Giant slalom king Ligety skis towards Olympic gold in Sochi
Ted Ligety of the US competes during the Men's Alpine Skiing Giant Slalom Run 1 at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre, during the Sochi Winter Olympics, on February 19, 2014 - by Fabrice Coffrini
The 29-year-old reigning world champion clocked a time of 1min 21.08sec, a whopping 0.93sec faster than his closest competitor, Czech skier Ondrej Bank.
Davide Simoncelli of Italy was third at 1.27sec with Thomas Fanara of France and downhill Olympic champion Matthias Mayer of Austria in joint fourth place.
Ligety's main giant slalom rivals -- French young gun Alexis Pinturault and Austrian hot shot Marcel Hirscher -- were sixth and seventh respectively, with one more run to go.
Pinturault, 22, was first to start and put in a strong performance on a crisp course and amid sunny weather that had little in common with the slushy conditions in the women's giant slalom on Tuesday.
He was quickly overtaken by Fanara but the Frenchman could only hold the lead for a short time.
Straight out of the starting gate, Ligety -- last season's giant slalom World Cup winner -- posted a 0.34sec lead which he kept building down the Rosa Khutor slope to finish far ahead of the competition.
Only Germany's Stefan Luitz came close to that, but he smashed into a gate just metres from the finish and was disqualified.
"Sometimes my best or fastest run doesn't feel like that. Today I actually felt at times that I was going a little too cautiously, but I managed to get a nice buffer," four-time world champion Ligety said.
"Having this kind of buffer definitely allows you not to take super risks in the second run."
"I'm 50 percent of the way there, I have to go hard in the second run... Anything can still happen, I just have to stick with my skiing."
Simoncelli and Bank slotted in behind him with later starts.
In a surprise run, 23-year-old Mayer -- last week's sensational downhill Olympic champion -- also bested his compatriot Hirscher, the current giant slalom World Cup leader.
Germany's Felix Neureuther, who was long in doubt for Wednesday's race, finished eighth.
The slalom world silver-medallist was involved in a car accident on Friday in Munich on his way to take the plane for Sochi and had to cut short training on Monday due to serious pain.
Defending Olympic champion Carlo Janka was ninth.
"On this course, anything's possible, but it depends on getting a good bib number," said US star Bode Miller, chasing yet another medal after joint bronze in the men's super-G on Sunday.
"If I'm not in the top 30, I'm toast," said the six-time Olympic medallist who is down in 26th spot.
The second round kicks off at 2:30pm (1030GMT).