"I can't believe it now," Kueng said.
Kueng never so much had reached the podium in the super-G; his two World Cup podiums both had come in the downhill. But there he was, having clocked 1 minute, 21.73 seconds in slightly better light to stunningly eclipse Italy's Peter Fill and Austria's Hannes Reichelt, who were tied 0.38 seconds back.
Much later, Austria's Otmar Striedinger raced from the 45th start position all the way into second place his previous career-best finish was 17th to relegate Ligety to fifth, just 0.10 seconds off the podium.
"I skied the turns well," Ligety said.
True enough, but the 29-year-old was in line for so much more.
Having won the super-G as part of his historic triple gold-medal haul at the world championships last February, Ligety was poised to reach a World Cup podium in the event for the first time since a second-place finish at Val d'Isere in 2009, after failing to finish the season-opener in Lake Louise, Canada, last weekend.
His parents both watched from the grandstand, and Ligety laid down one of the best runs of the day on a course whose middle section was costing everybody time. Afterward, he watched as Italy's Matteo Marsaglia skied out and Svindal fell just 0.13 seconds short of Ligety's time.
"I was thinking he was probably going to beat me," Ligety said.
After all, the Norwegian had won the last four World Cup super-G races in a row and had been beaten only once in the event over the past two seasons when he lost to Marsaglia here last year.
"Aksel is just awesome mentally and a good competitor," Ligety said, "so I figured it would be pretty easy for him to knock me off. ... We both made some mistakes, but I was able to make them in the right spots maybe."
By then, Ligety was able to exhale, not suspecting that Kueng or Striedinger would race so fast.
"The light got better," he said. "That's how it goes. It's happened to me before. It happens to everybody. It's ski racing."
At least, Ligety has one final shot at triumph this weekend in the giant slalom, his specialty.
He has won four overall World Cup titles in the discipline, as well as last season's world championship and 18 World Cup races, including six of eight contested last season.
"My slalom is like fine China," he said in response to a question about one of his weaker disciplines. "It's really nice and looks pretty sometimes and can be fast, but if you drop it, it breaks easily. Whereas my GS is like an iron skillet. You can kick it around and do anything with it and it holds up."
World Cup super-G
At Beaver Creek, Colo.
Gold • Patrick Kueng, Switzerland, 1:21.73
Silver • Otmar Striedinger, Austria, 1:21.97
Bronze • Hannes Reichelt, Austria, 1:22.11; Peter Fill, Italy, 1:22.11