TAOS, New Mexico – As German Olympic medalist Linus Strasser stood in the start gate of his final run of the World Pro Championship Men’s Super Slalom at Taos Ski Valley on Saturday, the one second deficit he had against his opponent, World Pro Ski Tour regular Miha Kuerner, felt like 10. However, after Kuerner misjudged his launch and that one second ticked slowly by, Strasser was off to the races and nobody could catch him.
“The time difference in the signal, it was like, that’s a second? It feels way more,” said Strasser, after landing the victory Saturday. “The conditions were super difficult. You can do a mistake really fast.”
Strasser, who helped Germany to a silver medal in the Beijing Olympic Team Parallel race and also won the prestigious World Cup Slalom race in Schladming, Austria, this season, conquered one worthy opponent after another on Saturday. The onslaught began in the opening round of 32 against Austrian Tobias Kogler, who was fresh off a pair of FIS giant slalom victories in Aspen. University racer Filip Forejtek of the Czech Republic then almost took Strasser down in the round of 16 until missing a gate. The German then came up against WPST veteran Nolan Kasper in the quarterfinals, squeaking by him in the first run, then gunning ahead on the slower red course. It was the semifinals where Strasser really found his stride, taking down fellow World Cupper and top U.S. Team slalom racer Luke Winters in a pair of closely contested runs.
Before facing 35-year-old Kuerner of Slovenia in the finals, Strasser admitted that he was gassed and he preferred “just two runs” to the 10 required in one day of WPST racing.
“It’s getting from run to run more exhausting,” he added, to which Kuerner responded by saying he’s “not just a veteran, I know all the tricks.
The Slovenian also said he was honored to race against Strasser and that by the final run, he was “running on fumes.”
Indeed, it was mental weariness that cost the Slovenian the victory as he barged (ran up against the start gate) on his final run, in which he had a full second advantage on Strasser after the German missed a gate in his first final run.
“I thought I was going at the right time. To be completely honest, I was so tired, I couldn’t focus enough,” Kuerner said after the race, still admitting that the result ranks among his best ever.
“The World Cup guys have better material and they’ve always had a little something on me,” said Kuerner, who missed the previous WPST stop in Steamboat Springs and coaches full time for Ski Club Vail. “But I went above and beyond and got some decent skis I used when I was racing.”
When asked if racing on the World Cup gave Strasser a leg up, he said “it doesn’t have anything to do with it.”
“It’s exhausting for the head, but also the body,” he said. “I like it because it feels more natural. You have to risk it all onto the track.”
Certainly, risking it all was what every racer was doing on Saturday as the combination of all-out hammering and softening spring snow eliminated one top contender after another. Addison Dvoracek took out WPST Rookie leader Drew Duffy in the very first round while World Cup up-and-comer River Radamus made a big mistake in the first heat and lost to Tucker Marshall. Recently retired World Cup racer Alex Leever crashed in the round of 16 as Canadian Jeffery Read advanced and proceeded to also take out one of the WPST’s stars, Michael Ankeny, in the quarterfinals. Kuerner managed to take down WPST two-time tour champion Rob Cone in the quarterfinals and only charged ahead of Read after the Canadian crashed while holding the lead in the semis.
Read managed to round out the podium Saturday, beating Winters for third place in the small final.
The 2022 Taos World Pro Ski Tour World Championships wrap up on Sunday with parallel giant slalom. Catch the action live at worldproskitour.com.