The icy road to the 2018 Winter Olympics begins in earnest with the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow this weekend.

As the Grand Prix series gets going with a strong field that includes Sochi gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan heading the men's competition and Russia's two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva in the women's event, U.S. prospects for making the podium in Pyeongchang, South Korea, are uncertain. Nathan Chen, the American national champ, will take on Hanyu and Sochi bronze medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan at the opening Grand Prix event. That should give Chen an early idea of where he stands.

U.S. women's champion Karen Chen (no relation) will not be in Moscow to take on Medvedeva, a heavy favorite in virtually every competition she enters. But Sochi bronze winner Carolina Kostner of Italy is still around, and Medvedeva's countrywomen always are a threat.

Perhaps the United States' best hopes for making the Grand Prix finals and also to medal at Pyeongchang are brother-sister combination Alex and Maia Shibutani. The two-time national ice dance champions make their season debut in Moscow.

They can't wait.

"We're very excited for the Grand Prix season, and it's the same feeling every year we've done the series," says Alex Shibutani, at 26, three years older than his sister. "Debuting our programs at Moscow, and we've been working really hard this offseason and we're proud of the material we have come up with and will be displaying this season. Physically, we are in the best shapes of our career. As artists, we have really evolved and transformed over the last three years."

Indeed, the Shibutanis are the latest powerful U.S. couple in ice dance, following in the skate steps of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, and 2014 Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White. They won a bronze at this year's worlds, the only U.S. medal at the event.

They face hefty competition this season in Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. Those duos will not be in Moscow.

The Shibutanis, who train in Michigan, went through the Olympic preparation grind four years ago, making the U.S. team and then placing 10th at the games. Any and all lessons learned have helped as they get set to kick off pursuit of an Olympic medal.

"It definitely helped a lot," Maia Shibutani says. "Our first Olympics were very inspiring for us. We knew we wanted to change a lot about how we took control of our skating. We have a lot better sense of timing and preparation."

Adds Alex Shibutani: "We have matured a lot as people on and off the ice since 2014. Mentally we are more developed. We've competed at many competitions since the Sochi Olympics — obviously the Olympics are unlike any other competition — and we took advantage of that experience."

"Competitively speaking, just having an understanding of what it is like this season will make a big difference for us," he says. "But we're planning to treat them like other competitions — I know you hear that a lot — but we developed a mindset to put us in a good place. It's easy to tell someone what to do, but we've been through so much together and have our experiences together.

"The Olympics did not really give us this comfort with competing, we already felt that way. But you learn a lot as you get older and we're grateful of it. Now we can showcase what we are working on. We always have enjoyed performing. We know when we show up we have put in the work."

The work this season is just beginning.