Types of the Different Skiing Events at the Olympics
There are over 20 ski events to keep track of in the Winter Olympics. Some have pretty funky names (lookin’ at you, “Super G”), and it can be difficult to parse what’s what. Here, I’ll unpack slalom from slopestyle to better understand the scope and variety of the ski racing world.
Olympic ski events fall under five primary categories: alpine, ski jumping, freestyle, cross country, and nordic combined, all of which have multiple races, called events. Some racers compete in multiple events within a category. Most events exist for both men and women.
Alpine events are timed races on slopes of varying lengths and grades. In all five alpine events, speed is the name of the game. It’s not unusual for the top times to be differentiated by .001 of a second. Some of the best-known names in the ski racing world, like Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn, compete in these events.
- Downhill: Skiers send speeds of up to 90mph careening down long, wide courses with as much as 3,000ft of elevation drop. Racers only get one go.
- Slalom: Skiers dodge left and right around 40-60 gates per course. Racers compete on two courses, their aggregate time is the one they’re ranked by.
- Giant slalom: Like slalom, but the gates are farther spread out over a longer course, allowing this event wider turns and higher speed.
- Super G: A cross between slalom and downhill. The super G usually takes place on the latter portion of the downhill course, but places more emphasis on carving around far-spaced gates. Each competitor gets one shot at the course.
- Super combined: Skiers race for the fastest combined times on one downhill and one slalom run.
In the three ski jumping events, racers compete to launch the furthest off of long jumps. The course consists of the jump’s ramp and the jump itself. Racers get two runs, where they’re scored on distance jumped and style, not time. Their aggregate score is their ultimate score.
- Individual normal hill: Racers compete for the farthest jump off a 90m hill.
- Individual large hill: Racers compete for the farthest jump off a 120m hill. Men only.
- Team large hill: Teams of four compete on the large hill for the highest aggregate score. Men only.
In the five freestyle events, skiers test their skill and style through feature-filled courses.
- Aerials: Skiers send acrobatic flips and twists off of 2-4m jumps and are scored on their skill, style, and landing.
- Moguls: Racers vie for the best time and technique on a mogul- and jump-filled course.
- Ski cross: Four racers at a time head down a course with natural and man-made features like jumps and banks, all looking to cross the finish line first.
- Halfpipe: Skiers launch in and out of a snowy halfpipe, looking to land the best technique and the highest air.
- Slopestyle: Skiers take to a many-featured course studded with rails, boxes, and jumps, from which they can chart their own route, hitting whichever features they choose.
Cross country ski racing is endurance focused. Racers ski up and down hills in one of the most physically grueling Olympic sports. Some races employ classic style cross country skiing, and others mandate freestyle or “skate” style. In all six Olympic cross country ski events, the fastest skier (or team, in a relay) wins. There are few types of cross country: sprint (both for women and men), team sprint, individual and mass start (also both for women and men) and relay.
The three events in this category combine ski jumping and cross country racing. Normal hill Gunderson it is when racers take to the 90m normal ski jump hill, and then head into a 10k cross country race. Large hill Gunderson almost the same as above, but the ski jump is the 120m large ski jump hill. The last one is Team Gunderson large hill – it is the same as the large hill Gunderson, but team members complete a 4x5km relay for the cross country portion.
The world of ski racing’s really got it all—pure downhill speed, quick slalom turns, huge air, and epic cross country endurance. No matter the event, it’s a blast to watch top athletes push their limits and defy what we knew to be possible.
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