PAIN OF VICTORY: Despite winning the slalom component of the super-combined race in Sochi on February 12, which secured him the World Cup title in the discipline, Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic injured his knee and is expected to miss a month.
A mere three years after stating its ambition to become a permanent fixture on the alpine skiing World Cup calendar, Bulgaria's winter resort Bansko appears to be well on its way.
This season, Bansko will be among a select few locations to host both men's and women's World Cup events, alongside renowned winter sports venues as Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Lake Louise.
Admittedly, the men's slalom and giant slalom events on February 18 and 19 were a late addition to the calendar, with the sport's world governing body FIS awarding Bansko the races previously scheduled to have been held in Japan (the decision was made in June 2011 following the Tohoku earthquake in March).
Clearly, the fact that Bansko was already on the calendar, set to host women's downhill and super-giant events later in February, played into the FIS decision, but it remains nevertheless a success to a resort that hosted its first top-tier competition in decades as recently as February 2009.
Swiss skier Fabienne Suter won the first downhill race, narrowly outracing Andrea Fischbacher, who did one better a day later. American Lindsey Vonn won the super-giant on March 1 2009 to extend her lead in the overall standings.
Last year, Bansko welcomed the men's World Cup with slalom and super-combined events, won by Mario Matt of Austria and Italy's Christof Innerhofer, respectively.
Preparations for this year's events have already been completed, with a FIS inspection team giving the Alberto Tomba run the final approval to host the competitions at the weekend.
Following heavy snowfalls in the last month, lack of snow was never a worry, quite the opposite, with one metre of fresh snow accumulating last week. A total of 350 people and 12 heavy vehicles were used to get the run in top shape in the days before the FIS inspection, Bulgarian Ski Federation (BSF) president Tseko Minev said.
The total budget to organise the men's and women's World Cup events in Bansko was 8.2 million leva, according to reports in Bulgarian-language media, including a 3.6 million leva subsidy from the state Budget.
At the bottom of the run, organisers planned to build a 5000-seat stand, but there were also standing-only places alongside the run for the fans, BSF officials have said. One-day tickets were priced at 35 leva and two-day passes cost 55 leva. Admittance for children under 12 was 20 leva for one day and 30 leva for a two-day pass.
The tickets would also double as gondola lift passes on the day of the competition, organisers have said.
The first race on February 18 will be the giant slalom, with a slalom event on the second day.
The big absentee from Bansko will be Croatia's Ivica Kostelic, last year's overall World Cup winner and the current leader in this year's standings. Kostelic, who injured his knee during the slalom run that was part of the super-combined competition in Sochi, underwent surgery and was expected to return to the slopes in March, Croatian ski officials said on February 14.
Kostelic is an accomplished slalom skier, winning 14 of his 24 career races in this discipline, as well as two slalom World Cups (in 2002 and 2011).
The race in Bansko was an opportunity for the Croatian to widen his lead of Switzerland's Beat Feuz, whose strongest suits are the downhill and super-giant. Kostelic has already secured this season's combined discipline World Cup, beating Feuz for the title, but his lead in the overall standings is only 70 points, a gap that Feuz could easily overturn with five super-giant races still on the calendar.