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Nathan Bilow, Associated Press
Ted Ligety, of Utah, races down the course with the fastest time during the men's World Cup giant slalom ski competition, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011, in Beaver Creek, Colo.

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Ted Ligety was so steady as he rhythmically glided down the course to take the early lead in a World Cup giant slalom on Sunday.

Ligety, the defending champion at this venue, leads Marcel Hirscher of Austria by 0.21 seconds heading into the final trip down the hill. Leif Kristian Haugen of Norway is third after a surprise charge from back in the pack.

Bode Miller had a ragged run and didn't make the top 30. His go-for-broke approach caused him to make a huge mistake early, costing him valuable time. Even more, he tweaked his back in that section, which threw him off the rest of the way as he finished 3.34 seconds behind Ligety.

"A little tweak," Miller said. "It was enough that my leg felt really weak for a while. I kept chattering on that left foot, which didn't help. I didn't need that added on to everything else. Just a misjudgment."

Miller hasn't been training much for the giant slalom, electing to focus on the speed events. It paid off with a downhill win on Friday, but hurt him Sunday.

On those rare occasions when Miller has squeezed in some GS runs, it's been on icy conditions. So his setup was off for this type of course, since the snow was more grippy and aggressive.

His day done early, Miller's plan was to head over to nearby Vail and take a few runs in order to get used to this type of snow conditions. There's another GS at the Birds of Prey on Tuesday.

Ligety looked effortless in his opening run, kicking up little snow in his wake as he carved through the course. His easygoing form is why he's one of the elite GS skiers in the world.

It's an enviable form.

"His style is such that it doesn't demand a lot of risk. He gets so much done above the gate, his turns have a nice flow to them," Miller said. "He fixes a lot of those mistakes before they happen. It's a real good way to ski."

For as well as Ligety skied, he felt he could've done better. He wasn't prepared for this "super aggressive" snow.

"It was hard to really push without bouncing around," said Ligety, who's won three overall GS titles. "I was trying to absorb the bounciness of the skis."

Lately, Ligety has found himself in the middle of a spat with International Ski Federation over changes to the GS skis set to go into effect next season.

Ligety is upset over the fact the FIS is altering the hourglass shape of the skis.

Already so dialed in with his Head equipment, it could take away some of Ligety's built-in advantage. He's been lashing out at skiing's governing body, even saying the changes will ruin his discipline.

"It's such a ridiculous rule change that makes no sense safety-wise or evolution of the sport-wise. It can't go through," Ligety recently said. "I'm living my life as if it's not on the horizon."

And skiing like it, too.

Ligety captured the season-opening GS in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 23.

So dominant has Ligety been that his competitors are even studying film of him for pointers.

At least that is Haugen's solution to closing the gap. He was certainly impressed with Ligety's first run.

"Nice and easy," said Haugen, who's finishing up his degrees in international business and finance at the University of Denver. "Everything was really nice and clean, which he's known for."

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Haugen also has been asking Miller for advice. A month ago in Vail, the two talked shop with Miller giving him tips.

Anything specific?

"Just a few things on how to approach the top of the turn, stuff like that," Haugen said. "I thought about it and was like, 'I'm going to try that.' It seemed to work out fine."

Tommy Ford of the United States made the field for a second run despite a big mistake in his run. Switzerland's Sandro Viletta, who won the super-G on Saturday, wasn't so fortunate. He had an error that knocked him off the course and ended his day.