It’s a simple concept: fastest skier from top to bottom wins.
And if you strip it down to the essentials, it’s a simple sport.
Because as much as alpine skiing has changed over the past 150 years or so, one thing has stayed the same. It’s about speed: electrifying, breathtaking speed.
It’s a sport that requires great courage and skill in equal measure; strength, agility, balance and technique.
And although there have been great advances in ski equipment and technology in recent times, the essence of the sport has remained constant.
There are no judges handing out scores; no marks awarded for style. It’s strictly a numbers game in which the time it takes a skier to go from the start to the finish, passing through a series of gates on the way down, determines the outcome of each race.
In literal terms, alpine skiing – so called because it refers to skiing at or near the tree line – is the sport of sliding down snow-covered hills or mountains on skis with fixed heel bindings.
There are several different kinds of alpine skiing, but it is most commonly divided into the five core disciplines ski racers compete in at the Olympics:
If downhill is defined by speed, slalom is synonymous with technical ability. The world’s best slalom racers use aggression, strength and agility to make their way down shorter courses that feature the most turns of any alpine event. They must pass between poles that form a series of gates arranged in a series of different configurations. The skier with the best combined time from two separate runs is declared the winner. Because slalom skiers take a direct line and knock poles out of the way as they pass through (referred to as “blocking”), they wear protective equipment that includes shin pads, arm guards, padded gloves and face guards. In Michael Janyk and Julien Cousineau, Canada has two of the world’s best slalom specialists. On the women’s side, Canada has several young and talented slalom skiers, including Marie-Michèle Gagnon and Erin Mielzynski.
As the name suggests, giant slalom features a bigger (longer) course than traditional slalom, with at least 30 gates. Considered a technical discipline, giant slalom skiers use skis that are longer than slalom skis but shorter than downhill or super-G skis. Giant slalom generally features two runs – held on different courses on the same ski run. The skier with the fastest combined time wins.
Super giant slalom (or super-G, for short) combines the raw speed of downhill racing with the technical skill of slalom. It features long, sweeping high-speed turns on courses that have vertical drops only slightly less steep than in downhill. As such, it is referred to as a “speed discipline.” After first appearing in World Cup competition in 1982, it was added to the world championships two years later and made its Olympic debut in 1988. Canada’s Erik Guay took the Crystal Globe as the overall super-G World Cup champion at the end of the 2009-10 season.