SANTA CATERINA, Italy — Skiing on a hill he hasn’t seen before usually gets Travis Ganong fired up.
Racing the downhill on a new slope to the men’s World Cup circuit certainly brought the best out of the American skier on Dec. 28.
A flawless run on the Deborah Compagnoni course earned Ganong his first World Cup victory, less than six weeks before his home world championship race in Beaver Creek.
“First World Cup win!!!! Stoked to be able to say that!!” Ganong posted on Twitter.
“I love to take on a new challenge and a new slope,” said Ganong, a Squaw Valley, California, native who was just 26th in the only training session Dec. 26. “I love the hill, the mountains are huge here and it’s fun skiing.”
It’s the second downhill win in a row for the U.S. team and the second in Italy after Steven Nyman’s triumph in Val Gardena last week. The last American back-to-back downhill wins dated from the 2007-08 season when Bode Miller won in Bormio and Wengen.
Ganong finished the race in 1 minute, 32.42 seconds to beat Olympic champion Matthias Mayer of Austria by 0.09 and Dominik Paris of Italy by 0.21.
Ganong called his effort “a perfect run.”
“I went really, really straight in a couple areas,” the American said. “It was really smooth and I was able to carry it all the way down. The last big carousel turn I did perfectly, I don’t think I could do that again if I tried.”
Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud, who has won two downhill races this season, was 1.35 behind and finished outside of the top 10, though he still leads the discipline standings.
“What goes up, must come down,” Jansrud wrote on Twitter. “Today was a rough day at work. As said before: Lots of great skiers out there. One mistake and you are gone.”
Jansrud also tops the overall standings with 624 points, 48 clear of Marcel Hirscher of Austria, who doesn’t compete in downhill.
Ganong excelled on the second part of the course. Several pre-race favorites had faster split times in the first section but couldn’t match the American’s pace afterward.
“I had a super run and I am very happy,” Ganong said. “It’s a sensational end to the year. I was attacking and I was having fun.”
Mayer praised Ganong for mastering the final third of the course.
“I thought my run was fast,” Mayer said. “On the bottom part I also wanted to race a direct line but I caught a bump and didn’t manage to win back the lost time.”
Mayer’s runner-up finish gave Austria its first downhill podium of the season after the team suffered its worst pre-Christmas start to a World Cup season in 25 years.
Ganong’s victory didn’t come completely out of the blue. The 26-year-old from Squaw Valley came fifth in the Olympic downhill in Sochi in February and earned his sole previous World Cup podium shortly afterward by placing third in Kvitfjell, Norway.
Ganong also came fifth in Beaver Creek earlier this month for his 11th career top-10 finish.
The course in Santa Caterina, which replaced the classic downhill on the Stelvio piste in nearby Bormio, was a regular stop on the women’s circuit and was also used for the women’s downhill at the 2005 world championships but has since been modified.
The men’s World Cup circuit continues with a slalom in Zagreb, Croatia, on Jan. 6, while the next downhill is scheduled for Wengen on Jan. 17.