Nearly 12 months ago the Alpine skiing world sat up and took notice of Alice Robinson.
The then-17-year-old Queenstown rookie upstaged the best Giant Slalom racers in the world to win the season-opening race high up on the Austrian Glaciers in Solden. It was an achievement that went largely unnoticed outside ski circles here, as the winning run took place less than two hours after the All Blacks were knocked out of the Rugby World Cup by England.
A lot has changed for the Robinson since that incredible victory in which she edged Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin of the US into second. No longer the rank outsider, Robinson the winner of two of the six completed World Cup GS races in the Covid-19 shortened season, heads into this campaign as one of the favourites alongside American Shiffrin, reigning world champion Petra Vlhova of Slovakia and the Italian duo of Federica Brignone and Sofia Goggia.
And Robinson has set her sights high – aiming to win the World Cup Giant Slalom overall title as well as getting on the podium at February's World Championships in Italy.
The 18-year-old has spent two months in Europe training on the glaciers with her coaches - Kiwi Chris Knight and American Jeff Fergus. It's been a vastly different build-up to the season than last year, where she spent two weeks in Europe before the first race. The spectre of Covid-19 accompanies Robinson wherever she goes but the teenager isn't fazed by the virus.
"The approach that is going on in Europe at the moment in most of the places we are is that people are learning to live with it. It feels pretty normal here but the only difference is people are wearing masks most of the time and keeping their distance," says Robinson.
"There is so much testing and we are around a lot of people all the time so there is a possibility to contract it and if you contract it you can't compete. So everyone is taking extra precautions but it feels like a pretty normal training camp."
While Robinson flew under the radar at Solden last year, she won't have that luxury next week as defending champion.
"Definitely it's a new approach to last year, last year I had less to lose but I'm still keeping that attitude. In GS it's so competitive - there are eight girls who could win any race. There are still other superstars out there, so I don't think I will have all the attention."
Last year Robinson started in bib 15 in Solden and didn't enjoy the best of the snow conditions which makes her triumph all the more remarkable. She's garnered confidence from the fact she will have a much better starting position next week.
"It's nice knowing I will be starting in the top seven and that I will feel real comfortable in that environment because I've done it all before. It's my second time in Solden and a special hill for me because it's where I got my first win. I think it's the coolest hill on the women's side because it has a proper pitch and there are not many others like it on the women's circuit."
Knight is equally upbeat about her prospects.
"Very excited and it's all a bit surreal to be where we are with all that's happened. Going full steam ahead and we are 100 percent sure we will have a race next weekend, which is fantastic."
Covid-19 has forced significant changes to the Alpine ski race calendar for 2020/21. The North American races have been cancelled and there are no Alpine combined events outside of February's World Championships in Cortina d'Ampezzo. The Alpine combined events have been replaced by more Super G races - a discipline Knight says Robinson will compete in regularly throughout the season.
"We are confident because we have done a lot of Super G training and have worked on gliding and different kinds of terrain challenges and will do some jump training after Solden has finished, so we're planning on bringing a lot of Super G this season."
Robinson will race in nine Giant Slalom races and most of the Super Gs while she is also looking to introduce the blue riband downhill into her repertoire this season with an eye to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
"I am really excited and want to get into speed as well because it's really nice to have more than one discipline and if you want to kind of compete for other titles it's good to have more than one. So that's kind of my goal - to move into Super G and maybe Downhill as well."
Robinson plans to head to China for a World Cup Super G and Downhill at the end of February for the Olympic test event.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Robinson this season will be a mental one. Due to Covid-19 she is faced with spending eight months away from her family in New Zealand. The final World Cup Giant Slalom is scheduled for Lenzerheide in Switzerland on March 21. It's something Knight acknowledges is challenging. He has welcomed Robinson into his home near Venice as a part of his family where she has spent time with his kids in breaks from racing.
"It is a challenge but we do our best and Alice is the central part of that inside - trying to keep her occupied and not ski too much because you can't just ski all the time, you've got to get off snow into the gym and have a normal life as well."