This is Adelboden, population 3,500, the last remaining GS classic Park City's Ted Ligety had never won. Until Saturday.
Adelboden is the quintessential Swiss mountain village, tucked away in a hidden valley. The first settlements appeared in the 15th century. And it's only been in the last 100 years that the region has been accessible in winter. In 1958, legendary Swiss skier Roger Staub won the first GS. Since then, names like Killy, Stenmark, Thoeni, Schranz, Zurbriggen, and Maier have etched their name into the Place of Fame in the Village Square. But only one American had mastered the Chuenisbärgli GS: Billy Kidd in 1966.
Classics like the Chuenisbärgli, the Gran Risa in Alta Badia and the PokalVitranc down Podkoren in Kransjka Gora they're all just nasty courses, dark and foreboding. Look at past winners and you'll see the crème de la crème of World Cup ski racing winning in the sport's truest discipline. Ted first won in Kranjska in 2008 and Alta Badia in 2010 but had never been able to master Adelboden.
Two years ago he gave up a three-tenths first-run lead to finish 28th as the Chuenisbärgli chewed him up in the second run. A year ago he relaxed and gave up a podium shot to finish fourth. And he was lucky Saturday but luck is a big part of skiing the Chuenisbärgli. You make your opportunities the best you can, then you hope the mountain agreed with you that day.
Ligety was solid in his second run and stood in the finish area with the race lead. One skier to go, but it was the one that mattered Austria's Marcel Hirscher. The overall World Cup leader was perfect expanding his lead until the final face when disaster struck and the mountain handed the win to Ligety.
"Today I was really lucky Marcel Hirscher won this race today," Ligety said later. "But I'll take it as I've given him some of those gifts in the past. The second run was so dark and this hill is so tiring."
Ted Ligety is giant slalom. His Adelboden win gave him 15 GS victories, tying him with the incomparable Alberto Tomba, his childhood hero whose America's Opening wins in Park City motivated a generation of young American ski racers.
Most importantly, it put his name in stone. "It's the only classic GS I haven't won, so it's nice to get it," he said. "It's cool in finally having your name on that list."
"U.S. Ski Team 36" with Ted Ligety
If you missed Sunday's debut of "U.S. Ski Team 36" with Ted Ligety, you can tune in again this Saturday to NBC Sports Network at 11 p.m. for a re-air. The 30-minute NBC feature follows Ted in the 36 hours leading up to the Alta Badia GS last month.
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he's not traveling the world with the team.