Alpine skiing: Maze, Hirscher ready to shine at ski worlds

Slovenia's Tina Maze and Austrian tyro Marcel Hirscher have set the World Cup circuit alight this season, and the duo seem well set to do the same at the February 4-17 World Ski Championships.

The Austrian resort of Schladming is host to the 42nd world championships which kick off Tuesday with the women's super-G race, when Maze will come up against United States starlet Lindsey Vonn.

Ten individual gold medals are up for grabs with the world's top men and women racing for downhill, slalom, super combined, super-G and giant slalom titles, plus the team competition.

The men's competition will focus on the affable Hirscher, the 23-year-old Austrian, keen to perform on home snow in front of an expectant crowd.

Hirscher dramatically snatched the overall World Cup title last season and currently leads the standings this year on the back of six slalom victories.

The technical specialist cedes his superiority in the speed events, Norwegian colossus Aksel Lund Svindal bearing the favourite's mantle.

Canada will be hoping it's third time lucky in the downhill after Erik Guay mirrored John Kucera in the blue riband event in the last two editions, but the Italian team, led by Christof Innerhofer and Dominik Paris, will be in the mix.

Didier Cuche's retirement will not help the struggling Swiss men's team, with Patrick Kueng's 15th-placed finish in the downhill and Carlo Janka's disappointing 10th in the super combined the sorry highlights of a disastrous weekend in Kitzbuehel.

The Swiss ski federation were moved to announce the creation of a new post to oversee its alpine skiing branch.

It argued that the current competition head could not marry all the different tasks needed, something the federation said was manifested in the "crisis gripping the men's national team at the moment".

Another notable absentee from the men's events will be American Bode Miller.

The two-time World Cup overall winner will not be competing after failing to recover from a knee injury, and has instead turned his focus on making a comeback in time for the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year.

Miller's teammate Vonn has also had a drama-filled start to the season, including a nasty fall, one month out, hospitalisation for an intestinal ailment and a divorce.

She proved, however, with a giant slalom victory in Maribor last month that she is back near her competitive best.

The runaway leader in the women's overall standings is Slovenian Maze, seemingly hell-bent on matching Austrian legend Hermann Maier in going beyond 2,000 points for the season.

Maze's all-round skiing ability should see her pose a threat in all of the women's events, while eyes will be on the slalom to see if US teen sensation Mikaela Shiffrin can deliver on her budding promise.