What are the disciplines in alpine ski racing?
Alpine ski racing is organized around six disciplines: Downhill, Super G, Giant Slalom, Slalom, Parallel and Combined. Events are based on speed or/and technique and are held at many national and international championships and cups, as well as during the Winter Olympic Games.
For each discipline, a course is created using red and blue gates made of two poles connected by a banner stretched between them. The skier must ski around all the gates in the prescribed order to keep from being disqualified.
Course profiles are different from one discipline to another and will vary depending on the length of the course, the gradient, the number of gates to pass and their spacing.
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The Downhill (speed event)
Considered by many to be the premiere event in alpine skiing, Downhill is without a doubt the most impressive speed discipline. Top speeds can reach up to 100mph (160kmh), turns are super engaging and jumps of dozens of meters are common.
- Courses with 450m to 800m of vertical drop for women. 750m to 1100m of vertical drop for men.
- The number of gates depends on the course.
- At least one timed run at full speed.
- Usually a single round event.
Some downhill courses – like the Lauberhorn Downhill at Wengen, Switzerland and the Streif at Kitzbuhel, Austria – are legendary in the world of alpine skiing.
Super G (speed event)
Super G is positioned between Downhill and Giant Slalom in terms of speed, length of the course, and number of gates.
- Courses with 400m to 600m of vertical drop for women. 400m to 650m of vertical drop for men.
- 28 to 45 gates.
- No training at full speed but there is a course inspection.
- Single round event.
Super G is more technical than Downhill because the vertical drop is less, and the gates are closer together. On the other hand, Super G is faster than Giant Slalom.
Giant Slalom (technical event)
Get ready for the fastest of the technical events: the Giant Slalom. The course has more turns than other speed events with a large number of gates to run.
- Courses with 250m to 400m of vertical drop for women. 250m to 450m of vertical drop for men.
- 30 to 65 gates per event.
- The event is contested in two heats, on the same day, on two different courses.
- The start of the second run is in reverse order of the first run for the first 30 of the first run.
- The times of the two heats are added together to determine the final ranking.
Slalom (technical event)
Slalom is the most technical discipline in alpine skiing. The gates are even closer together than in Giant Slalom and the turns are very fast and require quick changes in direction. The gates are usually cleared head-on by the skier which makes this discipline especially impressive.
- Courses with 140m to 220m vertical drop for women. 180m to 220m vertical drop for men.
- 40 to 75 gates per course.
- Event contested in 2 rounds, the same day, on two different courses.
- The first 30 skiers from the first run start in the reverse order of the ranking to compete in the second run.
- The times of the two runs are added together to determine the final ranking.
An Alpine Combined event is a Downhill or Super G run followed by a Slalom run. The times of the two runs are added together to determine the final ranking. This means the skier’s abilities in both speed and technique are highlighted.
However, there are not many Combined events held during the ski season. Because skiers specialize in either speed or technique, this discipline, which emphasizes versatility, is less and less contested.
Parallel (technical event)
Parallel is a spectacular new discipline. Skiers face off against each other in a duel held on two identical parallel courses:
- Courses have 80m to 100m of vertical drop.
- 20 to 30 gates per course
- 32 competitors maximum for the final rounds
- Skiers go head-to-head in two runs.
- As in a tournament, the fastest of the two heats advances to the next round.
The rules of this event change regularly in order to adapt to the demands of the skiers. To be continued!
The major alpine ski races
At the highest level, alpine skiing takes place on a World Cup circuit which rewards the best skiers over the course of an entire season. The season traditionally starts in October on the Sölden glacier in Austria.
The Alpine World Ski Championships are held every two years and reward the best skiers in six events: Downhill, Super G, Giant Slalom, Slalom and Combined and a Mixed Nations Team Event.
Finally, alpine skiing has been an Olympic sport since 1936. The five disciplines are contested by both men and women in the Winter Olympic Games held every four years.