BEAVER CREEK — Early in the race, Lara Gut caught an edge and sent a thick spray of snow into the air that momentarily obscured the Swiss skier.
Just when it appeared she may have fallen, Gut emerged from the plume, still moving fast and still attacking the hill.
This new Beaver Creek course has been awfully good to her.
To the Americans, not so much. It’s been anything but a home-hill advantage.
Gut turned in another blazing run to win her second straight World Cup race, finishing in 1 minute, 18.42 seconds to edge a strong Austrian contingent in the super-G on Saturday. Elisabeth Goergl of Austria originally took second but was disqualified for improper ski equipment, bumping up teammates Anna Fenninger and Nicole Hosp to second and third.
There’s just something about the iciness of this course that appeals to Gut. She also won the downhill Friday and goes for a Beaver Creek sweep Sunday in giant slalom.
“I do like this course. With two wins, I can’t say different,” the 22-year-old Gut said. “It’s interesting and it’s difficult, but not too much. The snow is great. The setting was fine. It was fun to ski on these slopes.”
That really can’t be said for the U.S., as the squad struggled in the downhill Friday and again in the super-G, with Leanne Smith turning in the best finish at 23rd, 2.72 seconds behind Gut.
Then again, the team was without reigning Olympic downhill champion Lindsey Vonn, who skipped the event to rest her right knee after a recent training crash. And their other star, Julia Mancuso, just couldn’t find the right line, finishing in 29th place.
“We should’ve done better here as a group,” said Stacey Cook, who finished a spot ahead of Mancuso. “We are better than this.”
Cause for concern? After all, the Americans like to boast that they have the best speed team in the world right now.
“Absolutely,” Cook joked. “Because worrying is fun. It makes the suspense even bigger when we get to the Olympics.
“I don’t think so. With our group in particular, you have to understand, it’s all part of the journey. None of us are these super-human athletes like Lindsey has been in the past. We’re all learners. We’re all builders.”
What looked like an impressive day on the hill for Austria — turning in three of the top four performances — was dampened a bit after the race when Goergl was disqualified. Her ski width in front of her binding was too wide.
That moved Hosp up a spot and onto the podium.
“I’m really sorry for Elisabeth,” Hosp said. “The rules, they are here. You have to be inside the rules. I’m lucky today.”
There’s no luck involved with Gut, who was fast all week in training and keeps finding the fastest ways down the mountain, even when she makes mistakes.
Gut also captured a giant slalom race in Soelden, Austria, earlier this season. She’s looking like the clear favorite to win the overall title this season, maybe even some Olympic medals at the Sochi Games.
Asked if she’s perhaps peaking too soon, especially with Sochi still more than two months away, Gut quickly dismissed that notion.
“I’m working every day to get faster,” said Gut, who missed the Vancouver Games because of a dislocated hip. “I’m going to be even faster then.”
For the moment, Gut is simply on a different level than everyone else.
There could be another racer in the starting gate next week at Lake Louise, as Vonn hopes to return at the venue she’s dominated so much that it’s become known as “Lake Lindsey.”
Vonn was originally planning a return for this race after tearing ligaments in her knee during an accident at the world championships in February. She was right on pace, too, before her crash during training last week at the speed center in Copper Mountain.
Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who is good friends with Vonn, said the two are planning to travel together to Lake Louise on Monday.
“I’m looking forward to seeing her back on the race track next week,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “If she feels well, I think this can be a good comeback. She will be hot for a top result, of course.”
The Americans as a whole are ready for a top result, especially after two less-than-stellar days at Beaver Creek.
“It’s a long season. You can’t get too bent out of shape from the first race series,” Smith said. “I’m looking forward to Lake Louise and progressing from there.”