Shiffrin can shine again through the Arctic darkness

Helsinki (AFP) –


Mikaela Shiffrin has a chance to make an early-season statement as the World Cup heads to the Arctic circle for races in her strongest event, the slalom, in Levi, Finland.

The American has won the World Cup slalom title in each of the last three seasons and six times in the last seven.

At 24, she is well on course to eclipse the career achievements of her fellow countrywoman Lindsey Vonn, who bowed out earlier this year with 82 World Cup victories and 20 World Cup Crystal Globes, including four overall titles.

Already a three-time overall champion, Shiffrin has notched 60 World Cup wins and is on track to pass not just Vonn's 82 but the record of 86 set by the Swede Ingemar Stenmark.

Last season, Shiffrin claimed 17 wins from the 26 races she entered as she became the first skier in World Cup history to win all six Alpine disciplines.

Shiffrin can reassert her dominance when the women race on Saturday. In the season-opening giant slalom three weeks ago in Soelden, she was knocked into second place by 17-year-old New Zealand sensation Alice Robinson.

A win under the floodlights at Levi, where the sun is currently up for a mere four hours a day, will secure Shiffrin her fourth reindeer -- the traditional winner's trophy which is kept and looked after in Lapland throughout the year.

- Men's crown up for grabs -

Men's skiing also lost an icon after last season with the retirement of Marcel Hirscher.

The Austrian had won eight successive overall world cup titles but the slopes are now opened up to other contenders.

Sunday's men's slalom offers an early showcase for would-be champions.

The two favourites to claim Hirscher's crown are slalom specialists Frenchman Alexis Pinturault and Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen.

The 28-year-old Pinturault, second overall last year, won in Soelden three weeks ago.

Meanwhile Kristoffersen, who finished second at Levi last year and third overall, made a disappointing start to this season, placing 18th in Soelden after an error on his second run.

Pinturault's teammate Clement Noel, who won slalom silver last season, announced earlier this month that he will be racing in Levi after a time out following a back injury in September.

The French team will be hoping to improve on their fortunes last year in Finland, where both Noel and Victor Muffat-Jeandet missed podium finishes with errors at the same gate, metres from the finish line, within minutes of each other.

Pinturault did not make the leaderboard at all after failing to finish his first run.

After cold weather and heavy snowfall in Lapland, slopes at Levi are in 'optimal' condition said the International Ski Federation.