SOELDEN, Austria — Marcel Hirscher's off-season preparations have been seriously hindered for a second straight year.
But few doubt it will affect the Austrian's chances of winning his eighth overall World Cup title in a row, with the new Alpine skiing season getting underway this weekend.
Last year, Hirscher fractured an ankle bone during his first day on snow in August, forcing him to sit out the entire prep period.
Still, he ended up winning 13 World Cup races, more than in any season before, and easily earned his seventh crystal globe, while adding two Olympic gold medals in Pyeongchang.
This year, Hirscher's usual preseason routines were interrupted again as his wife, Laura Moisl, gave birth to their first child in early October.
"For me sport has always come in first place beyond doubt, my private life was always secondary. That will change now," Hirscher said.
The men's season kicks off Sunday with the traditional giant slalom on the Rettenbach glacier, a day after the women's season opens.
Hirscher is not only missing training days on snow, he will also not refrain from dropping races off his schedule if necessary.
"It might happen that I am needed elsewhere, that I won't travel to a ski race because something more important is happening," he said. "Many people have told me that this is not unusual in other jobs."
But Hirscher's job is not an ordinary one.
Since 2012, the Austrian has been the dominating force on the men's World Cup. No other ski racer, male or female, has won the sport's most coveted prize seven times, let alone seven times in a row.
His consistency in slalom and GS has always been the key to his success, and Hirscher won't change his winning formula. He has tiptoed into speed racing, but is now closing that chapter for good.
"It doesn't make sense. You need three, four years before you know all the downhill courses, and another year before you get really fast on them," he said. "So that's a project of five, six years. I am not willing to invest that much time anymore."
But even without speed races, and with skipping a technical race here and there, Hirscher is a strong favourite to gather enough points to finish the season on top again.
In the last three seasons, his winning margins in the final standings were huge: 335 points over Henrik Kristoffersen in 2018, 675 over Kjetil Jansrud in 2017, and 497 over Kristoffersen in 2016. Each race win is worth 100 points.
"Marcel won it seven times in a row, he is the favourite for sure," said Kristoffersen, likely Hirscher's main challenger again. While the Norwegian trailed by 335 points, the rest of the field, including the likes of Jansrud, Beat Feuz and Alexis Pinturault, was more than 730 points off the lead last season.
"For sure we want to give him a fight as much as possible," Kristoffersen said.
Like last year after his ankle injury, Hirscher has again been downplaying his chances, this time citing his changed priorities as a family man.
That, however, hasn't particularly impressed the Norwegian.
"He has been saying that for the last five years," the Norwegian said. "I think that he is going be the same that he has always been, and that he is going to do whatever he needs to do to compete."
The Norwegian certainly has a point.
Considering his future, Hirscher took some time off after winning Olympic gold and wrapping up another overall championship and discipline titles in both slalom and GS last spring.
He wanted to find out whether he still had appetite for more titles. The answer was an adamant 'yes.'
"I don't want to come second, that's a very strong feeling inside me. I try to squeeze everything out of me," Hirscher said. "It was no different at school and kids races. That won't change, no matter how much I might achieve. I want to get the maximum out of it."
It's not all about winning, though. Hirscher gets as much satisfaction from making details in his skiing even better than they are.
"I still try to improve. That doesn't mean I will win 15 races next season but maybe I can improve the left turn in my giant slalom skiing and that would be a benefit," he said. "So no, I have not yet reached the ceiling."