What is slalom skiing?

Slalom has the shortest course and fastest turns, with competitors moving past poles to set a time.

By Rahul Venkat
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

India’s Mohammad Arif Khan became the first athlete from the country to earn a quota place for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics winning a quota in the men’s slalom event.

What exactly is the slalom?

Slalom is a part of alpine skiing. Alpine skiing consists of five events - downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and combined. Men and women compete in each of these.

For greater understanding, alpine skiing can be considered like swimming - which also has different styles like freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and medley.

Slalom skiing rules

Of the five events in alpine skiing, slalom is considered the fastest and the one with the quickest turns.

Competitors are required to ski down a slope that has a vertical descent of 180m to 220m for men or 140m to 180m for women.

Skiers are supposed to pass through ‘gates’ - which refer to two plastic poles, alternating between red and blue through an earmarked course. Each gate has a minimum width of 4m and a maximum of 6m.

Slalom skiers, who often knock over the poles in order to find the fastest route to the final gate, have to pass through two courses. On the basis of timings, eliminations take place after the first course is run.

The competitor with the lowest combined time across the two courses is deemed the winner.

Slalom skiing equipment

The main equipment for slalom is, of course, the skis. Slalom skis are generally the smallest among all events in alpine skiing, they have a minimum length of 165 cm (for men) and 155cm (for women).

The bindings connect the boots to the skis. Slalom skiers also use a crash helmet - they have soft ear protection and have an attached chin guard to prevent skiers from getting hit on the face by the ‘gates’.

Skiers also wear goggles and a suit - which are usually skintight to decrease air resistance. They also wear shinpads.

History of slalom skiing

Alpine skiing was first introduced in the 1936 Winter Olympics at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany with only a Combined event.

Slalom by itself was first competed in at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St Moritz, Switzerland and has been part of the Winter Olympics in every edition since.

Switzerland’s Edy Reinalter was the first men’s slalom Winter Olympics gold-medallist in 1948. Frenchmen James Couttet bagged silver and Henri Orellier won the bronze medal.

American Gretchen Fraser won the first women’s slalom gold medal at the 1948 Winter Olympics. Switzerland’s Antoinette Meyer got silver and Erika Mahringer of Austria won bronze.

Austria is also the most successful nation in men’s slalom at the Winter Olympics, having won seven golds, four silvers and six bronze medals.

The USA leads the way in the women’s slalom with four golds, one silver and one bronze.

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