Alpine skiing

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Alpine skiers Ski Famille - Family Ski Holidays.jpg
Alpine skiers

Alpine skiing, or downhill skiing, is the pastime of sliding down snow-covered slopes on skis with fixed-heel bindings, unlike other types of skiing (cross-country, Telemark, or ski jumping), which use skis with free-heel bindings. Whether for recreation or for sport, it is typically practiced at ski resorts, which provide such services as ski lifts, artificial snow making, snow grooming, restaurants, and ski patrol.


"Off-piste" skiers—those skiing outside ski area boundaries—may employ snowmobiles, helicopters or snowcats to deliver them to the top of a slope. Back-country skiers may use specialized equipment with a free-heel mode, including 'sticky' skins on the bottoms of the skis to stop them sliding backwards during an ascent, then locking the heel and removing the skins for their descent.

Alpine ski racing has been held at the Winter Olympics since 1936. [1] A competition corresponding to modern slalom was introduced in Norway at Oslo in 1886. [2]

Participants and venues

Alpine ski slope in the Zillertal valley, Austria Rastkogel ski slope.jpg
Alpine ski slope in the Zillertal valley, Austria
Alpine ski slopes in San Carlos de Bariloche (Argentina) Base del Cerro Catedral en Bariloche. (Patagonia Argentina) 01.JPG
Alpine ski slopes in San Carlos de Bariloche (Argentina)

As of 2023, there were estimated to be 55 million people worldwide who engaged in alpine skiing. The estimated number of skiers, who practiced alpine, cross-country skiing, and related snow sports, amounted to 30 million in Europe, 20 million in North America, and 14 million in Japan. As of 1996, there were reportedly 4,500 ski areas, operating 26,000 ski lifts and enjoying skier visits. The predominant region for downhill skiing was Europe, followed by Japan and the US. [3]


The ancient origins of skiing can be traced back to prehistoric times in Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway where varying sizes and shapes of wooden planks were found preserved in peat bogs. [4] The word ski is related to the Old Norse word skíð, which means "split piece of wood or firewood." [5] Skis were first invented to cross wetlands and marshes in the winter when they froze over. Skiing was an integral part of transportation in colder countries for thousands of years. In the 1760s, skiing was recorded as being used in military training. The Norwegian army held skill competitions involving skiing down slopes, around trees and obstacles while shooting. [6] The birth of modern alpine skiing is often dated to the 1850s, and during the late 19th century, skiing was adapted from a method of transportation to a competitive and recreational sport. [4] Norwegian legend Sondre Norheim first began the trend of skis with curved sides, and bindings with stiff heel bands made of willow. Norheim also trended the slalom turn style. [4] The wooden skis designed by Norheim closely resemble the shape of modern slalom skis. [7] Norheim was the champion of the first downhill skiing competition, reportedly held in Oslo, Norway in 1868. [4] Norheim impressed spectators when he used the stem christie in Christiania (Oslo) in 1868, the technique was originally called christiania turn (norwegian: christianiasving or kristianiasving) after the city (first printed in 1901 in guidelines for ski jumping). The telemark turn was the alternative technique. The christiania turn later developed into parallel turn as the standard technique in alpine skiing. [8] [9] [10] [11]

The term "slalom" is from Norwegian dialects slalåm meaning a trail (låm) on a slope (sla). [5] In Telemark in the 1800s, the steeper and more difficult trails were called ville låmir (wild trails). Skiing competitions in Telemark often began on a steep mountain, continued along a logging-slides (tømmerslepe) and was completed with a sharp turn (Telemark turn) on a field or frozen lake. This type of competition used the natural and typical terrain in Telemark. Some races were on "bumpy courses" (kneikelåm) and sometimes included "steep jumps" (sprøytehopp) for difficulty. [12] The first known slalom competitions were presumably held in Telemark around 1870 in conjunction with ski jumping competitions, involving the same athletes and on slopes next to the ski jump. [8] Husebyrennet from 1886 included svingrenn (turning competition on hills), the term slalåm had not been introduced at that time. [2] [13] Slalom was first used at a skiing competition in Sonnenberg in 1906. [14] Two to three decades later, the sport spread to the rest of Europe and the US. The first slalom ski competition occurred in Mürren, Switzerland in 1922.


A skier following the fall line will reach the maximum possible speed for that slope. A skier with skis pointed perpendicular to the fall line, across the hill instead of down it, will accelerate more slowly. The speed of descent down any given hill can be controlled by changing the angle of motion in relation to the fall line, skiing across the hill rather than down it.

Downhill skiing technique focuses on the use of turns to smoothly turn the skis from one direction to another. Additionally, the skier can use the same techniques to turn the ski away from the direction of movement, generating skidding forces between the skis and snow which further slow the descent. Good technique results in a fluid flowing motion from one descent angle to another one, adjusting the angle as needed to match changes in the steepness of the run. This looks more like a single series of S's than turns followed by straight sections.


The oldest and still common type of turn on skis is the stem, angling the tail of the ski off to the side, while the tips remain close together. In doing so, the snow resists passage of the stemmed ski, creating a force that retards downhill speed and sustains a turn in the opposite direction. When both skis are stemmed, there is no net turning force, only retardation of downhill speed.


Carving is based on the shape of the ski itself; when the ski is rotated onto its edge, the pattern cut into its side causes it to bend into an arc. The contact between the arc of the ski edges and the snow naturally causes the ski to tend to move along that arc, changing the skiers direction of motion.


This is an advanced form of speed control by increasing the pressure on one inside edge (for example the right ski), then releasing the pressure and shifting immediately to increasing the other inside edge (the left ski). Then repeat if necessary. Each increased pressure slows the speed. Alternating right and left allows the skis to remain parallel and point ahead without turning. The increase and release sequence results in the up and down motions of the upper body. Some skiers go down the top of moguls and control the speed by checking at the tops. This is how they can practically go straight down the fall line without gaining speed.

Snowplough turn

The snowplough turn is the simplest form of turning and is usually learned by beginners. To perform the snowplough turn one must be in the snowplough position while going down the ski slope. While doing this they apply more pressure to the inside of the opposite foot of which the direction they would like to turn. This type of turn allows the skier to keep a controlled speed and introduces the idea of turning across the fall line.  [15]


Four groups of different ski types, from left to right:
1. Non-sidecut: cross-country, telemark and mountaineering
2. Parabolic
3. Twin-tip
4. Powder SkiCollection.jpg
Four groups of different ski types, from left to right:
1. Non-sidecut: cross-country, telemark and mountaineering
2. Parabolic
3. Twin-tip
4. Powder


Modern alpine skis are shaped to enable carve turning, and have evolved significantly since the 1980s, with variants including powder skis, freestyle skis, all-mountain skis, and children's skis. [16] Powder skis are usually used when there is a large amount of fresh snow; the shape of a powder ski is wide, allowing the ski to float on top of the snow, compared to a normal downhill ski which would most likely sink into the snow. Freestyle skis are used by skiers who ski terrain parks. These skis are meant to help a skier who skis jumps, rails, and other features placed throughout the terrain park. Freestyle skis are usually fully symmetric, meaning they are the same dimensions from the tip of the ski to the backside (tail) of the ski. All-mountain skis are the most common type of ski, and tend to be used as a typical alpine ski. All-mountain skis are built to do a little bit of everything; they can be used in fresh snow (powder) or used when skiing groomed runs. Slalom race skis, usually referred to as race skis, are short, narrow skis, which tend to be stiffer because they are meant for those who want to go fast as well as make quick sharp turns. [17]


The binding is a device used to connect the skier's boot to the ski. The purpose of the binding is to allow the skier to stay connected to the ski, but if the skier falls the binding can safely release them from the ski to prevent injury. There are two types of bindings: the heel and toe system (step-in) and the plate system binding. [15]


Ski boots are one of the most important accessories to skiing. They connect the skier to the skis, allowing them full control over the ski. When ski boots first came about they were made of leather and laces were used. The leather ski boots started off as low-cut, but gradually became taller, allowing for more ankle support, as injuries became more common . Eventually the tied laces were replaced with buckles and the leather boots were replaced with plastic. This allowed the bindings to be more closely matched to the fit of the boot, and offer improved performance. The new plastic model contained two parts of the boots: an inner boot and an outer shell. The inner part of the boot (also called the liner) is the cushioning part of the boot and contains a footbed along with a cushion to keep a skier's foot warm and comfortable. The outer shell is the part of the boot that is made of plastic and contains the buckles. Most ski boots contain a strap at shin level to allow for extra strength when tightening the boots. [15]


Ski poles, one in each hand, are used for balance and propulsion.


Ski helmets reduce the chances of head injury while skiing. Ski helmets also help to provide warmth to the head since they incorporate an inner liner that traps warmth. Helmets are available in many styles, and typically consist of a hard plastic/resin shell with inner padding. Modern ski helmets may include many additional features such as vents, earmuffs, headphones, goggle mounts, and camera mounts. [18]

Protective gear

The protective gear used in alpine skiing includes: helmets, mouth guards, shin guards, chin guards, arm guards, back protectors, pole guards, and padding. Mouth guards can reduce the effects of a concussion and protect the teeth of the athlete. Shin guards, pole guards, arm guards and chin guards are mainly used in slalom skiing in order to protect the body parts having impact with the gates. Back protectors and padding, also known as stealth, is worn for giant slalom and other speed events in order to better protect the body if an athlete were to have an accident at high speeds. [19]

Marcel Hirscher competing in the combined slalom at the World Championships in 2017 20170213 HIRSCHER MARCEL C6864.jpg
Marcel Hirscher competing in the combined slalom at the World Championships in 2017


Elite competitive skiers participate in the FIS World Cup, the World Championships, and the Winter Olympics. Broadly speaking, competitive skiing is divided into two disciplines:

Other disciplines administered by the FIS but not usually considered part of alpine are speed skiing and grass skiing.

Ski trail ratings

In most ski resorts, [2] the runs are graded according to comparative difficulty so that skiers can select appropriate routes. The grading schemes around the world are related, although with significant regional variations. A beginner-rated trail at a large mountain may be more of an intermediate-rated trail on a smaller mountain.

Ski trails are measured by percent slope, not degree angle. (North America) Ski trail difficulty ratings in North America.jpg
Ski trails are measured by percent slope, not degree angle. (North America)
European piste rating system (blue, red, black) Piste ratings Europe.svg
European piste rating system (blue, red, black)

In the United States and Canada, there are four rating symbols: Easy (green circle), Intermediate (blue square), and Difficult (black diamond), and Experts Only (double black diamond) Ski trail difficulty is measured by percent slope, not degree angle. A 100% slope is a 45-degree angle. In general, beginner slopes (green circle) are between 6% and 25%. Intermediate slopes (blue square) are between 25% and 40%. Difficult slopes (black diamond) are 40% and up. Although slope gradient is the primary consideration in assigning a trail difficulty rating, other factors come into play. A trail will be rated by its most difficult part, even if the rest of the trail is easy. Ski resorts assign ratings to their own trails, rating a trail compared only with other trails at that resort. Also considered are width of the trail, sharpest turns, terrain roughness, and whether the resort regularly grooms the trail.


In 2014, there were more than 114,000 alpine skiing-related injuries treated in hospitals, doctor's offices, and emergency rooms. [20] The most common types of ski injuries are those of the knee, head, neck and shoulder area, hands and back. Ski helmets are highly recommended by professionals as well as doctors. Head injuries caused in skiing can lead to death or permanent brain damage. [21]   In alpine skiing, for every 1000 people skiing in a day, on average between two and four will require medical attention. Most accidents are the result of user error leading to an isolated fall. [21] Learning how to fall correctly and safely can reduce the risk of injury. [20]


According to a 2004 Harvard Medical School study, alpine skiing burns between 360 and 532 calories per hour. [22]

Climate change

Winter season lengths are projected to decline at ski areas across North America and Europe due to the effects of global warming. In the United States, winter season lengths are projected to decline by more than 50 percent by 2050 and by 80 percent by 2090 if greenhouse gas emissions continue at current rates. [23] About half of the 103 ski resorts in the Northeastern United States operating in 2012 may not be able to maintain an economically viable ski season by 2050. [24] In Europe, half of the glacial ice in the Alps has melted and the European Geosciences Union projects snowpack in the mountains could decline 70 percent by 2100 (however, if humans manage to keep global warming below 2 °C, the snow-cover reduction would be limited to 30 percent by 2100). [25]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cross-country skiing</span> Form of snow skiing

Cross-country skiing is a form of skiing whereby skiers traverse snow-covered terrain without use of ski lifts or other assistance. Cross-country skiing is widely practiced as a sport and recreational activity; however, some still use it as a means of transportation. Variants of cross-country skiing are adapted to a range of terrain which spans unimproved, sometimes mountainous terrain to groomed courses that are specifically designed for the sport.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Slalom skiing</span> Alpine skiing discipline

Slalom is an alpine skiing and alpine snowboarding discipline, involving skiing between poles or gates. These are spaced more closely than those in giant slalom, super giant slalom and downhill, necessitating quicker and shorter turns. Internationally, the sport is contested at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, and at the Olympic Winter Games.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Skiing</span> Recreational activity and sport using snow skis

Skiing is the use of skis to glide on snow. Variations of purpose include basic transport, a recreational activity, or a competitive winter sport. Many types of competitive skiing events are recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS).

A ski is a narrow strip of semi-rigid material worn underfoot to glide over snow. Substantially longer than they are wide, and characteristically employed in pairs, skis are attached to ski boots with ski bindings, with either a free, lockable, or partially secured heel. For climbing slopes, ski skins can be attached at the base of the ski.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Snowboarding</span> Snow sport involving a single board

Snowboarding is a recreational and competitive activity that involves descending a snow-covered surface while standing on a snowboard that is almost always attached to a rider's feet. It features in the Winter Olympic Games and Winter Paralympic Games.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of skiing</span> Skiing from 7000 BC to today

Skiing, or traveling over snow on skis, has a history of at least eight millennia. The earliest archaeological examples of skis were found in Karelia and date to 6000 BCE. Although skiing's origins were purely utilitarian, the modern sport evolved from beginnings in Scandinavia, starting in the mid-1800s skiing became a popular recreational activity and sport, becoming practiced in snow-covered regions worldwide, and providing a market for the development of ski resorts and their related communities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nordic skiing</span> Skiing variant

Nordic skiing encompasses the various types of skiing in which the toe of the ski boot is fixed to the binding in a manner that allows the heel to rise off the ski, unlike alpine skiing, where the boot is attached to the ski from toe to heel. Recreational disciplines include cross-country skiing and Telemark skiing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sondre Norheim</span>

Sondre Norheim, born Sondre Auverson, was a Norwegian skier and pioneer of modern skiing. Sondre Norheim is known as the father of Telemark skiing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Telemark skiing</span> Skiing technique

Telemark skiing is a skiing technique that combines elements of Alpine and Nordic skiing, using the rear foot to keep balance while pushing on the front foot to create a carving turn on downhill skis with toe-only bindings. Telemark skiing is named after the Telemark region of Norway, where the discipline originated. Sondre Norheim is often credited for first demonstrating the turn in ski races, which included cross country, slalom, and jumping, in Norway around 1868. Sondre Norheim also experimented with ski and binding design, introducing side cuts to skis and heel bindings.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ski binding</span> Connects skier boot to snow ski

A ski binding is a device that connects a ski boot to the ski. Before the 1933 invention of ski lifts, skiers went uphill and down and cross-country on the same gear. As ski lifts became more prevalent, skis—and their bindings—became increasingly specialized, differentiated between alpine (downhill) and Nordic styles of skiing. Until the point of divergence in the mid-20th century, bindings held the toe of a flexible, leather boot against the ski and allowed the heel to rise off the ski, typically with a form of strap or cable around the heel.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Downhill (ski competition)</span> Alpine skiing competition

Downhill is a form of alpine skiing competition. Whereas the other alpine skiing events emphasize turning and technique, downhill emphasizes "the six components of technique, courage, speed, risk, physical condition and judgement", according to the FIS "International Ski Competition Rules (ICR)". Speeds of up to 130 km/h (81 mph) are common in international competition. Athletes must have an aerodynamically efficient tuck position to minimize drag and increase speed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Stem christie</span> Skiing technique

The stem christie or wedge christie, is a type of skiing turn that originated in the mid-1800s in Norway and lasted until the late 1960s. It comprises three steps: 1) forming a wedge by rotating the tail of one ski outwards at an angle to the direction of movement, initiating a change in direction opposite to the stemmed ski, 2) bringing the other ski parallel to the wedged ski, and 3) completing the turn with both skis parallel as they carve an arc, sliding sideways together.

Ski boots are footwear used in skiing to provide a way to attach the skier to skis using ski bindings. The ski/boot/binding combination is used to effectively transmit control inputs from the skier's legs to the snow.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ski mountaineering</span> Skiing discipline

Ski mountaineering is a skiing discipline that involves climbing mountains either on skis or carrying them, depending on the steepness of the ascent, and then descending on skis. There are two major categories of equipment used, free-heel Telemark skis and skis based on Alpine skis, where the heel is free for ascents, but is fixed during descent. The discipline may be practiced recreationally or as a competitive sport.

The Arlberg technique is a progressive system that takes the skier from the snowplough turn to the parallel christie through measured stages of improvement. The system, or slightly modified versions, remains in widespread use to this day. Modern ski equipment is also capable of a more efficient turning style known as carving that uses entirely different techniques and movements. Some ski schools have started moving students directly from the snowplough to carving as early as possible, avoiding learning stemming habits that may be difficult to un-learn.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ski touring</span> Skiing on unmarked or unpatrolled areas

Ski touring is skiing in the backcountry on unmarked or unpatrolled areas. Touring is typically done off-piste and outside of ski resorts, and may extend over a period of more than one day. It is similar to backcountry skiing but excludes the use of a ski lift or transport.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Backcountry skiing</span> Skiing in unmarked or unpatrolled areas

Backcountry skiing (US), also called off-piste (Europe), alpine touring, freeriding or out-of-area, is skiing in the backcountry on unmarked or unpatrolled areas either inside or outside a ski resort's boundaries. This contrasts with alpine skiing, which is typically done on groomed trails benefiting from a ski patrol. Unlike ski touring, backcountry skiing can - and often does - include the use of ski lifts including snowcats and helicopters. Recent improvements in equipment have increased the popularity of the sport. As the sport does confront the individual practicing it with the dangers of natural, unprepared alpine terrain like avalanches, it is generally recommended to carry standard safety equipment and to learn beforehand how to behave safely under such conditions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Para-alpine skiing</span> Skiing for people with disabilities

Paralympic alpine skiing is an adaptation of alpine skiing for athletes with a disability. The sport evolved from the efforts of disabled veterans in Germany and Austria during and after the Second World War. The sport is governed by the International Paralympic Committee Sports Committee. The primary equipment used includes outrigger skis, sit-skis, and mono-skis. Para-alpine skiing disciplines include the downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom, super combined, and snowboard.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Outline of skiing</span> Overview of and topical guide to skiing

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to skiing:

This glossary of skiing and snowboarding terms is a list of definitions of terms and jargon used in skiing, snowboarding, and related winter sports.


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