ASPEN, Colorado — Mikaela Shiffrin had a big lead and was just a few turns from winning a World Cup race at home for the first time.
Shiffrin could almost sense victory. The crowd, too. Even her competitors were basically resigned to her win.
Suddenly, the American lost an edge and crashed near the finish line to give Lara Gut of Switzerland a stunning giant slalom win Friday.
As Shiffrin buried her face in the snow, Gut watched in disbelief. She has been in that position plenty of times and knows the feeling.
"It's unusual that Mikaela does mistakes like that," said Gut, who earned her 13th World Cup win. "But that's part of the game. One day you win, one day you crash. For me, it's better to win one day and crash the other day than be in 25th twice."
Gut completed the course in a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 2.51 seconds, edging Austria's Eva-Maria Brem by 0.10 seconds. Federica Brignone of Italy took third.
This was a rough day for the U.S. all around. Lindsey Vonn lost her left ski during the first run and slid into the netting.
"Tough course," Gut explained. "There are never two gates that are easy to ski. You have to push hard from the top to the finish."
Shiffrin was the first-run leader and was cruising toward a win, even if she "didn't feel great." Right before the third-to-last gate, she said she was thinking, "Wow, I can't believe I made it this far. That was kind of rough."
Right after, she fell, and failed to finish.
"You should never, ever think that because immediately something bad will happen," said Shiffrin, whose 15 World Cup victories have all come in Europe. She did win a world title last February in Beaver Creek. "That was kind of heartbreaking.
"At the same time, it's a good lesson."
No American woman has won a World Cup race in Aspen since Tamara McKinney in 1981.
Vonn, returning from a broken left ankle, was tentative out of the start gate. But the 31-year-old was beginning to find her rhythm when her ski popped off. She was not hurt, calling the wipeout "super annoying."
"It wasn't even really bumpy," Vonn added. "I'm kind of perplexed how that actually happened. It's never happened to me in a race before. To have it happen in Aspen is definitely disappointing."
Brem was the defending champion in the event, but was in eighth place after the first run and 1.37 seconds behind Shiffrin. She had the fastest time on the final pass.
Her performance definitely helps the Austrian cause, especially with Anna Fenninger sidelined for the season by a knee injury and Nicole Hosp recently retiring.
No added pressure, though.
"I always try to just reach my goals and not to think about or not listen to what others want me to ski like," Brem said. "I let go in the second run and you saw what is possible."
Brignone followed up a season-opening GS win in Soelden, Austria, last month with another podium finish. Then again, she's typically quick at Aspen, finishing third in the GS last season.
On hand to watch the competition in Aspen was McKinney, who would love to see the overall race boil down to Shiffrin and Vonn. It just may, with Fenninger out and Tina Maze taking a hiatus. Although, Gut proved she figures to be in the mix as well.
"It would be fantastic for U.S. skiing and hopefully people would be paying attention," said McKinney, who's coaching and selling real estate in Squaw Valley, California. "The great thing that Lindsey and Mikaela have brought to visibility is there's always work involved. But they have made working hard look cool."
There are two more slalom races this weekend. That's the specialty of Shiffrin, who's the reigning Olympic and world slalom champion.
"I'm really excited to start the slalom season, see how I stack up," Shiffrin said. "Take the same tactics as today — my mentality was good and I was going for it. There's a lot to take away from the day. Just have to make sure I stay smart to the finish."