-opening downhill "is not what I'm looking for," Schmidhofer said. "Today it was good skiing and I'm back on the podium and this is what I'm looking for also in other races."
Shiffrin's dominance in other ski disciplines doesn't extend to downhill.
She's had success in Lake Louise, however, winning her first career downhill and placing third in another two years ago.
So it's a course where the 24-year-old from Vail, Colo., feels comfortable and where she can augment her ranking with valuable downhill points.
Shiffrin was 10th in Friday's downhill. Her time of 1:50.05 on Saturday put Shiffrin on the podium for her best downhill result since 2017.
"After yesterday, I feel I did learn a lot," Shiffrin said. "My goal for today was to do basically everything the same but be more aggressive and letting go.
"I was able to do that, which was the biggest win because when I woke up this morning I was like 'hmmm, I'm not sure. I really don't know.'
"Yesterday I felt really good and solid and it wasn't really fast."
Marsaglia was just under half a second back of Schmidhofer for her breakthrough result.
"I've been so close so many times," the Italian said. "It was so amazing for me to do a podium here because it's not the slope for me for my skiing.
"I'm a little bit more of a technical skier."
The women cap World Cup racing in Canada with Sunday's super-G before heading to Europe.
Czech skier and snowboarder Ester Ledecka was fourth Saturday after winning the first downhill.
Heavy snowfall Friday required the start hut to be positioned lower on the course, which shortened the track by half a kilometre.
Saturday's course was the full three kilometres. The women skied under partly cloudy skies and a temperature of -5 C.
"This course keeps coming," Shiffrin said.
"It's not like the most, most difficult, but especially when speeds pick up and the speeds were higher today, going into some of these sections you feel 'whoa, I can't see anything.'
"It's a lot to process and I feel I did a great job today."
The top 30 women earned prize money from a total purse of 120,000 Swiss francs (C$160,000) and World Cup points on a descending scale.
Gagnon finished in the points a second straight day after placing 28th on Friday.
"Really, it's three gates I've just got to nail and the rest was really good," the 30-year-old said. "It's a step forward and again in the points is good, sure, I'll take it.
"I'm not going to lie. I wanted a little bit more, especially after watching the video and knowing where I could gain some time. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."
Roni Remme of Collingwood, Ont., was 40th and Toronto's Candace Crawford did not finish.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2019.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press