Alpine skiing, an adaptation of cross-country skiing to downhill, has been practiced in the European Alps for at least 150 years. Ski racing is simple: the fastest racer from top to bottom wins. There are no judges, just a clock measuring time and gates that mark the route the racers must take through the course. The mountain’s vertical drop is made even more difficult because of a series of gates the skiers must pass through. Skiers who miss a gate must then climb back up and go through the missed gate or be disqualified.
There are five Olympic events in alpine. Downhill has the greatest vertical drop of the five alpine events: 800 to 1,100 metres for men and 500 to 800 metres for women. It combines the elements of raw speed (up to 130 km/h) with technical prowess and courage. Wide, sweeping turns are strategically positioned along the course to control the racers’ speed and test their technical (turning) abilities.
Slalom racing requires aggressiveness, quickness and agility. These are short courses that feature the most turns of any alpine event. Courses follow a succession of gates (between 40 and 75), which are located four to 15 metres apart. Giant Slalom requires technical precision, strength and rhythm. The course is longer than slalom and runs over more uneven terrain, with at least 30 gates placed 10 metres or more apart.
Super giant slalom (Super-G) combines the speed of downhill with the aggressiveness of giant slalom. Vertical drops for Super-G courses are only a few hundred metres less than for downhill. Long, sweeping, high-speed turns make this a spectacular event to watch. Super Combined consists of one downhill run followed by one slalom run using a shorter course. The times are added together. The fastest total time determines the winner.