Maria Riesch of Germany took the lead after the first run Saturday of the World Cup slalom race on the Levi Black course in Finland.
The Olympic slalom gold medalist finished in 56.13 seconds in the first slalom race of the season to lead teammate Katharina Duerr by 0.58 seconds. Nicole Hosp of Austria was third, 0.74 seconds behind Riesch, with the Finnish home crowd's favorite, Tanja Poutiainen, fourth, 0.75 back.
Three time overall champion Lindsey Vonn lost her balance slightly on the steep decline and trailed Riesch by 0.92 seconds in sixth.
Vonn, who won the first World Cup slalom race of her career in Levi two years ago and finished second last year, said that she made some mistakes.
"I just came over the break-over a little bit out of balance and I think that cost me some time for sure, but I'm still very much in contention for at least second place," Vonn said. "I'm just gonna go out there and hope for a better second run."
Vonn, known for her dominance in downhill and super-G, has focused her preseason training on improving her slalom and giant slalom skills to fend off her rival.
"Last year in Levi I was in second place but after that I really wasn't inside the top 10," Vonn said about her slalom performances.
"I feel like I'm in great shape right now and I hope I can get a good second run and keep them all rolling for the rest of the season," she said.
Riesch finished second in the overall standings behind Vonn the past two years and is seeking to close the gap this season.
"Last year I did not win so many (races), I had three victories, which is good, but Lindsey had 11 so it's hard to beat her overall and I have to try hard," she said.
"It's a good hill for me, I had a lot of good results here the last couple of years," said Riesch, who won in Levi last year.
Riesch said she went on full attack during the first run, but made a small mistake at the beginning of the steep part of the hill.
"It was not an optimal run for me but still good enough, especially the flat first section was really good," she said.
Levi, a small ski resort that is the world's northernmost World Cup venue, is hosting cup slaloms for the fifth time since 2006.