A geek’s guide to Alpine Skiing

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There is no place for even a hint of fear in the intense world of Alpine Skiing. Alpine skiing comprises five individual events; downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super giant (super-G) and the super combination. Set against the backdrop of stunning scenery combined with speed and unpredictability, make alpine skiing a sport to never take your eyes off.

Alpine skiing events are one of the most compelling events in the winter sports calendar. As mentioned Alpine skiing is a series of events and the term alpine skiing is an umbrella term regarding two "technical" events, two "speed" events and one combined event of both speed and technicality. In the Winter Olympics, there is a mixed event added making the total events to six.

A brief history of alpine skiing

Skiing can be traced to prehistoric times with preserved wooden planks preserved in peat bogs in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia. Skiing it has been deduced represented a standard part of everyday life in these cold-temperature countries.

French World Cup alpine ski racer Jean-Claude Killy during the Slalom race. 1968 French World Cup alpine ski racer Jean-Claude Killy during the Slalom race. 1968

Modern downhill skiing had its origins in the 1850s when Norwegian Sondre Norheim added curved sides to his ski's and bindings to the heels. Norheim went on to win the first national skiing competition in Norway in 1868, and modern skiing was born.

Decades later, after skiing had moved from being a method of transport to a sport, it spread to the rest of Europe and across the Atlantic to the USA.

Alpine skiing categories

Speed events in alpine skiing

Downhill

Canadian skier Erik Guay races down the Kandahar ski slope during the Alpine skiing downhill world cup Canadian skier Erik Guay races down the Kandahar ski slope during the Alpine skiing downhill world cup

The Downhill is the fastest of the alpine skiing events with the skier's only aim is to make it down the slope in the shortest time possible without having to pass through the gates.

Ski poles are more aerodynamic, and the ski's themselves are longer to provide stability at high speeds typically reached at 140 kmh. The slope, known as a drop ranges from 450m to 1,100m depending on the gender of the skier.

With the highest vertical drop, fewest turns and the longest distance, the downhill is often referred to as the most prestigious event in alpine skiing.

Super G (giant)
Along with the downhill, the Super G is the other speed event in alpine skiing. Although similar to the downhill, the super G has many more turns with the skiers required to go around the gates. The drop range is from 350m to 650m.

Romane Miradoli of France competes during the Super-G race Romane Miradoli of France competes during the Super-G race

Often classified as the event that is between the giant slalom and the downhill (quite fast with tight turns) the super G is very fun to watch.

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Technical events in alpine skiing

Slalom
The most technical of alpine skiing events, the slalom is the slowest and shortest event. Skiers are required to go around the course poles, ranging from 40 to 75 depending if the skier is male or female.

Slovenian alpine skier Tina Maze is pictured in action during the second run of the women's slalom competition Slovenian alpine skier Tina Maze is pictured in action during the second run of the women's slalom competition

Slalom turns are incredibly tight as the gates are so close to each other. Skiers attempt to ski is as straight a line as possible ensuring they go through each gate, doing so by slapping the gates down with their body as opposed to going around them.

Slalom gates are made out of single poles and are set up in a way to alternate the rhythm of the course drop. Hence, skiers must have high technical proficiency and be an expert in tight turns to navigate the course.

Giant Slalom
Alongside slalom as a technical event, the giant slalom differs in that this alpine skiing event has more gates that are placed closer to each other compared with the super G that the event is slower to watch.

Weirather Tina of Liechtenstein on the course during the Giant Slalom race Weirather Tina of Liechtenstein on the course during the Giant Slalom race

Unlike the slalom event, the giant slalom event has gates made out of two sets of poles conjoined by flags. Skiing down the hill much slower than slalom or super G, skiers use medium-length and dynamic turns to ski between the two sets of one colour flags.

Giant slalom courses have between 46 and 70 gates with a vertical drop ranging between 250m and 450m depending on whether the event is female or male.

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Super combined
Skiers typically specialise in either the speed or technical categories, frequently preferring to compete in only the events that they exceed in. The final individual event, the super combined, questions both their versatility as it combines two vastly different skill-sets: skiers’ downhill endurance and slalom dynamism.

Skiers take part in one downhill run and one slalom run with the skier seeking the least combined time winning the event. However, only skiers who complete the downhill run can attempt the slalom run.

Parallel mixed team
The only team event in alpine skiing, the parallel mixed team event comprises two teams of four skiers — two women and two men from each country that compete in a slalom race.

Switzerland's Daniel Yule (l) and Austria's Marco Schwarz in action at the mixed team alpine skiing finals Switzerland's Daniel Yule (l) and Austria's Marco Schwarz in action at the mixed team alpine skiing finals

In the parallel mixed team event, two skiers’ race against each other in a slalom course with the winner of the race obtaining a point for their team. It should be noted that the slalom races are only men v men or women v women (no mixed gender races). Should the event be tied, the team with the lowest combines time of their fastest male and female will win.

The parallel mixed team event is played in a knockout format with teams competing against others according to their rankings, with the winner progressing to the following round competing against another winning team.

With this geek’s guide to alpine skiing, you should have enough to get started watching this fast and unpredictable sport. Due to its variety and highly focussed requirements, watching alpine skiing and betting on it can be both highly rewarding.

Words: David Bailey-Lauring

Images: PA

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