The closest races of the season so far are expected at the IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals at Aspen Mountain, USA, from Wednesday (24 February), as skiers go for overall titles in giant slalom and slalom.
Giant slalom will be the first to be decided with two races on Wednesday and Thursday (25 February). Slalom will then follow on Friday (26 February).
Tyler Walker is amongst the host’s best chance of a title win in the men’s giant slalom sitting. He currently leads the way, but a number of rivals have their sights set on the crown.
Canada’s Kurt Oatway is just 20 points behind, whilst Japan’s World Championships medallist Taiki Morii and Austria’s Paralympic medallist Roman Rabl also have a chance.
In the slalom Morii has the lead, 60 points ahead of Croatia’s Dino Sokolovic.
Germany’s Paralympic and world champion Anna Schaffelhuber will not compete in the women’s giant slalom sitting. That leaves the way clear for the rest of the field, including Japan’s Momoka Muraoka who trails the German by 40 points. The USA’s Laurie Stephens is ranked third and could also capture the title with a good performance.
Stephens is in a similarly strong position in the slalom, currently sitting just 60 points behind Germany’s Paralympic and Worlds medallist Anna-Lena Forster, who leads.
In both the men’s giant slalom and slalom standing Russia’s world champion Aleksei Bugaev holds all the cards. The 18-year-old has stormed to three wins in slalom and two wins in giant slalom over three World Cup editions this season.
However Australia’s Mitchell Gourley is 70 points behind Bugaev in the giant slalom, closely followed by Austria’s Markus Salcher.
The USA’s James Stanton and Thomas Walsh are both within touching distance of the slalom title as the second and third ranked athletes respectively. Both have had impressive seasons, including a first World Cup victory for Walsh.
In the women’s standing, the giant slalom and slalom are led by France’s 11-time world champion Marie Bochet. The 22-year-old is on a nine-race unbeaten run in technical World Cups spanning two seasons.
But Bochet’s lead is not unassailable. The USA’s Worlds giant slalom medallist Stephanie Jallen will be waiting to collect the spoils should the Frenchwoman falter, as the second placed athlete in both disciplines.
Italy’s Giacomo Bertagnolli has taken the men’s visually impaired by storm in only his second season on the circuit. As the current No.1 in both giant slalom and slalom, the youngster has forced the likes of Russia’s world champion Valery Redkozubov off the top spot in 2015-16.
Along with guide Fabrizio Casal, Bertagnolli has a 40 point lead over Redkozubov, guided by Evgeny Geroev, in the giant slalom. Victory is slightly less assured in the slalom as the Italian holds a slender 20 point gap.
The women’s visually impaired will be equally as close fought, as US teammates Staci Mannella and Danelle Umstead go head-to-head.
Mannella and guide Sadie de Baun have reached the podium three times in slalom this season, including two wins. This has led them to top of the rankings, 20 points ahead of Umstead and guide husband Rob.
In giant slalom, Mannella sits 80 points behind absent Belgian Eleonor Sana and guide Chloe Sana.
Great Britain’s first Paralympic Winter Games gold medal winner Kelly Gallagher will compete in her first World Cup of the season with new guide Gary Smith.
Pictures and updates will be posted to @IPCAlpine and Facebook.com/IPCAlpineSkiing.
The speed World Cup Finals in downhill and super-G will take place from 28 February - 4 March, also in Aspen, on Buttermilk Mountain.