Birgit Hussauf said she had nothing to lose.

Actually, she did - $1,400. What she probably should have said as she stepped up to accept first prize in the first women's pro ski race of the season was she had a lot to gain.Besides the money and extra points between first and second place that go toward overall standings, there's the added confidence that goes with a victory right off.

Shyly struggling to find the words in English, the former Austrian National Ski Team member admitted she wasn't so sure of herself at the start.

"It was good," she said about winning the first race in America's Opening at Park City. "It does give me confidence. I didn't start so good. I made mistakes. Not just one, but a lot. Now I feel better."

The day started with qualifying. There were 26 racers vying for the 16 openings in the afternoon finals. Hussauf was the No. 2 qualifyer on the blue course, behind Brenda Buglione of Boulder, Colo., and just ahead of Ivana Arnold of Czechoslovakia.

In the first race Hussauf beat Muriel Dalmais of France, and in the second Roswitha Raudaschl, who left the Austrian team the year before Hussauf, and was the racer who beat her out of the overall women's title last year.

Arnold beat America's top hopeful, Lynda McGehee, in round one, then another American, rookie Monica Samolis.

In the finals, Arnold skied the faster blue course on the first runs, took a narrow lead after the second jump and held on to beat Hussauf by .529 of a second.

Returning to the top, the two switched courses and raced a second and final time. This run, Hussauf went off the first jump a little ahead of Arnold, widened the lead going off the second jump and then beat her to the finish by .840 second for a .3 second advantage.

"I had to go all out," she said of her second run. "I had nothing to lose. I had to take a chance."

Arnold said she was pleased with her skiing, but did admit to one little flaw.

"When I looked over and saw she was ahead of me on the second run, I lost my concentration. I got too far behind and couldn't catch her," she said.

Arnold collected $3,600 for second place.

In the race for third, Catharina Glasser-Bjerner, who skied on the Swedish National Team for 10 seasons and is considered the most promising rookie on the tour this year, faced the same situation against Buglione. After the first run, she trailed by .314 second. Racing on the faster blue course on the second run she beat Buglione by .465.

Andreja Leskovsek of Yugoslavia who won this event last year, won both her runs to finish in fifth ahead of Cathy Andeer of Switzerland. Raudaschl finished in seventh.

The event continues today with the women's giant slalom scheduled at 10 a.m. and the men's slalom at 1 p.m. The men and women qualified for these events on Thursday.

The afternoon race will likely receive the most attention during this four-day event. It will be the first actual race on the pro circuit for Steve and Phil Mahre and their first competitive race since leaving the U.S. Ski Team shortly after the 1984 Olympics, where both medaled. Phil won a gold and Steve a silver in the slalom.

On Thursday, the two proved that despite a four-year layoff they are more than up for a return to ski racing. After only two weeks of actual training before this event, Steve was the second and Phil the third fastest qualifiers out of 69 pro skiers trying for one of the 32 racing slots.

The only skier to beat the two Washington skiers was Niklas Lindquist of Sweden, also a rookie on the men's tour this year.

Each of the top three qualifiers won bars of gold on Thursday. Lindquist got four ounces valued at $1,905, Steve Mahre three ounces valued at $1,429 and Phil two ounces valued at $900.

The courses are located at the base of the Park City ski area. Tickets are available at the ski area.