Sochi 2014: Seven to watch

Story highlights

  • Skiing's World Cup's first event held this weekend at Soelden in Austria
  • American downhill skier Lindsey Vonn misses out due to injury
  • Vonn's fellow American Ted Ligety fit to race in World Cup opener

There's a slight frisson in the mountain air...

That's because the world's best Alpine racers are about to hurtle down the fastest downhill courses, tear up turns on the slalom, and grind through the super-G in pursuit of a dream far greater than a giant crystal globe and the overall title.

So who is set to dominate next year on Sochi's world stage? Who will be peaking at just the right time at the Winter Olympics? And who is determined to etch their names into the history books?

Here's CNN's guide to the seven skiers to keep an eye on over the coming months.

Lindsey Vonn

Last year we all watched with disbelief as the American ski star's season dramatically unraveled.

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The 28-year-old Vonn had started the Alpine season chasing Annemarie Moser-Proll's record number of World Cup victories, after making a promising start with wins in Lake Louise.

    In December her confidence was at such a high that she even spoke to CNN at the time about gutsy plans to legally contest the sports governing body, so that she might have the opportunity to race against the men.

    Such optimism proved short lived.

    A stomach illness forced her to take a three-week absence from the circuit in January, during which she admitted to suffering with depression.

    She returned just in time for the World Championships in Schladming only to suffer a horrific fall in the super-G during her first race of the competition.

    Airlifted to hospital, many thought her season and chances of making the Olympics were over.

    Vonn had hoped to be back for the new World Cup ski season, which begins in the Austrian resort of Soelden this weekend, but the Olympic gold medalist and four time overall world champion will not be able to take part as she continues her comeback from a serious knee injury.

    "I will go home to Vail and continue my preparation for the Beaver Creek races and my ultimate goal in February!" she said on her website earlier this week.

    Read: Vonn puts comeback on ice

    Her ultimate goal in February is, of course, gold in Sochi.

    Bode Miller

    An Alpine season without Bode Miller always feels a little flat, but next month the U.S. skier who is loved by fans and loathed by coaches -- for his antics on and off-piste -- will be back from injury with his eyes firmly on the Olympic podium.

    Despite his reputation for his love of the good life, Miller has earned his pedigree as an incredible athlete and competitor after career wins of five Olympic medals, five World Championships and two overall titles.

    In November 2012 a persistent knee injury put him out of competition for the entire season and he's been undergoing rehabilitation over the last year to be race fit for Sochi.

    Ski fans are likely to see a different Bode this season.

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    Weighing some nine kilos lighter than in recent years, his troublesome knee is back in shape and he's spoken out about how we won't be the go-for-broke skier of his youth.

    At 35, he'll be the oldest U.S. Alpine skier to compete in the Olympics and if he wins, he'll be the oldest Olympic champion in Alpine skiing.

    A tall order, but no doubt Miller will want to go out with a bang.

    Tina Maze

    If Maze's form is even half as good as it was in the 2013-14 season, we'll surely be seeing this Slovenian medal in Sochi.

    In April she ended the year as the world's No. 1 female skier, wiping the board as the overall World Cup champion with 11 victories and a record 2414 points.

    Even before Lindsey Vonn's injury at the World Championships in Schladming, Maze had emerged as the American's toughest adversary in years, and now we'll have the chance to see the world's two best female skiers compete for the first time on an Olympic platform.

    There's reportedly no love lost between the two off-piste either - so expect some fireworks.

    Mikaela Shiffrin

    Teen sensation Shiffrin blasted onto the scene last season to become the youngest World Cup slalom champion since 1974.

    She's been dubbed a "mini-Lindsey" due to the fact that she hails from the same town -- Vail, Colorado -- and also been labeled an American sweetheart. But beware Shiffrin is a fierce competitor.

    And if she can handle the hype, a slalom gold is a strong possibility in Sochi.

    Aksel Lund Svindal

    Like Norwegian wood, Svindal is big, strong and heavy.

    Hardly surprising then that his best performance should be in the speed disciplines super-G and downhill, which are best suited to strong, endurance skiers.

    After taking the World Cup titles in both last season, he'll be sizing up the course in Sochi which has been generating buzz for the sheer size of its jumps and long, hard terrain -- a suitable gauntlet for this Norwegian pillar.

    Marcel Hirscher

    There is something of the "Terminator" about Marcel Hirscher -- and not just because he's a muscly Austrian.

    Hirscher's skiing has always been clinical, technical and deadly to opponents which he proved once again when he took the overall world title last season for the second time in his career.

    He maintained a run of 18 podium appearances in 19 races in the two technical events -- slalom and giant slalom -- matching the legendary Alberto Tomba's record in the process.

    Ted Ligety

    To say Ligety's 2013 season was a breakthrough year would be an understatement.

    At the season opener in Soelden the 31-year-old American set the tone winning by a record breaking 2.75 second margin in the giant slalom, and then went on to decimate all competition for the rest of the season winning all but two G.S. events on his way to becoming the World Cup champion.

    In the midst of this career peak, he also became the first man since Jean-Claude Killy in 1968 to take three gold medals at the World Championships

    But can he do it again?