Marcel Hirscher and Lara Gut are defending overall champions
Vonn & Svindal return from injury
Bode Miller hampered by lawsuit
With snow already falling in the Alps, get ready for one of the most exciting ski racing seasons in years as some of the biggest names will be making a return to the slopes.
Olympic gold medallists Lindsey Vonn, Aksel Lund Svindal, Julia Mancuso and possibly Bode Miller are all poised to make their comebacks from either injury or retirement.
The circuit, which travels to 31 venues across three continents, begins in Soelden, Austria, this weekend where conditions on the Rettenbach Glacier are “perfect”, according to International Ski Federation (FIS) race director Markus Mayr.
With a World Championships in St. Moritz next February and the Olympic Winter Games taking place in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February 2018, the 50th World Cup season will take on added significance.
Here’s a look at the eight biggest names to watch:
Just like her idol Roger Federer, there is barely an event where Vonn doesn’t break yet another record.
The most successful female ski racer of all time with 76 World Cup titles, Vonn is only 11 wins away from breaking the all-time record set by Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark in 1989.
Having struggled with three serious knee injuries in four years – one of which forced her out of the 2014 Sochi Olympics – Vonn will be looking to make up for lost time.
Currently on a tour to promote her book about food and fitness, Vonn will sit out the giant slalom in Soelden and focus on the speed events instead as she chases Stenmark’s record
If she stays healthy, the 32-year-old American has every chance of ending her career as the greatest ski racer of all time.
Aksel Lund Svindal
One of the most exciting skiers to watch on the men’s tour thanks to his powerful athleticism, Svindal had been leading the overall World Cup standings when his season came to an abrupt end in a nasty crash in bad weather in Kitzbuehel in January.
After knee surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and six months of intensive rehab, he made his first turns on skis only last month and therefore won’t be competing on the steep slopes in Soelden.
But the tall Norwegian, 33, has come back strong from long injury breaks in the past and there is no reason why he wouldn’t be able to bounce back this time around.
Widely seen as the next big thing in ski racing since winning her first World Cup race at 17, Gut finally came of age as she clinched her first overall Crystal Globe last season.
Having often mixed brilliance with erratic performances in the past, the 25-year-old Swiss put down a remarkably consistent season that included 13 podiums including six victories.
Gut had been involved in a close battle for the overall title with Vonn until the American got side-lined by a late-season injury.
Not that that should take anything away from Gut’s achievements as she scored victories in downhill, super-G, giant slalom and alpine combined.
The first Swiss woman to clinch the overall title since Vreni Schneider in 1995, the pressure will be on to deliver once again this season.
Virtually unbeatable last season in the technical events as he mopped up a record-tying fifth consecutive overall title, the world’s leading male skier was nearly felled by a drone during a race in Italy.
But Hirscher remained a model of consistency, ending the season with 19 podiums and eight victories.
Although only 27 years old, Hirscher can barely walk the streets of his native Austria and last season he revealed his superstar status made him consider retirement.
Provided he’s committed mentally, it’s hard to bet against him winning a sixth overall title.
Only 21 and already an Olympic and back-to-back world champion in the slalom, Shiffrin could be one of the main contenders for the overall title as she adds the downhill and the super-G to her disciplines this season.
Shiffrin’s attempt to crack the speed events started a year ago, but got derailed by a knee injury in December that sidelined her for nine weeks.
Level-headed, cool under pressure and technically gifted, it will be interesting to see if Shiffrin can be as dominant in the speed events as she has been in the slalom.
Ligety lit up the World Cup in 2013-14 with his unique turning style – complete with his hips on the ground – in the giant slalom.
His carving technique was so near-perfect, he was winning races by full seconds, instead of the customary tenths or even hundredths of a second.
An Olympic champion in the combined in Turin in 2006, Ligety clinched the giant slalom gold medal at the Sochi Games in 2014.
A five-time world champion, his 2015-16 season ended prematurely after he tore his ACL in training in Germany in January.
The 32-year-old American, who runs a biking and skiing accessories business in his spare time, has won the opener in Soelden four times in the past five years.
As much at home on a surf board during the summer in Hawaii as she is on skis during the winter, Mancuso missed the entire 2015-16 season after opting for hip surgery following years of pain.
A veteran of the US ski team alongside Vonn, Mancuso’s four medals in the last three Winter Olympics are testament to her ability to deliver when it really matters.
Now 32 and the most decorated American woman in Olympic alpine history, she has set the 2018 Winter Games as her ultimate goal.
Special mention: Bode Miller
Whether six-time Olympic medallist Bode Miller returns to the slopes this season after two years off will largely depend on the outcome of a lawsuit.
The now 39-year-old American sued ski equipment maker Head NV last month because he wanted to make his comeback on New York-based high-end ski brand, Bomber.
When Miller retired from racing in 2015, he agreed with Head he wouldn’t use any other brand until the end of the 2016-17 season if he changed his mind.
After Head chairman and chief executive Johan Eliasch said on the company’s Facebook page the company would take “every action to enforce our rights,” Miller asked a court to void his agreement.
To be continued, no doubt.