LEVI, Finland – Having won the season's first giant slalom, Tina Maze of Slovenia has the form, confidence and ambition to add the opening slalom on Saturday and extend her lead for the women's overall World Cup title.
Maze is also getting help thanks to one of her main challengers, four-time overall champion Lindsey Vonn, deciding to skip the Levi event.
The American is focusing on the Aspen races this month, the only U.S. stop on the women's circuit.
Maze was the distant runner-up to Vonn in the overall standings last year, her cause undermined by failing to win a race. But she ended that 20-month drought when she convincingly won the first World Cup race in Soelden, Austria, two weeks ago.
Maze arrived with the Slovenian team last Sunday to Levi, 105 miles north of the Arctic circle, making it the northernmost World Cup venue.
"It's good to be here (early). Then you have time to explore the places, people and, of course, the race course and snow," she said. "It's the opening (slalom) for the season and I'm going to do my best on Saturday."
For American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin, the black piste course will be a first-time experience since organizers last year were forced to cancel the races due to a lack of snow. This year the forecast was much better.
"It will be interesting racing where it's dark most of the time," Shriffin said.
There are doubts about Olympic slalom champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who has a hip injury and had to limit her training, but a win by Austrian slalom specialist Marlies Schild could match the discipline record of Swiss great Vreni Schneider. Schild won six of 10 slaloms last season and has 33 in her career. She won the Levi races in 2006 and 2010.
On the men's side, last season's winner of the slalom title, Andre Myhrer of Sweden, will go head-to-head with defending overall champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria.
Hirscher and Croatia's Ivica Kostelic dominated most of last season's slaloms, sharing eight wins between them, but Myhrer finished strong to snatch the discipline title. And Anders Sundqvist, sports director for the Swedish team, says Myhrer is again up for the challenge.
"We know that Andre is skiing well right now and it will be fun to see how he and the other (Swedish) guys will do in the premier," he said.
Also in contention were Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Grange, the 2011 world champion and 2010 race winner, and American Ted Ligety, a 2006 Olympic gold medalist and the season-opening GS winner in Soelden.
"Levi is a pretty tame hill with a lot of rolls, some flats and a short steep into a flat finish," Ligety said. "But it is in the Arctic Circle so it can be super icy and wet in some spots, plus you have a lot of variability with light since the sun sets so early."