Winters Shows Podium Potential in Val d’Isere
Luke Winters scored his first-ever World Cup points on Sunday, finishing 19th in the FIS World Cup slalom in Val d’Isere, France.
After Saturday’s race was canceled due to heavy snow and wind, the skies turned blue for Sunday’s rescheduling of the slalom. To the home crowd’s delight, Frenchman Alexis Pinturault blew away the field, winning the race by 1.44 seconds for only his third slalom win ever. Andre Myhrer of Sweden was second and Stefano Gross of Italy was third.
But the story of the day was 22-year-old Luke, who shocked the crowd when he skied into second place in the first run after starting 40th. “I’ve been skiing fast, so I knew I could get in there, but coming through and seeing second was exciting!” said Luke. “Second run, I’m just going to try and do the same thing—not try and get too riled up. There’s a little more pressure, but I think I can handle it. It’s good to make it to the finish line and be fast at the same time.”
Having spoken between runs about Bode Miller as one of his ski racing heroes, Luke’s second run was reminiscent of a Bode run: fast, but with a few major errors. He managed to hang on to finish, taking 19th place overall—his first World Cup finish and World Cup points.
“After I had those mistakes, all I wanted was to get down and get my first World Cup points,” said Luke. “I’m happy with it. It’s hard to be mad. There were some nerves, but it’s part of the game.”
It was only Luke’s eighth World Cup start, but not his first flash of brilliance. He holds the U.S. national title for both slalom and the alpine combined, won a bronze medal in the 2018 Junior World Championships in super-G, and was in contention for World Cup podium in the Levi slalom in November, before he crashed five gates from the finish. What people may not know, though, is that Luke has been working hard and skiing fast in training, with his small team of newly-hired men's World Cup slalom coach Ryan Wilson, and technician Marko Skube. Rather than head to Beaver Creek, Colo. to compete on home soil, Luke and his team opted to head to Val d'Isere to train prior to the weekend, which proved to be the right decision.
The last time an American had a men’s slalom podium was in March 2011, when Nolan Kasper took second in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, but Luke is part of a group of young U.S. tech athletes who are building to World Cup podium level. With plenty of more slalom races on the books for the 2019-20 season, keep an eye out for Luke and his Land Rover U.S. Alpine Ski Team teammates to surprise more European crowds on the World Cup tour.
Luke’s result in Val d’Isere gives him enough World Cup points to slot him into the top 30 racers going into January’s slalom races in Zagreb, Croatia. River Radamus also started the slalom in Val d’Isere, but DNFed first run.
The originally scheduled Val d’Isere giant slalom has been pushed to a later date. Next up, the men start what they call the "pizza and pasta tour" as they head to Val Gardena, Italy for speed events. Val Gardena is a place where the American men feel at home, and have had a lot of success—including last year when Bryce Bennett, Steven Nyman and Travis Ganong went 4-5-6 in the downhill.