What is alpine skiing

A part of the Winter Olympics since 1936, alpine skiing consists of downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-g and combined events.

By Rahul Venkat
Picture by Getty Images

Alpine skiing has been a key part of India’s presence at the Winter Olympics over the years.

India’s first brush with the Winter Olympics came in 1964, when Jeremy Bujakowski competed in the downhill event of alpine skiing.

Alpine skiers represented India at the 1964, 1968, 1988, 1992, 2006, 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics.

Mohammad Arif Khan became the first Indian to earn a quota place for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in the men’s slalom and men’s giant slalom. It made him India’s first athlete to obtain quotas in two events.

Alpine skiing is one of the Winter Olympics’ signature competitions. Often referred to as downhill skiing, it involves competitors skiing down a snow-covered mountain slope as quickly as possible. It’s held in a time trial format, as opposed to skiers racing each other.

Overall, alpine skiing has five events - downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-G and combined. Medals are on offer for both men and women in each event.

A mixed team event - a parallel slalom competition - was added for the 2018 Winter Olympics and will be a part of the 2022 Winter Olympics as well.

Let’s take a brief look at alpine skiing events.

Downhill

The simplest form of alpine skiing, downhill, was introduced to the Olympic programme in 1948 and has been a part of it ever since.

As the name suggests, skiers have to ski down a predetermined slope, with minimal turns and maximum speeds to reach the finish line. Skiers can reach speeds of 130 km/h.

The vertical drop of the slope in downhill should be between 800-1100m (for men) and 450-800m (for women).

Each competitor is allowed one ski down the course and the fastest to cross the line is deemed the winner.

Frenchman Henri Orellier was the first men’s downhill Winter Olympics gold-medallist while Hedy Schlunegger of Switzerland won the women’s downhill gold at the 1948 Winter Olympics.

Slalom

Slalom is considered the fastest event among alpine skiing.

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

Skiers pass through ‘gates’ or two plastic poles. Each gate has a minimum width of 4m and a maximum of 6m. Skiers often knock over the poles in order to find the fastest route.

Slalom skiers have to pass through two courses. Eliminations take place after the first course based on timings.

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

Switzerland’s Edy Reinalter and American Gretchen Fraser were the first gold medal winners in the men’s and women’s slalom events, respectively, at the 1948 Winter Olympics.

Giant Slalom

Similar to the slalom, giant slalom also involves skiing down a slope and passing through gates with turns.

However, in giant slalom the vertical descent for skiers is between 250-450m for men and 250-400m for women. Each gate, meanwhile, has a minimum width of 4m and a maximum of 8m.

Skiers get two runs down the slope and the winner is determined by the fastest cumulative time.

Giant slalom was introduced to the Winter Olympics in 1952 in Oslo, Norway.

Norwegian Stein Eriksen was crowned the first men’s giant slalom Winter Olympic champion and the USA’s Andrea Lawrence won the women’s giant slalom gold at the 1952 Winter Olympics.

Super-G

The super-G combines elements of the downhill and slalom/giant slalom.

Athletes ski down a slope similar to the downhill (which means they achieve high speeds) but also have to pass through alternating red and blue gates like slalom. They also have to stay within the boundaries of the course except in a few allowed spots.

The vertical drop of the slope in super-G is between 400-650m (for men) and 400-600m (for women).

The super-G was first part of the Winter Olympics in the 1988 edition. France’s Franck Piccard won the inaugural gold in the men’s Super-G while Austrian Sigrid Wolf won the women’s Super-G gold medal.

Alpine skiing combined

In the combined alpine skiing event, skiers make one downhill run and one slalom run.

The skier with the fastest aggregate time is declared the winner.

Combined was the first alpine skiing event to be introduced to the Winter Olympics in 1936. However, after being included in 1936 and 1948, combined was off the Olympic programme until making a comeback in 1988 and has been a part ever since.

The first men’s combined Winter Olympics gold-medallist was Germany’s Franz Pfnur while his compatriot Christl Cranz won the first women’s combined gold medal.

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