Overall World Cup leader Aksel Lund Svindal sustained a season-ending knee injury in a dramatic men's World Cup downhill, which was called off because of poor visibility after three serious crashes among only 30 starters on Saturday.

Svindal and Georg Streitberger of Austria both needed knee surgery and were ruled out for the season after they were thrown off the bumpy Hausbergkante and landed in the safety netting as the cloudy weather made for flat light on parts of the course.

Former Streif winner Hannes Reichelt also crashed in the same spot but the Austrian escaped with a bruised bone in his left knee.

Svindal had scratches in his face but initially appeared to have escaped serious injuries as he stood up shortly after the crash and was brought down the slope by a snow scooter. However, a check of his right knee in a clinic in Innsbruck revealed the extent of his injury.

The Norwegian wasn't fully fit coming into the race after he pulled his left hamstring when straddling a gate in the slalom run of Friday's combined event.

Peter Fill of Italy was leading from Swiss pair Beat Feuz and Carlo Janka when the race was canceled and awarded the victory. The result counted as at least 30 skiers started their run.

The top Canadian skier was Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., who finished 1.51 seconds behind Fill for 11th place. Manuel Osbourne Paradis of North Vancouver, B.C., finished in 15th place with a time of 1:54.30, and Benjamin Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., was 19th in a time of 1:54.61..

"It's an important win for me. You are always on the edge here," Fill said. "Three years ago I also crashed here, at the exit of the Steilhang. If you start here, you know it's dangerous."

High wind in the upper part of the course caused the start to be delayed for an hour, and ultimately forced organizers to lower the start and shorten the 3.3-kilometer course by 100 meters.

Also in the morning, course workers were busy removing a 10-centimeter layer of fresh snow off the course.

Conditions improved when the race started, but snow clouds came in again when the best ranked downhill skiers were yet to come down.

"Those crashes throw a shadow over this race day, they are dampening my joy," said Feuz, who trailed Fill by 0.47 for his first top-three finish since coming runner-up in Wengen a year ago. "I still can't realize I made the podium today."

His Swiss teammate, Janka, finished 0.65 behind Fill, and also had "mixed feelings. The crashes were brutal."

"It was a dramatic race," the 2010 overall champion said. "The top group definitely didn't have the best conditions. It's never easy here, but you have either difficult or extreme, and today it was the latter. The race was on the limit with the conditions."

An estimated crowd of 45,000 held their breath each time the race was interrupted for about 10 minutes following the crashes, which were repeatedly shown on large video screens in the finish area.

Kjetil Jansrud, who won here last year, said he didn't see his Norwegian teammate Svindal crash as he was in the start house preparing for his own run.

"It was so tough, it was getting very dark, it was windy, there was snow in the air, it all made it extremely difficult," said Jansrud, who came 1.89 behind in 14th.

"Kitzbuehel is always brutally hard, and now the (flat) light and wind made it even harder. But this is an outdoor sport, it can happen. Fill, Feuz, and Janka deserve it, they just skied very well."

Competing in his 301st World Cup race, Fill made some minor mistakes but didn't lose much time as a result. He was standing at the leaderboard when Reichelt and Svindal went out.

"It's a tough downhill. You have to risk everything," the Italian said. "It hurts when you see Reichelt and Svindal flying off the course."

Fill's second career victory came more than seven years after winning a downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta, in November 2008.

"It feels great. This was the biggest race, as we don't have Olympics or world championships this season," Fill said. "I had one goal this season, to win Wengen or Kitzbuehel. Wengen didn't go so well last week so I am happy to win here."

The cancellation was bitter for Fill's teammate, Mattia Casse, who was supposed to start 45th. The Italian was among the favorites after posting the fastest time in final training on Thursday. The 76th edition of the Hahnenkamm races ends with a slalom on Sunday.

With files from CBC Sports