"Santa" Ligety returns to Park City this weekend. | ParkRecord.com

"Santa" Ligety returns to Park City this weekend.

Ted Ligety finished third in the slalom Thursday in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.

Local gate-running whiz Ted Ligety started passing out holiday smiles Thursday, collaring his second podium of the season as he finished third in a World Cup slalom in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, as the circuit took a break for the holidaze. He was flying home Friday.

"It’ll be nice to be home for Christmas," he said in between wide smiles on a phone call. "This was awesome and it’s good going home…"

Italy’s Giorgio Rocca stayed undefeated this winter, winning his third slalom of the season. Rocca, spectators at the last men’s World Cup at Park City Mountain Resort may recall, was bumped from third to fourth two years ago in a disputed ruling (Austrian Rainer Schoenfelder was given a provisional second first run, finished second after the final run, then was disqualified, then was declared to have finished second overall).

Thursday, Rocca’s winning time was 1 minutes, 35.98 seconds with Canadian Thomas Grandi second and Ligety third, three-hundredths behind Grandi. Jimmy Cochran, Ligety’s frequent roommate on the tour, followed his seventh in Wednesday’s giant slalom, by finishing 15th in slalom.

"It was another great slalom. Both runs were pretty nice," Ligety said. "The light got flat but it wasn’t too bad. It was sunny [above the ridgeline, not on the course] but it wasn’t up for anyone, so we dealt with it."

It was another good result for Ligety on the race hill where he scored his first World Cup points in 2004 (23rd in SL, winning the top split on his second run as he began to realize he could ski with the World Cup big kids) and where he got his first World Cup top-10 in the ’05 season (finishing 10th).

"It’s been good to me," he said. "I like this hill; it suits me pretty well and it’s cool to put down a good run here."

It also was another boost forward for the 21-year-old Winter Sports School grad. He’s starting to lay down two consistent runs race after race, coaches say.

"It’s so nice to have confidence every race. When I get into the start gate in slalom, I know I can be top 10 even with a little mistake.

"I held back on the top of the first run and I was mad at myself between runs because I was watching other guys going, and I knew I’d held back, so second run I wanted to break through and give her hell. And it’s so good Jimmy got some points; he’s had some bad luck, so this was pretty sweet," Ligety said.

And Cochran? Were the two results early Christmas presents as he – like Ligety – bids for his first Olympics in February? "Oh no, I said that [Wednesday], so this is like finding another present," he said.

On the women’s side, it was familiar faces in familiar places – Croatian great Janica Kostelic (four Olympic medals, including three golds,in ’02 and five World Championships gold medals, including three last winter) and defending World Cup queen Anja Paerson of Sweden.

Kostelic won the first World Cup GS of her career Wednesday (with Paerson fifth) while Paerson took the slalom Thursday (with Kostelic second). Winter School alumna Julia Mancuso – still adjusting to new boots – led the U.S. skiers both days, finishing 14th in the GS and, posting the fastest second run in the slalom, moving up to ninth as five U.S. women broke into the top 17.

Included in the group: Resi Stiegler, yet another Winter School grad, finishing 13th in just her second World Cup race of the season after recovering from a shin injury on the eve of the first race of the schedule two months ago.

The women race Dec. 28-29 in Lienz, Austria, while the men return Dec. 29 with their annual downhill in Bormio, Italy. Last time they raced a DH in Bormio, Bode Miller won the World Championships downhill title.

Miller had a tough week, failing to finish a GS Sunday in Alta Badia, Italy, and Wednesday in Kranjska Gora and then struggling in his first run of slalom Thursday as he failed to qualify for the second run. He also lost the overall points lead to Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, who has 450 after 15 races; Miller has 442 with Austrian Benjamin Raich – who dueled with Miller for the overall title throughout the 2005 season – third at 430.

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