Seventh was as good as it got for Switzerland's female skiers in the opening race of the 2009 world championships in the French resort of Val d'Isère.
Lindsey Vonn from the United States won the super-G, the super giant slalom, racing aggressively after all of her top rivals had either veered off course or struggled with difficult light.
Swiss fans had high hopes for the four Swiss starting the challenging 1.926-kilometre Rhône-Alpes course, but only two finished: 17-year-old Lara Gut came seventh and Fabienne Suter – currently second in the World Cup super-G standings – could manage only 11th.
Andrea Dettling and Fränzi Aufdenblatten both missed gates and went out.
"The piste was fantastic," said Gut, billed as the great hope of Swiss skiing. "It was really fun, but I made too many mistakes and that cost me. I'm still confident for the other races. You can still win with mistakes, but you've got to finish."
"Dream come true"
Vonn trailed early starter and local favourite Marie Marchand-Arvier midway down the course but made up time on the Frenchwoman in the technical lower section.
"I knew the light wasn't going to be good and was getting worse because the early runners were sitting 1-2 [in first and second place], so I knew I just had to go for it," Vonn said. "It's incredible to get my first gold medal. It's what I've worked for all my life. It's my dream come true."
Vonn finished in 1 minute, 20.73 seconds. Marchand-Arvier was second, 0.34 seconds behind, and Andrea Fischbacher of Austria was third, 0.40 behind the leader.
Two-time defending champion Anja Pärson missed a gate near the end of her run, although the Swede was already trailing the leaders by a large margin.
Vonn won two silvers at the last worlds in Åre, Sweden, two years ago but had never won gold at a world championship or Olympics. She has now won three races in five days, having taken a World Cup slalom and super-G in Garmisch-Partenkirchen over the weekend.
Last season Vonn became the first American woman to win the overall World Cup title in 25 years – since Tamara McKinney in 1983 – and she also leads the overall standings this season.
The race marked the first official competition on the new Rhône-Alpes course, which starts above the tree line with skiers approaching 100km/h, then delves down into a forest with a series of curves before a steep descent into the finish. Several skiers fell or missed gates on the highly technical track.
The race was run under mostly cloudy skies, with patches of blue sky.
The men's super-G is scheduled for Wednesday on the Bellevarde course. The two tracks face each other and funnel into the same finish area.
The four remaining women's events are the super combined on Friday, the downhill on Sunday, the giant slalom next Thursday and the slalom next Saturday.
At the 2007 world championships in Åre the Swiss took home six medals. This followed a disastrous 2005 championships in Bormio, Italy, when they failed to win a single medal.
swissinfo with agencies
Results from the women's super-G:
1. Lindsey Vonn (United States) 1:20.73.
2. Marie Marchand-Arvier (France) 0.34 back.
3. Andrea Fischbacher (Austria) 0.40.
4. Anna Fenninger (Austria) 1.28.
5. Tina Maze (Slovenia) 1.33.
7. Lara Gut (Switzerland) 1.61.
11. Fabienne Suter (Switzerland) 2.17.
Alpine World Ski Championships
The Alpine World Ski Championships take place every two years. For 15 days, skiers will compete for medals in the same disciplines as in the World Cup.
A contest among nations, the event is divided into men's and women's events.
This year the races take place from February 2-15 at the French ski resort of Val d'Isère. It is the first time that France has organised the championships since 1968.