The 37-year-old Swiss racer — who won the Olympic downhill title in 2010 — posted a time of 1 minute, 43.04 seconds on the Roc de Fer course in the French Alpine resort of Meribel.
Frenchman Guillermo Fayed was .29 behind and Norway's Kjetil Jansrud third fastest at .76 back. American Steven Nyman was fourth best, .81 behind.
Benjamin Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., was the top Canadian in 13th.
Jansrud has already won the overall Super-G title and Austrian Marcel Hirscher has clinched the giant slalom. But the overall World Cup title, the slalom, the downhill and super-combined titles will be decided in Meribel.
Hirscher leads Jansrud in the overall standings: 1,248 points to 1,084.
Jansrud holds a 20-point lead over Austrian Hannes Reichelt in downhill.
The 26-year-old Hirscher is also in contention for the slalom title, but trails Germany's Felix Neureuther by 55 points.
The finals start with men's and women's downhill on Wednesday and conclude on Sunday.
In the race for the women's overall title, defending champion Anna Fenninger of Austria holds a slender 30-point lead over Tina Maze, who clinched the World Cup title the season before her.
The 25-year-old Fenninger has been in great form, winning gold medals in giant slalom and super-G at the world championships last month, and placing second in downhill behind Maze, who finished second to Fenninger in super-G at those worlds.
American Lindsey Vonn — a four-time overall champion and the record-holder for most World Cup career race wins with 65 — is 35 points ahead of Fenninger in the downhill standings. Maze is third in the discipline, but the Slovenian is 96 points behind Vonn and all but out of contention.
The silverware could pile up for Fenninger, who has a commanding 86-point lead over countrywoman Eva-Maria Brem in the GS standings.
American Mikaela Shiffrin, meanwhile, is odds-on to clinch her third straight overall slalom title on Saturday. She holds a 90-point lead over Sweden's Frida Hansdotter — who needs to win the final race with Shiffrin failing to make the top 20.