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Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. arrives for a news conference in Soelden October 21, 2010. The Alpine Ski World Cup season opens with a women's and a men's Giant Slalom on the Rettenbach glacier in the Tyrolean ski resort of Soelden this weekend. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger


Lindsey Vonn is the world's most recognizable skier, no matter what the U.S. snow princess wears on her feet.

Vonn, 26, who captured her third consecutive World Cup Crystal Globe for the overall title plus the Olympic downhill at Whistler, B.C., last season, will wear men's skis this season, starting Saturday on the Rettenbach glacier at Soelden, Austria as the season opens in Europe. Heavier and stronger than most of her competitors at 5 feet 10 inches and 160 pounds, the American started using the men's longer, stiffer skis part way through last season.

Men's high performance downhill skis are about five centimetres longer; super-G boards are 7 to 10 centimetres longer and shaped slalom skis are 10 centimetres longer.

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"It's always a hard decision," Vonn said. "I'd been with Rossignol my whole life. I thought: What's giving me the best opportunity to win the Olympics? Head is clearly the best ski on the women's side.

Vonn, the most decorated female American skier in history, has 33 World Cup wins in her portfolio and this year is trying to top the one-year record of 14 wins set by Swiss Vreni Schneider in 1988-89. Vonn excels on speed courses, but will try to shore up the shortfall on the technical side, starting with Saturday's women's GS - the weakest discipline in her repertoire.

She'll be challenged anew by Swiss teenager Lara Gut, who is skiing pain-free after missing the entire Olympic season because of a dislocated right hip. And Austrian Nicole Hosp, the 2007 overall champion, is back after injuring her right knee in a crash on this course last year.

"I am back and I am smiling again," Hosp said on Friday.

Several skiers have changed equipment. Other moves to Head have included American Ted Ligety, Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, American Bode Miller and Didier Cuche, of Switzerland. Vonn teammate Julia Mancuso has shifted over to Voekl.

Canada sends out a new generation of racers, including Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., and Marie-Pier Préfontaine of Saint-Sauveur, Que., plus Victoria Stevens of Mont-Tremblant, Que., from the prospect team.

Canadian women's head coach Hugues Ansermoz said he's "happy with what [Stevens]showed us in training in Austria. All the coaches agreed that she deserves this big step up from the provincial program and a first World Cup opportunity."

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On the men's side, the Canadians will be Crystal Globe defender Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Robbie Dixon of Whistler, Manny Osborne-Paradis of Vancouver, Nor-Am champ Dustin Cook of Lac Sainte-Marie, Que., François Bourque of New Richmond, B.C., and Jean-Philippe Roy of Ste-Flavie, Que.

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James Christie written sports for the Globe on staff since 1974, covering almost all beats and interviewed the big names from Joe DiMaggio, to Muhammad Ali, to Jim Brown to Wayne Gretzky. Also covered the 10 worst years in Toronto Maple Leafs hockey history. More

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