(Reuters) - Such is Lindsey Vonn’s dominance on the slopes of Lake Louise that this weekend for the opening downhills of the women’s World Cup alpine season the upmarket Canadian resort will be known as Lake Lindsey.
The most successful women’s alpine skier of all-time with 77 career wins and counting, the foundation for Vonn’s greatness has been laid in this bucolic corner of the Rockies where she has amassed a staggering 18 victories.
After missing last year’s races due to injury, the American speed queen is back and ready to reclaim her throne with downhills scheduled for Friday and Saturday followed by a Super G on Sunday.
In Vonn’s absence a few other skiers got a rare taste of what it is like to stand atop of the Lake Louise podium and will be determined to spoil the American’s comeback.
“It’s a pretty good place for me,” Vonn told Reuters during the unveiling of her new signature line of ski wear for Under Armour on Wednesday.
”I was just thinking about that yesterday, Lake Louise was one of the only races I was able to watch growing up on TV so when I go here I felt like I knew what I was doing before I even raced.
“I automatically start off with confidence. Lake Louise is a special place for me.”
With Vonn on the sidelines Lake Louise also became a special place for Slovenian Ilka Stuhec, the downhill world champion who won both races last year, the first ahead of Italy’s Sofia Goggia and the second in front of Switzerland’s Lara Gut, who topped the Super G podium.
Stuhec, however, is not able to defend her titles after tearing knee ligaments in a training accident last month.
Vonn, 33, can still expect plenty of challengers to emerge even from within the U.S. team.
Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather, the Super G overall World Cup champion, posted the fastest time in opening training on Tuesday followed by Italian Elena Fanchini and Goggia.
Vonn had the eighth best effort sandwiched between team mates Breezy Johnson and Stacey Cook.
Still it is tough to bet against Vonn reclaiming top spot.
Three times she has completed a Lake Louise hat-trick, including the last occasion she raced there in 2015.
During one remarkable stretch of dominance, Vonn won seven consecutive times starting with a Super G in 2010 and sweeping the three events in 2011 and 2012.
As always Vonn does not lack for goals or motivation with next year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea looming large.
Another clean sweep this weekend would push Vonn’s win total to 80 and put her within striking distance of Swedish slalom specialist Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 World Cup victories.
The Lake Louise layout, one of the few tracks raced on by both men and women, is considered to be relatively unthreatening by downhill standards, allowing racers to ease into the season.
But the course cannot be under-estimated as great danger lurks at every turn, the slightest miscalculation potentially resulting in a crash and serious injury as Vonn knows from a bitter experience early in her career.
“I straddled a gate in the downhill and I had to be airlifted off,” she said.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond