Ancient Scandinavians, who invented skiing so that they could glide over snow instead of walking through it, had no idea that, in the distant future, people would ski for fun and recreation. Originally a means of transport, snow skiing has become a popular type of recreation and favorite winter sport. Different types of snow skiing evolved into several Olympic disciplines, regulated by the International Ski Federation, an International Olympic Committee.
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Snow Skiing Then and Now
The first skis didn’t look like modern ones. Some 150 years ago, people in Sweden, Norway, and northern Finland had asymmetrical skis. The main ski was long, straight, and treated with animal fat. The other one was considerably shorter and coated with animal skin. The purpose of the long ski was to make the skier slide fast. The short one served for kicking and navigating. Instead of two poles, ancient skiers used one spear.
The skiing evolution began in the 18th century, when skis were used in warfare, and accelerated in the late 19th century, when most of the modern equipment was invented. That’s also when two main skiing types—Nordic skiing and Alpine (downhill) skiing were separated. The key difference between them is in the way the skis are bound to ski boots (and that’s not just a matter of style). In Nordic skiing, which appeared first, the skis are bound to the skier’s boots at the toes only. Alpine skiing is characterized by a different binding type, where both the toes and heels of the boots are fixed to the skis.
The reason for the two kinds of binding is in their purpose. If a skier needs to be able not only to slide downhill, but also to climb uphill, jump, and have more freedom in their movements, the heels have to remain free—then we’re talking about some of the disciplines of Nordic skiing. Alpine skiing is also called downhill because the only way to move is down. Alpine skiers have equipment that allows them to slide downhill really fast, but they can only go back with the help of lifts.
Another ski technique, named Telemark skiing, emerged later. This discipline involves a hybrid kind of skis—a mix of Alpine and Nordic types. We’ll look into all these types of snow skiing in more depth. But before that, we’ll introduce all the ski competition disciplines endorsed by the International Ski Federation (FIS).
FIS-Regulated Types of Snow Skiing
Currently, there are nine types of snow skiing competitions endorsed and regulated by theInternational Ski Federation (FIS). The tenth discipline featured on the FIS website is Masters, but that’s not a particular type of skiing; it refers to another form of competition.
Out of these nine, six types of snow skiing are presently included in theOlympic Winter Games. These are: alpine (downhill) skiing; Nordic combined; cross-country skiing; ski jumping; snowboard; and freestyle skiing. The first four disciplines have been featured in the Olympics for nearly a century, while the last two are newer and continue to grow more popular.
Cross-Country Skiing Competitions
Cross-country is the term that comprises several types of ski races over paths of different lengths. These include:
- FIS Cross-Country World Cup – an annual cross-country skiing competition, held mostly in Europe, regulated byFIS since the winter of 1981/82. Includes two disciplines: distances (includes skiathlon) and sprint.
- FIS Nordic World Ski Championships are held biennially (only in odd-numbered years). Cross-country races are one of the disciplines. Other disciplines include ski jumping and Nordic combined.
- The Winter Olympics have included various cross-country skiing events since 1924.
- Worldloppet cross-country ski marathons.
- Ski-orienteering – an Olympic discipline regulated by theInternational Orienteering Federation.
- Biathlon – a mix of two disciplines: cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.
- Paralympic cross-countryraces – part of the Winter Paralympic Games.
Races take place on homologated and prepared terrains that are suitable for both traditional and free-style skiing races.
Alpine Skiing Competitions
Alpine skiing races include several disciplines, such as downhill races, slalom (including giant slalom, and super-G), and para-alpine competitions. The main championships are the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup, the biannual FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, the Winter Olympics, and the Winter Paralympics.
This is another regular Olympic discipline since 1924. In addition to the Winter Olympics, the main ski jumping competitions are the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup, the FIS Ski Jumping Grand Prix, the biannual FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, and the FIS Ski Flying World Championships.
This discipline combines cross-country ski racing and ski jumping. The competitions include the Winter Olympics, the FIS Nordic Combined World Cup, and the biannual FIS Nordic World Ski Championships.
As the name says, speed skiing is all about the speed. The racers ski downhill as fast as they can, and they usually exceed 124 mph (200 km/h). The goal of a race is either to break a current speed record or just to be the fastest skier at the competition.
Freestyle skiing comprises several disciplines.
- Aerial skiing – jumping and performing twists and flips before landing on the snow.
- Mogul skiing – when skiers make multiple short-radius turns, they make mounds of snow called the “moguls.” During a competition, skiers bump on those mounds and the judges assess their technique.
- Ski ballet – (also known as acroski) was an Olympic discipline from 1988 to 2000. It involved music and choreography associated with freestyle skiing.
- Ski cross – timed racing events at a terrain characteristic for freestyle skiing.
- Half-pipe – skiing that involves doing tricks and somersaults while skiing on a half-pipe.
- Slopestyle – skiing that involves various obstacles, such as fences, so skiers or snowboarders need to perform various tricks to overcome those obstacles.
Snowboarding overlaps with freestyle skiing, as it includes half-pipe and slopestyle—but instead of skis, the athletes use snowboards. Other snowboarding disciplines include parallel slalom, parallel giant slalom, alpine and cross snowboarding. At the 2018 Winter Olympics, snowboarding was introduced as a separate discipline, but it had already been present for 20 years as a part of the alpine skiing program.
This mix of snowboarding and skiing combines the equipment from both disciplines – a snowboard is fixed to ski boots. Even though skiboarding is still not an Olympic discipline, there are many skiboarding competitions, including the European Skiboard Cup, the Skiboard Triple Challenge, the US Skiboard Open, Skiboard World Cup, and United Skiboard Series.
This discipline originated in the Telemark region of Norway—hence the name. Even though it is fairly new, Telemark already has two FIS-sanctioned competitions, the FIS Telemark World Championships and the FIS Telemark World Cup.
In addition to the nine FIS-endorsed snow skiing types, there are another two skiing disciplines worth mentioning. Grass skiing is also a thing (and FIS-regulated), but we’ll disregard this one since it is not technically snow skiing. Freeride skiing, on the other hand, is still not recognized by FIS, but its popularity is growing—so let’s see what it is.
What is Freeride Skiing
Sometimes mixed with freestyle skiing, freeride skiing (or freeriding) is actually something completely different, and it is not a new discipline at all. Freeriding has been present since the earliest days of skiing as a sport and recreation. The rules of all other ski competitions have always been well-regulated and had strict rules. Freeriding, on the other hand, has no rules whatsoever. It refers to skiing on a terrain that is not prepared for a competition.
Freeride skiing terrains may include any piece of land covered with (un-groomed) snow, and those are usually backcountry routes. There are no artificial features such as rails, jumps, or half-pipes.
Freeride skiers and snowboarders use techniques from other types of snow skiing, such as alpine skiing, freestyle, and snowboarding. However, the rules that regulate those sports mean nothing to freeriders. They use those techniques to develop a style that helps them glide through the challenges of new, unprepared, completely natural terrain. Unlike the rigidity of other disciplines, this one is characterized by high flexibility and adaptation.
As always, freedom comes with a cost. Due to a lack of regulations and the use of un-groomed terrain, freeride skiers are frequent victims of avalanches. According to the European Avalanche Warning Services (EAWS), about 100 people lose their lives in avalanches during one winter. Many of those people are freeride skiers—and some of them are champions in other disciplines, such as Julie Pomagalski. She was a former world champion in snowboarding and shewas a victim of an avalanche while she was freeriding on the Gemsstock Mountain in the Swiss Alps.
The word “freeriding” refers to both off-piste skiing and freeride snowboarding. It was originally used to denote the snowboarding style, while the skiers were known as freeskiers. However, the word freeskiing today means freestyle skiing, and not the (older) freeride skiing.
Freeride Skiing Essentials
If you’d like to get into freeride skiing, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind.
- You need to be an exceptionally skilled skier already. Freeride skiing is unpredictable, the surroundings are wild, and while there aren’t any regulations that you should master, this kind of activity is considerably more dangerous than any other type of snow skiing.
- Have someone who knows the terrain to go with you. It goes without saying that you should never go freeriding alone, but it is also very important that you have at least one ski buddy who knows where to expect a cliff, crack, rock, or tree to show up. Also, make sure that at least one of you knows what to do if something unexpected happens.
- Get proper equipment. From your underwear, toski boots, ski blades,goggles, and safety gear—everything has to fit well and should fit comfortably, too. Of course, you need to know how to use every piece of equipment.
- Even if you’re an alpine skiing veteran, until you’ve become an experienced freeride skier, always choose easier terrain. If you overestimate your skills in this particular discipline, the outcome might be fatal.
If you prefer snowboarding over skiing, the above four tips are still relevant. But instead of skis, you’ll need a good freeride board and the right type ofsnowboard bindings. There’s plenty of choice, as freeride snowboarding is becoming increasingly popular and there are many types of snowboards on the market. But not every board is an adequate freeride board.
A board for freeride snowboarding typically has a maneuvering shape and its “nose” is easier to bend than the “tail.” This is important because it allows you to make fast turns when unexpected obstacles occur. Also, this shape is helpful when you need to move over muddy or uneven snow. Compared to ordinary boards, a freeride board is generally less flexible. This contributes to a stable ride. When the conditions are uncontrollable, you need to have full control over your movements and equipment. The same goes for the boots and bindings. Both are less flexible, compared to typical freestyle boards.
Some freeride boards have better performance on powder than on groomers. Their tail is narrower than their nose. Other types of boards have rocker—their lowest point is between the bindings. Then there are also powder boats, where the design resembles a swallow’s tail. While the tail sinks easily, it keeps the nose up. It helps the freerider move faster in deep snow.
Freeride competitions are all about being able to navigate swiftly through an ungroomed, natural terrain just as efficiently as other skiers do on a designed ski path. That’s where the similarities end. In freeride skiing, there’s no premade takeoff or landing points. Nothing guarantees a great start or finish of the race. Even the routes vary within one competition—each rider may have their own route. In addition to the unpredictable terrain, weather can be quite harsh as well. All those factors make freeriding an extreme discipline that brings great risks.
The most important international freeriding competition is the Freeride World Tour. It includes several different events and disciplines. Originally there were three different competitions, the Verbier Xtreme (snowboard only), the Freeskiing World Tour (freeride skiing), and the North Face Masters of Snowboarding (as the name says, snowboard only). The Verbier Xtreme, launched in 1996, was rebranded in 2008 into the Freeride World Tour. Soon after that, in 2013, the three freeriding competitions merged into one global championship.
Another major international freeriding competition is the World Heli Challenge in Mt. Cook National Park, New Zealand. The Heli refers to the helicopters that watch over the races. Originally launched in 1995, the World Heli Challenge was an exciting extreme snowboarding competition that was held annually until 2001, when the 9/11 attacks affected international sponsorship support. As a result, there was no competition until 2009, when it was resumed.
Telemark Skiing vs Alpine Touring
We’ve already said that the main difference between Alpine and Telemark skiing can be observed in the types of binding. Now we’ll have a closer look at both types of snow skiing.
Alpine skiing, also known as ski slope or downhill skiing, refers to skiing down snowy slopes with a particular kind of skis. Alpine skis have bindings with fixed heels. Other types of snow skiing, such as Telemark, cross-country, or ski jumping, have free-heel bindings on their skis.
As a complete opposite of freeride skiing, alpine skiing events are typically performed in controlled surroundings, like ski resorts, where athletes have ski lifts, groomed or artificial snow, restaurants and other amenities, and ski patrol support. Most of the world renowned alpine ski areas are located in Europe, but there are also some in the US and Japan.
What is Slalom: Slope Trails vs. Wild Trails
The best known alpine skiing discipline is slalom. Interestingly, the first slalom competitions took place in Telemark in the late 19th century, but neither was it named slalom back then, nor the distinct Telemark skiing discipline was invented.
The word slalom comes from Norwegian and it means slope trail. More difficult trails in 19th century Telemark were known as wild trails. These would typically start on a steep mountain, then they would be carried on along logging-slides, and finished with the so-called Telemark turn, which is a sharp turn on a frozen lake or a field.
Alpine Skiing Technique
In slalom, a skier who manages to stay on the fall line will reach the highest speed for that particular slope. If the skis are pointed at the right angles to the fall line, the skier won’t accelerate that fast. The angle of the skis is the key to the speed of descent.
The alpine skiing technique is about going down the slope or downhill. It is characterized by the use of turns to change the direction of the skis, as well as to slow down the descent. A typical alpine (downhill) ski ride involves smooth and elegant gliding from one angle to another.
The types of ski turns and speed control techniques include stemming, carving, snow-plough turn, and checking.
- Stemming is an old, traditional ski turn that is still being used today. The skier keeps the tips of the ski together and at the same time angles the tail off to the side. When one ski is stemmed, it creates and maintains a turn in the opposite direction. A skier who just wants to slow down as much as possible can stem both skis.
- Carving is a turning technique that relies on the ski shape. When the ski is turned onto the edge, it creates a curve on the snow, and then moves along that curve and changes the direction.
- The snowplough turn is the first form of turning for beginners to learn. To make a snowplough turn to one direction, you need to apply pressure to the inner side of the opposite foot. In addition to turning across the fall line, this technique helps you keep a regulated speed.
- Checking is a more complex form of speed control where you apply pressure to the inner sides of the skis interchangeably. The result is slowing down without losing direction.
Alpine Skiing Equipment
Main pieces of alpine equipment are the skis, bindings, boots, helmet, and protective gear.
- Alpine skis have evolved since the early days of the discipline. Today, the skis are designed to allow carve turning, and they come in several types, such as all-mountain skis, freestyle skis, powder skis, and more. Powder skis are the best for fresh snow. Freestyle skis allow performing jumps and rails in ski terrain parks. All-mountain skis are typical skis and they are a combination of the two—all-mountain skis are just as good for fresh snow as they are for terrain parks. Slalom race skis are shorter, stiffer and narrower, and allow making sharp turns.
- Bindings are mechanisms that enable the skier’s boot to connect to the ski. This way, the skier is firmly connected to the ski but in the case of a fall, bindings can be released safely to prevent injury. The two main kinds of bindings are the heel and toe and the plate system.
- Ski books are also an essential part of the equipment. They enable the skier to get connected to the skis and have complete control over them. Early ski boots were low cut models made of leather and they had ties. Over time, in order to prevent ankle injuries, they became taller, plastic, with buckles instead of ties. For extra protection andcomfort, contemporary ski boots consist of inner boots and outer shells. The inner boot, also known as the liner, is warm and comfortable. The outer boot is firm and contains parts such as buckles and straps to secure the connection between the boots and skis.
- Ski helmets, just like any other type of helmets, help prevent severe head injuries. In addition to that, since skiing is a winter sport that’s practiced on extremely low temperatures, ski helmets need to provide warmth. Just like the boots, helmets consist of an inner and outer part, to ensure both comfort and strength. Additionally, newer helmets often have some built-in accessories. For instance, there are a few great models that come withincorporated speakers.
- Protective gear is a must in alpine and any other kind of snow skiing. They are designed to protect your mouth, chin, arms, and back.
Telemark skiing is a whole different discipline. It combines some features of Alpine and Nordic skiing, but it is an authentic skiing style, invented in the Telemark area of Norway.
While Alpine skiing is performed on gentle slopes (slalom), the Telemark region is famous for its wild slopes and uneven courses, which require the skiers to take sharp jumps and turns. A Telemark race ends with the so-called “Telemark turn” on a frozen lake or field.
However, Telemark skiing enthusiasts are not limited to Norway. Since the 1970s, tele skiing (or teleing) has been practiced in the US as well.
Advantages of Telemark Skiing
Many skiers find Telemark skiing particularly accessible. The equipment allows them to move in a way that is impossible for an Alpine skier—uphill. Telemark skis can be covered by skins as needed. Skins are made of synthetic fabric and they are attached to the ski bottom to prevent gliding down when moving uphill. Recently, things began to change in this area as well. Today, there are Alpine touring skis available on the market. These skis are lightweight, can be used on a more diverse terrain compared to traditional Alpine skis, and they’re gaining popularity at the expense of Telemark skis.
Telemark Skiing Equipment
Telemark skiing equipment is very much similar to Alpine skiing equipment. You can use the same type of helmet and protective gear, but the boots, skis and bindings differ a lot. Unlike Alpine ski bindings, Telemark skiers use a type of binding that links the toe part of the boots to the ski, and the heel remains either completely free or linked to the front by a cable. Telemark bindings do make a firm connection between the boots and the skis, but the skiers have more freedom in movement and maneuvering.
Older types of Telemark bindings are non-releasable, but today there are releasable bindings available on the market as well. They provide more control at the edges, incorporate a release system for increased safety, and sometimes have ski brakes.
Once a popular backcountry transportation type, today Telemark skiing has a long history as an internationally acclaimed sport, recognized by FIS and other sports associations. This focus of this skiing discipline is carving, and it merges elements of Alpine skiing, ski jumping, and Nordic skate skiing.
Telemark races differ in length and format. It includes Classic Telemark races, in which the skier must make a jump and then land in a lunged position, and also deal with a skate section and a lot of gates and bars. Another necessary element of a classic Telemark ski race is a 360-degree banking turn. Other formats of Telemark races include Sprint classic and Parallel Sprint.
Since its beginnings as a sport, Telemark racing details and rules were regulated by the International Telemark Federation. This changed in 1995, when the International Skiing Federation recognized the discipline officially and organized the first world championship under a new name at Hahjell, Norway. Along with FIS, other sport committees recognized and started organizing Telemark competitions. Some international Telemark skiing organizations are the British Telemark Ski Team and theUnited States Telemark Ski Association.
The inclusion of two Telemark skiing disciplines, Telemark Parallel Sprint and Team Parallel Sprint, is still pending. The FIS Telemark Committee proposed—and the FIS Congress accepted—the inclusion of these disciplines in their proposal to the International Olympic Committee. The latter, however, was not included it in the Winter Olympics scheduled for 2022 in Beijing.
Cross Country Skis vs Downhill
The difference between cross country and downhill skis is the consequence of different skiing styles and terrains. The term downhill skiing refers to Alpine skiing, and the above sections contain plenty of information about this classic type of snow skiing. To sum up, downhill skiing is essentially about sliding down the path without a need to climb back up on the skis. That’s why downhill skis have both toes and heels fixed. Cross-country skiing and skis are different. Since we haven’t discussed this discipline so far, here’s an overview.
Cross Country Skiing
While Alpine skiers rely on ski lifts to move through less accessible terrain, cross-country skiers don’t have such a limit. Their skills and the design of the skis and bindings allow them to glide across most types of terrain, as long there’s snow on it. Because of this advantage, some people still use cross country skis as a transportation method.
The terrain and conditions vary, and, as a result, several forms of cross-country skiing have been invented and continue to evolve. The terrain itself can be anything from groomed courses to unimproved steep and rocky ground covered with snow.
Cross country skiing is one of the types of snow skiing that resembles the original form of skiing the most. Early skiers who used skis as a means of transport, skied similarly to present-day cross country skiers. Other disciplines, including Telemark and Alpine skiing and ski jumping, evolved from this original form and cross-skiing comprises them all.
Cross Country Skiing Techniques
Cross country skiers use different techniques to push themselves into motion. They either stride forward, which is a characteristic of the classic style, or they perform skate skiing—side to side skating movements. They use ski poles to push themselves against the snow.
The choice of the propulsion technique depends on the snow. Snow surfaces that are smooth and firm allow skate skiing. Fresh, undisturbed snow requires the classic style.
Different styles also require different treatment of the skis. To glide across virgin snow, the ski bottoms need to be covered with a layer of wax or similar substance.
Poles are an important element that enables forward propulsion. In skate skiing, both poles are usually used simultaneously. The classic style involves the “diagonal stride,” which refers to using poles in alternating sequence, or double poling—which is used when the terrain is flat or on a slight downhill slope.
- The classic style is typically used on pistes—particularly prepared trails that have parallel tracks, called the grooves. The skier pushes each ski in turn and glides forward with the help of poles in diagonal stride. On gentle descends, the skiers can only move if they employ the double pole technique. When they have to move uphill, the skiers use the side steps—where the skis are at the right angle to the fall line.
- Skate skiing is similar to ice skating in the way the skier pushes themselves forward on a firm and smooth snow surface. The upper part of the body plays a major role as a skier uses the poles to direct the movement.
- Turns are an important characteristic of cross country skiing. Different kinds of turns include the parallel turn, the stem Christie, the snowplough, and the Telemark turn.
Cross Country Skiing Competitions
Cross country races are a traditional form of competition in Norway, but most regions in the world that have landscapes covered with snow (natural or artificial) also have some form of cross country skiing races. Most competitions take place in Northern and Central Europe, Russia, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Some hybrid disciplines, such as biathlon and ski orienteering, incorporate cross country skiing as a way to move across the snowy terrain.
Cross-country comprises a number of types of ski races over paths of different lengths. FIS Cross-Country World Cup is an annual cross-country skiing competition, held mostly in Europe, and it has two disciplines: distances (includes skiathlon) and sprint. FIS Nordic World Ski Championships include cross-country as one of the disciplines. The Winter Olympics have included several cross-country skiing competitions since 1924. Worldloppet cross-country ski marathons, ski orienteering, biathlon, and paralympic cross-country races also include cross country skiing.
Classic Style and Skate-Skiing Cross Country Skis
Cross country skis are generally thinner and lighter than downhill skis, and we’ve already seen that the binding is different. In addition to that, ski bottoms of most cross country skis have a gliding surface made of plastic and designed to reduce frictions, which can be treated with waxes.
However, cross country skis are not uniform. For the two different cross country skiing styles, there are appropriate skis for both classic-style skiing and skate-skiing.
The most noticeable difference between classic and skate-skiing skis is their length. Classic-style skis also have an area called the grip zone.
The maneuverability of skis depends on the length. The arc helps the skier control the pressure on the snow beneath their feet. The turning ability depends on side-cut. Forward friction depends on the width of the skis. The ability of the skier to stay in a track or enter new snow depends on the shape of the tip. Various ski types have different combinations of those features.
- Classic skis are designed primarily for skiing on pistes. The recommended length of the skis should be about 115 percent of the person’s height. The grip zone and rough gripping surface—and sometimes wax—provide traction. Waxless skis are not meant to be treated with wax. Waxable skis are meant to have the gliding surface covered with wax, which ensures better grip and easier glide.
- Skate skis are meant to be used on groomed surfaces. Slightly shorter than the classic skis (110 percent of the skier’s height is a maximum) they are designed for maximum glide. The whole ski bottom is a glide zone. To start moving, the skier pushes the edge of one ski onto the other ski.
- Backcountry skis are made for skiing on natural snow terrain. They are shorter, wider, and heavier than the previous two types of skis, and they are often reinforced with metal edges, which provide better grip.
Downhill (Alpine) Skis
Downhill skis are designed only for the purpose of racing on world cup downhill courses. That’s literally the only way that these skis can be used. You can slide through various terrains on them and it is virtually impossible to go uphill.
These skis are typically very long (more than 2 meters), weighty, inflexible, with a long sidecut radius. Their purpose is to enable you to achieve high speed and be able to take large turns on particularly icy snow on a piste that’s been prepared in a specific way. However, you can’t mistakenly buy such skis as they are not available at the stores. Downhill skis are made specifically for racers.
There are also other types of alpine skis.
- Allround skis are fairly common and can really be used for most types of alpine skiing; although, it won’t help you excel in any particular style of skiing. Compared to other ski types, they have a medium length, width, radius, and stiffness.
- Beginner skis are light, short, and flexible, allowing beginners to move easily and recover from mistakes without much hassle.
- Slalom racing skis are also a shorter kind of skis, but they are very heavy and stiff. These features enable the skiers to make quick turns and cut into the snow energetically.
- Freestyle skis are designed for snow park activities. They can go both forward and backward, thanks to the tips on both ends. They are light, short, and flexible.
- Powder skis are made particularly for off-piste skiing on soft, fresh snow. That’s why it is important that they have a large, wide base area.
- Giant slalom skis are extremely long racing skis with up to a 30-meter radius. They are also stiff and heavy, and designed for very fast and aggressive ride on a piste.
Cross Country and Downhill Boots and Bindings
Lightweight boots are designed for performance skiing. For back-country skiing, you’ll need heavier and considerably more supportive boots.
Cross country boots are linked to the ski at the toe, while the heel is free. In the standardized binding system, boots are firmly connected to the bindings thanks to an integrated connection. There’s a platform to support the boot, and a bar across the front part of the boot. Alternatively, there’s the so-called three-pin system, where the pins on the binding enter the three holes in the boot’s sole. The third system of binding features a cable that secures both the toe and the heel area of the boot, while still enabling the heel to move freely.
Adaptive Snow Skiing
Adaptive skiing is a kind of skiing that enables people with physical disabilities to enjoy winter sports. This is made possible thanks to special types of equipment and training.
Adaptive skiing has been around for a while and was featured on the Winter Paralympics back in 1976. It’s been a part of the Paralympics ever since.
Paralympic alpine skiing is an alpine skiing mode adapted in a way that allows disabled athletes to participate in sports competitions. The idea emerged after World War II, when disabled veterans founded the International Paralympic Sports Committee.
The equipment used for adaptive snow skiing includes mono-skis, sit-skis, outrigger skis, and more. The adaptive snow skiing disciplines include the adaptations of nearly all alpine disciplines: slalom; giant slalom; super-G; super combined; downhill; and snowboard.
There’s a classification system established by the International Paralympic Committee, and it is created to ensure that people with different types of disabilities have a fair competition. Three general groups of disabilities are sitting, standing, and blind. Thanks to the factoring system, these people can participate in the same race and compete against each other fairly.
Adaptive Snow Skiing Equipment
The essential equipment for adaptive snow skiing includes sit-skis, mono-skis, and outrigger skis. Additional equipment and support may include orthopedic aids, cut-down ski poles, and guide skiers. The FIS and the IPC have set rules and regulations, and there are different types of equipment available based on the nature of disability.
- Sit-skis were introduced in 1967, and they are made for wheelchair users. The first sit-skis were too heavy to use, but since the 1980s, they continuously evolve. Today, sit-skis are made of new, lightweight materials such as polyester and fiberglass. Thanks to this advancement, adaptive snow skiers can ski in moguls and race on steeper slopes.
- Mono-ski is a type of sit-ski invented in the early 1980s in Austria and introduced at the Paralympic in the winter of 1988. The original design improved over time, but its main characteristics are still the same. New lightweight materials made all kinds of snowy terrain—including terrain parks, moguls, race courses, and even backcountry terrain—accessible to people with disabilities.
- Outrigger skis are designed for people with disabilities who can stand with the help of special poles that have small skis attached on the end. These poles also help skiers move on the snowy terrain in order to get a chair lift.
Additional equipment includes special types of boots and ski suits, helmets, and goggles. The boots are designed to support the ankle and foot, and they’re firmly attached to the ski.
Skiers with visual impairments have guides who tell the visually-impaired skier where to go and what to pay attention to via radio communication.
Adaptive Skiing Disciplines
Skiers with disabilities can compete in the same disciplines as able-bodied athletes—although in separate competitions. However, some rules and regulations have been adapted according to the objective needs of the participants.
- Downhill skiing is racing over a steep course at high speed. Although not as fast as regular downhill skiers, adaptive skiers can reach the speed of about 62 mph (100 kmh) without problem. The fastest skier is a winner and there are also points available in events regulated by FIS.
- Super-G is a race on a course that is shorter than that of a downhill race course. It requires less technical skills compared to other adaptive skiing disciplines. Super-G is included in the Winter Paralympics.
- Slalom is a race on a sloping path (which is what the word slalom means in Norwegian), and it requires a great deal of technical skill. The length of the path is only 460-720 feet (140 to 220 meters) and is particularly icy. The competition involves using two different courses. Skiers race down both courses and the combined completion time is used to define their finishing position. This competition is a part of the Winter Paralympics.
- Giant slalom is another type of snow skiing race that is included in the Paralympic program. Similar to slalom, it involves racing on two courses and the combined result is what counts. However, the courses are longer than that of slalom, anywhere from 982 to 1,300 feet (300 to 400 meter), and have fewer turns.
- Super combined is a competition that combines two disciplines—for instance, the slalom and downhill or the slalom and super G. When the slalom and downhill are combined, skiers do the downhill race first and then go down the slalom course twice. Like in the previous two disciplines, the completion time is combined.
- Adaptive snowboarding is available for standing skiers only. It includes board racing over a 3,000-foot (900-meter) course with a short vertical drop of about 330 to 790 feet (100 to 240 meters).
Para-Alpine Skiing Classification
Adaptive snow skiing and para-alpine skiing competitions are open to people with all kinds of physical disabilities, including visual impairments. People with intellectual disabilities are not allowed to compete.
Physically-disabled skiers, based on medical assessment, are classified into one of the three main groups: sitting; standing; and blind. With the exception of skiers with visual impairments, adaptive skiers are also classified based on their skiing body position. The classification is regulated by the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing and it is currently being used in international competitions. Some competitions may have other classifications.
Scandinavians were the first to invent a classification system for disabled skiers. The first classification systems—as well as the available equipment—only included people who’ve been through limb amputations. Today, it also includes people with spinal cord injuries and various other types of physical disabilities.
Adaptive snow skiing equipment, rules, and classifications are constantly improving in order to allow more people to compete.