The goal to earn more quota spots for Canadian skiers on the World Cup circuit this year paid off, with 13 Canadians suiting up for the opening races at Soelden, Austria last weekend. Despite the weather, the event attracted some 17,000 spectators.
The womens team qualified nine racers for this year, four more than last year.
In the giant slalom, Gail Kelly of Ste-Anges de Beauce, Quebec posted the fastest second run of the day to lead the Canadian women to one of the their best World Cup openers since 2001.
Kelly started 42 nd in the first run and earned the 22 nd fastest time to qualify for a second run. She went on to post the fastest second run by 0.15 seconds, and moved up into 11 th place on the day a career-best, following her previous best of 16 th last year.
"Today, I skied as if it was my last race," said Kelly. "Im extremely happy about my race because its a reward for all the effort Ive invested in this sport. Im already excited for the next race."
Genevieve Simard, Canadas lone gold medallist from last season, just squeaked through to the second round with a 30 th place finish after the first run. She improved on that with a better second run, moving up into 24 th place.
Sophie Splawinski and Brigitte Acton were 32 nd and 40 th , close to qualifying for a second run but not quite fast enough.
"The conditions became very difficult after the first 10 girls skied the course," said coach Hugues Ansermoz. "Nevertheless, Im satisfied with how the girls handled this challenge and they tried to let the skis go on this ice-breaking race."
None of the B.C. girls qualified. Whistlers Britt Janyk was 45th, Invermeres Christina Lustenberger was 46 th and Fernies Emily Brydon was 49 th .
Anja Paerson of Sweden, the reigning champion, won her ninth World Cup giant slalom race with a combined time of two minutes, 25.21 seconds. Tanja Poutiainen of Finland was second in 2:25.53 and Maria Jose Rienda Contreras of Spain was third in 2:26.78. Kelly finished in 2:27.98.
In the mens competition, where Canada qualified four athletes, Thomas Grandi was the only skier to earn a second run.
He started off strong, in a tie for fifth after his first run, but made a few small errors on his second run to drop two spots to seventh overall.
"I had a good first run," said Grandi. "I was aggressive and I attacked. I had the same approach in the second run. I knew the podium wasnt far away. I knew I had a chance.
"I missed some opportunities last year and I wanted to attack and take advantage of this opportunity.
"When I crossed the line in the second run, I wanted to be leading, to maintain my position. But was 0.01 behind (Rainer Schoenfelder). So that meant I was probably going to drop a spot. But its a great start to the season. I had two solid runs."
Jean-Philippe Roy, who missed most of last season with an injury, was 42 nd after going wide on a corner near the bottom of the course. During training he was actually faster than Grandi.
"I think if I hadnt made that mistake I would have been close to qualifying," said Roy.
Julien Cousineau was 51 st and Francois Bourque 54 th .
American Bode Miller showed why he is one of the most dominant racers in the world, posting a combined time of 2:16.44 over two runs, more than 1.27 seconds faster than Massimiliano Blardone of Italy. Kalle Palander of Finland was third.
The mens team will be off until the end of November, when they will head to Lake Louise for the Winterstart World Cup downhill and super-G.
The women will be off for the same length of time, and will return to racing at Aspen, Colorado for a giant slalom and a pair of slaloms.