BEAVER CREEK, Colo. - For some of the skiers, the super-G course was so treacherous and tricky that it was a wipeout waiting to happen.
For Matteo Marsaglia, the hill was just risky enough that it presented an opportunity to finally break through.
The 27-year-old Italian took big gambles in places where few others would Saturday for his first World Cup victory. He finished in 1 minute, 14.68 seconds to edge Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway by 0.27 seconds. Hannes Reichelt of Austria was third, and Ted Ligety of the United States wound up fourth.
Calgary's Jan Hudec was 10th, Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was 11th. John Kucera, also from Calgary, was 41st.
"If you want to win, you need to take some risks," said Marsaglia, who had never finished better than fourth before this race. "On this slope, you need to take some risks, be lucky a little bit. I was lucky."
The margin between a good run and going off course was slim on the tight Birds of Prey layout. There were 16 skiers who didn't finish — along with one who didn't even start — and several big wipeouts.
Germany's Stephan Keppler, the first racer of the day, had a bad spill, when he lost his balance and crashed. He slid halfway down the mountain before winding up in the netting. But he walked away with only a cut above his left eye.
Max Franz of Austria wasn't so fortunate. He smacked a gate on his run and fell hard to the snow, bumping his head. Franz was taken down the hill on a sled and to a hospital for observation.
The first mishap of the day certainly scared reigning World Cup overall champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria. He watched Keppler's crash and decided he wasn't going to take any chances. Not on this challenging course and especially not in just his fifth-ever super-G start.
"When I saw that, I was like, 'Whoa, little Marcel, this might be a step too much for you. Do it pretty slow and comfortably. Do not risk everything,'" Hirscher said.
And when he saw his teammate go down, Hirscher just shook his head.
"You have to risk everything. It's not worth it," he said of the course. "It's not fair."
Unfair? Svindal didn't quite see it that way.
"Too hard is not unfair," said Svindal, who finished second in the downhill Friday. "Unfair is if fog is moving in in the middle of the race. That's unfair. A difficult course, for sure.
"To be honest, the courses where you're like, 'This might work, but there's a 50-50 chance it's not going to work' — they're not my favourites. When Reichelt was leading, I was happy. I knew he was a solid skier and he doesn't go out very often. That tells me, 'Ski this well and you can win it.' Then Marsaglia goes up and he took major risks. I knew that's going to be tough to beat."
Marsaglia simply turned in a flawless run. He found speed in sections of the hill where other skiers were hitting the brakes.
"Amazing run," said Marsaglia, from Rome. "I really like this slope. I like this slope a lot. I tried to push everything. I had nothing to lose today."
No, he definitely didn't.
But Hirscher felt like he did, especially since his best event — the giant slalom — is Sunday.
"Those guys wanted to win. So, they risked everything," said Hirscher, who finished 2.34 seconds behind Marsaglia in 32nd place. "I have to learn a lot."
This particular course was set up by a member of the Austrian delegation and featured 37 turning gates. It required patience in some portions and all-out pushing in others.
"I went for it really hard in the places I could," Ligety said. "I tried to ski smart in the places you had to be smart. Marsaglia took more risks than all the rest of us. It paid off."
The oft-injured Marsaglia could hardly believe his fortune. Even after the top 30 or so racers went down the hill, when his podium spot was pretty much locked up, he still kept watching the race course, half expecting someone to turn in a good run from back in the pack to beat him.
"Slowly, slowly, I understand (what this means)," Marsaglia said.
It's been a good weekend for the Italians as Christof Innerhofer won the downhill the day before. Not that Marsaglia's surprised.
"We are a really good team. We know that," he said. "This summer was really good training. This year, we can do some other races like yesterday and today."
Innerhofer couldn't agree more. He had another good run going before nearly missing a gate. He recovered in time to finish in 17th place.
"This is super steep, with a lot of bumps," Innerhofer said. "It was interesting for everyone on television. Here, there was action."
There may be plenty of action in the overall race this season, too, especially with the way Ligety's skiing. Once considered an outside threat for the title, he's now a bona fide contender. Svindal leads the current standings, but Ligety is just 140 points behind, which he could slice into Sunday in the giant slalom.
"That kid can come in and give us a fight for the overall," Svindal said. "He's starting to look more and more like one of those three or four guys who will be there all the way until the end."
That is, if Svindal ever slows down. He won two straight races in Lake Louise last weekend and has now finished runner-up twice in Beaver Creek.
"We're a long way off, with Aksel and the way he's skiing. Hopefully, his streak doesn't continue," Ligety said. "Otherwise, we won't have a chance."