ADELBODEN, Switzerland - Defending World Cup giant slalom champion Ted Ligety must beat the best Swiss skiers on their home hill Saturday if he's to take control of this year's standings.
The 24-year-old American is locked in a three-way battle atop the GS discipline. Switzerland's Daniel Albrecht has 216 points to lead Ligety by four after four races, with Didier Cuche, the 2002 Adelboden winner, a further two behind.
Swiss reverence for the classic Kuonisbaergli course, which has the steepest start of any World Cup giant slalom, is shared by the Park City, Utah, resident.
"It's pretty intimidating," Ligety said after training Friday. "It never really stops undulating all the way down. It's always turning, it's off-camber the whole way. You're tired at the bottom and you come over that last little bit and it's basically a freefall to the finish."
The raw terrain is partly explained by what lies beneath the snow, Ligety believes.
"Everything else is on a normal kind of ski trail and this is down farm pastures and past farmhouses," he said. "You picture cows on the race course, not gates. It definitely has that old-school feel."
Ligety is part of a six-strong U.S. contingent, including defending overall World Cup champion Bode Miller, that is trying to end a long drought on the Swiss' giant slalom.
No American has won the Adelboden GS since Billy Kidd in 1966 — the year before the World Cup circuit started. Six different Swiss skiers have won in the Cup era.
Albrecht, who was second behind teammate Marc Berthod a year ago, left no doubt about the importance of Saturday's race.
"For the Swiss guys, Adelboden is the highlight of the year," he told The Associated Press.
The Kuonisbaergli is so tricky that even the best Swiss juniors are kept away until they are absolutely ready for it.
"You don't go on this slope earlier because I think it is pretty difficult to ski on," said the 25-year-old Albrecht, who first raced here five years ago.
Even so, Ligety knows Albrecht and his teammates are in a comfort zone on the course.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
"The Swiss guys always come out in force," he said. "They get a week's training on this at Christmas and know the course better than anybody."
After placing 2nd, 3rd and 4th in GS races this season, Ligety feels ready to win on snow he described as "grippy, hard and consistent the whole way. It's in awesome shape, the best conditions I've seen it."
However, with bright sunshine forecast Saturday, the fastest men from the first run in the morning might find the light has disappeared behind the mountains when they are last to race in the second leg that afternoon.
The Adelboden World Cup meet continues with a slalom race Sunday.