CORTINA D'AMPEZZO - Mikaela Shiffrin's sensational World Cup pace will be put to the test this weekend with Lindsey Vonn and the in-form Italian women skiers looking to impress at Cortina d'Ampezzo before next month's Winter Olympics.

Shiffrin, the reigning Olympic and three-time world slalom champion, has been building momentum towards the Pyeongchang Games in South Korea, but the Italian women showed they are hitting form with Sofia Goggia leading a podium sweep last weekend in Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria. Two downhills -- including one replacing the cancelled Val d'Isere leg in the French Alps -- are scheduled on the slopes in the Italian Dolomites on Friday and Saturday with the Super-G on Sunday.

Shiffrin charged to a remarkable eighth win in nine World Cup races in Flachau, Austria before taking last weekend off to train. The 22-year-old American has won nine of her last 10 races, including five in succession in the World Cup, putting her at the top of the competition standings. She has already set herself up as favourite to take three golds in South Korea.

By contrast Vonn -- the 2010 Olympic downhill gold medallist -- has been taking no chances this season as injury ended the 33-year-old's title defense in Sochi four years ago.  "It's not February so I'm not stressed. I've been waiting for these Olympics for 8 years so being healthy is my #1 priority. Next weekend is Cortina. Should be a little easier on my knee," she wrote on Twitter. Vonn's cautious run saw her trail in Bad Kleinkirchheim as she slammed a bumpy surface that turned races into a "rodeo".  By contrast the Italians were in sizzling form with Goggia leading an unprecedented World Cup triple by her countrywomen. Goggia -- runner-up in both the downhill and Super-G in Cortina last year -- won ahead of Federica Brignone and Nadia Fanchini. The podium sweep followed Brignone's victory in the Super-G the day before. And Goggia warned that she is beginning to hit top form "technically and physically".

Swiss Lara Gut won last year's downhill in Cortina, and returns hoping to pick up her first win since, but Slovenian star Ilka Stuhec, winner of the Super-G a year ago, has been ruled out this season because of injury. Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein, who sits top in the downhill standings after placing fifth in Bad Kleinkirchheim, will also be competing in Italy.

Svindal back in Kitzbuehel with eye on Olympics

Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal returns to the piste where he sustained a season-ending knee injury in 2016 as the World Cup circuit rocks up in Kitzbuehel and its famed downhill.

Svindal, a five-time world champion and 2010 Olympic super-G gold medallist, was in prime form when he slid out into the netting in tricky conditions, with ligament damage cutting short that season in one fell swoop. But the towering Norwegian, now 35, is back and arrives in the glitzy Austrian resort following two second-placed finishes in the testing downhills in Bormio and Wengen.

Perfect timing as racers tweak their form before next month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. "You should always be happy with a top three," Svindal said after his Wengen success. "I've actually been on the podium in all the downhills this year. "The knee is feeling pretty good. This year started better than last year: second place in Bormio and second in Wengen. "I would go as far as saying it is a positive development on the injury side so it seems like I have it under control." Kitzbuehel boasts the toughest and most dangerous downhill in the world. It remains the ultimate test for an alpine skier, requiring nerves of steel, courage and raw physical aggression but also the mental ability to safely manage risk on the infamous course.

The "Streif" piste down the Hahnenkamm (rooster's comb) mountain in the beautiful Tirol valley is 3.3km long, with an average gradient of 28 degrees, peaking at a mind-boggling 85 degrees at the dreaded Mausefalle, high up the course and where skiers have to negotiate an 80-metre jump. Racers reach motorway-coasting speeds of 140km/h, at times combatting centrifugal forces that hit an astonishing 3.5G. Skiing is embedded in Austrian culture and it shows. Tens of thousands of spectators pack into the resort, turning the weekend into an unparallelled alcohol-fuelled fiesta glorifying ski racing, with the finish area situated directly in the centre of the town. No doubt there is a level of voyeurism, with Kitzbuehel the regular scene of some extremely gruesome crashes, Svindal's included.

Saturday's running of the downhill, which made its debut in 1931, is the 78th and the roll of honour on the hill includes multiple winners Didier Cuche (5) and Franz Klammer (4), Swiss duo Franz Heinzer and Pirmin Zubriggen, the Canadian "Crazy Canucks" trio of Todd Brooker, Steve Podborski and Ken Read in the 1980s, and French legend Jean-Claude Killy back in 1967.

Austrian Fritz Strobl won in 1997 and still holds the record time for the full course of 1min 51.58sec.

Ahead of a second training run scheduled for Thursday, racers will compete in a super-G on Friday and also a slalom on Sunday. Home favourite Marcel Hirscher will be hoping to extend his amazing run of victories come the slalom. The seven-time overall World Cup champion has notched up five consecutive slalom wins on the circuit this season and is in the form of his life just weeks before eyes turn to Pyeongchang and a potential first, long-overdue Olympic title for the Austrian.