Maier, who has shot to the top of both the overall and downhill rankings in only his second full season on the circuit, skied Bormio's icy Stelvio piste in 2min 1.59sec. He put up a brilliant, aggressive performance on the top half of the course to lead Schifferer by over half a second at the midway split and coped with difficult light to hold on for a victory that surprised him.
"My tactics were to take it relatively easy today and then go for victory tomorrow [in a second downhill]," he said. "I made a few mistakes near the bottom and I found it difficult to see. One minute I was in sunlight, the next in darkness and I very nearly lost it completely."
Werner Franz claimed his first top-three finish of the season in 2:01.79 and Stefan Eberharter took fourth in 2:01.83 as the Austrians tightened their grip on the World Cup speed events. Norway's Lasse Kjus was the best placed non-Austrian, fifth in 2:02.01.
Italy's Kristian Ghedina, the joint leader of the downhill standings with Schifferer before yesterday's race, managed only 14th place in a disappointing 2:02.62.