Lara Gut wings Beaver Creek downhillIt was Switzerland’s Lara Gut winning the first downhill of the season on the new Raptor course at Beaver Creek, Colo., Friday. The American speed team and, in fact, others among the world’s stars, struggled on what will be the World Alpine Ski Championships course in 2015.

Gut’s time in the Audi FIS World Cup downhill was one minute, 41.26 seconds. Tina Weirather of Lichtenstein finished in second place, .47 seconds behind Gut, while Italian Elena Fanchini was third, a half second behind Weirather.

Stacey Cook of Mammoth Mt., California, was the top American finisher in 19th with a time of 1:43.49. Cook had caused some optimism by winning one of Wednesday’s training runs, but it didn’t hold over on race day.

Julia Mancuso, another team veteran and Olympic silver medalist, had her worst downhill result in almost two years, finishing 21st. Mancuso told NBC Sports Network, which had televised the event live, that the downhill was “steep and tricky” for the start of the season. She said she felt she needed “a little bit more time” as downhill has been tough for her the past few years.

Laurenne Ross, from Bend, Ore., was 22nd; Julia Ford, Plymouth, N.H., was 41st. Leanne Smith, No. Conway, N.H., missed a gate toward the end of her run and did not finish.

But, it wasn’t just the American ladies who had a rough day. Tina Maze, the current World Cup overall champion, finished 16th, her worst result in a year. German Maria Hoefl-Riesch, the 2011 overall champion and a close friend of USA superstar Lindsey Vonn, was seventh.

Vonn, who reinjured her knee in a mid-November training run at the Copper Mountain Speed Center, did not compete at Beaver Creek, but is back on snow. She said she plans to fly with Hoefl-Riesch to next weekend’s women’s World Cup races at Lake Louise, Alberta. She said she might compete on the course she has dominated so much it has been nicknamed Lake Lindsey. Progress during the week will determine if she competes.

She did not attend Friday’s races, preferring to test her knee with three training runs on the Beaver Creek super-G course. She pushed it a bit on the third run and told the Associated Press, “so far, so good.”

The women return to action Saturday with a World Cup super-G at 12:30 p.m. (EST). The race will be televised live on NBC Sports Network. Sunday’s Giant Slalom, featuring American World Champion Michaela Shiffrin trying for her first GS podium appearance, is at 2:30 p.m. (EST). That will be televised live on NBC.

Photo: Switzerland’s Lara Gut tames Raptor course at Beaver Creek (laragut.ch)