Ted Ligety of the U.S. clears a gate during the first run of the World Cup Soelden Men’s Giant Slalom race on the Rettenbach glacier in the Tyrolean ski resort of Soelden, October 28, 2012. (REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler)

By Manuele Lang

SOELDEN, Austria, Oct 28 (Reuters) – Ted Ligety won the opening giant slalom of the alpine skiing season in Soelden on Sunday by the widest margin in 30 years, using skis he had harshly criticized only a few months ago.

When the International Ski Federation (FIS) announced last season it would impose new longer, stiffer giant slalom skis to enhance safety, the American world champion was among the strongest campaigners against the move.

Ligety crushed the opposition in the first World Cup race held with the new equipment, beating nearest rival Manfred Moelgg of Italy by 2.75 seconds on the Austrian glacier swept by falling snow.

“After being so critical, I knew I had to do well today not to lose face, so to speak,” Ligety said.

The margin of victory was the widest in any men’s World Cup event since the 1981-1982 season.

In a sense, the new skis are closer to the ones used in the 1970s by skiers like Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark, who holds the record for the biggest winning margin of 4.06 seconds in a giant slalom in Jasna, Slovakia, in 1979.

“My skis were running really well today, we have been working hard on this and this is good for the confidence of course. Now we have to check how the new skis will behave in other conditions,” Ligety said.

“My goal this winter is to be as consistent as possible in each race and to improve my level in slalom too,” added Ligety, who has made the defense of his world crown in Schladming in February a priority.

Austrian Marcel Hirscher, who took third place, said Ligety had taken an impressive lead by testing the new gear as early as late last winter.

“Today was a tough fight. There are those new skis and I have been working so hard on it. And I have to admit this is not an easy job.

“But I know that we’re all on the same boat, except Ted Ligety of course. He was incredible, I’ve never seen such a margin and two runs like he skied. We have to say thanks because Ted brought skiing to another level today.”

While not looking for excuses, Hirscher explained the Austrians had struggle to keep totally focused on the race after the fatal car crash of young team mate Bjorn Sieber last week.

“For the Austrian team, it wasn’t a day like the others. We raced for our friend. I think he would be proud of the whole team. Usually, a third place is pretty cool, but five or maybe ten minutes before the run, I was crying for my friend,” he said.