The Sport of Alpine Ski Racing

Ski racing is about racing - fastest time from top to bottom wins.

Alpine skiing has changed over the past 150 years with great advances in ski equipment, technology and timing equipment. But the essence has stayed the same.


It’s a sport that requires great courage and skill in equal measure; strength, agility, balance and technique, based around rules.

But it’s simply the time it takes a skier to go from the start to the finish, passing through a series of gates on the way down, that determines the outcome of each race.

Ski racing is most commonly classified into two groups: Speed and Technical.

The five core disciplines ski racers compete in at the Olympics:

Speed Races


Because it involves the highest speeds and as a result, the biggest risks, downhill is the most glamorous of all the alpine disciplines.

Downhill races feature the greatest vertical drop of all the alpine disciplines, with skiers reaching speeds of up to 130 kilometres per hour on a typical World Cup downhill course.

A Downhill course typically is a series of strategically placed gates designed to challenge the best skiers in a variety of ways: skiing at high speeds, through challenging turns, shallow dips, flats, and small airs.

Equipment for the Downhill differ with skis 30% longer than those used in Slalom, for more stability at high speed, and ski poles are bent in order to curve around the body as the racer stays in an aerodynamic “tuck position.


Super giant slalom (super-G) 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. 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.

Technical Races


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 (“blocking”), they wear protective equipment that includes shin pads, arm guards, padded gloves and face guards.


Giant slalom features longer course than traditional slalom, with over 30 gates. Giant slalom skis are longer than slalom skis but shorter than skis for speed events. Giant slalom generally features two runs – held on different courses on the same ski run. The skier with the fastest combined time wins.


Consisting of a shortened downhill or super-G run followed by a slalom run, super combined combines a speed event with a technical event to showcase overall skiing skills.

Introduced by the International Ski Federation in 2005, super combined is generally referred to as the fifth alpine skiing discipline.


Ski competition rules and scheduling are managed internationally by the International Ski Federation (FIS) based in Switzerland. Each participating nation worldwide is represented by a national association that manages the sport in that respective nation - in New Zealand this is Snow Sports NZ.

Alpine ski races are usually organised by a Race Organizing Committee (ROC), led by a Race Chair. Race Officials include the chief of race, chief of course, starters, timers, gate judges, referees, a jury and others who organize the event and ensure it is run safely and according to governing body rules. Under the leadership of a Chief of Course, course workers erect safety systems (usually nets), prepare and maintain the surface of the race course, erect and maintain other equipment such as a start tent, a finish area and the gates through which competitors must pass, and remove any fresh snow that may fall during the event.

IPC Alpine Ski Racing

The International Paralympic Committee manages the alpine ski racing world of Disabled Ski Racing for athletes with a physical disability, in conjunction with FIS.

Following the same format as the above ski racing ,athletes race to Ladies FIS standard on an international circuit, culminating in the Winter Paralympic Games. A classification system with a factor for each discipline allows times to be adjusted to offer a fair comparison, depending on how the disability of each athlete affects performance.