Alpine skiing (or "downhill skiing") is the sport of sliding down snow-covered hills on skis with fixed-heel bindings. Alpine skiing can be contrasted with nordic skiing – such as cross-country, ski jumping and Telemark – in which skiers use free-heel bindings.
Alpine skiing may take place at a ski resort where mechanical ski lifts have been installed to transport skiers up the mountain and where snow is groomed, avalanches are controlled and trees are cut to create trails. Alternatively, alpine skiers may pursue the sport in less controlled environments; this practice is variously referred to as ski touring, backcountry skiing or extreme skiing.
The sport is named for the European Alps where it originated in the late 1880s. Today, it is popular wherever the combination of snow, mountain slopes, and a sufficient tourist infrastructure can be built up, including parts of Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, the South American Andes and East Asia.
- 1 History
- 2 Technique
- 3 Competitions
- 3.1 Organization of alpine ski competition
- 4 Ski trail ratings
- 4.1 North America
- 4.2 Europe
- 4.3 Japan
- 4.4 New Zealand
- 5 Snow and weather
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Alpine skiing evolved from cross-country skiing when ski lift infrastructure was developed at mountain resorts to tow skiers back to the top of slopes, thus making it possible to repeatedly enjoy skiing down steep, long slopes that would be otherwise tiring to climb. The towing also allowed for development of equipment and technique, as it eliminated the need for cross-country capability, most notably allowing the use of hard boots and fixing the heel down for better ski control. Ski touring is the name for skiing that takes place outside ski resorts, using muscle power for ascents and requiring slightly different equipment.
The main technical challenges faced by skiers are simply how to control the direction and speed of their descent. The downhill skiers gain such control through making alternating left and right turns. Typically, novice skiers use a technique called the "snowplough/snowplow" to maintain comfortable speed and come to a stop by pointing one or both skis inward, but more advanced skiers use more difficult but more elegant and speedier methods. One popular method of turning is called parallel turn; it involves keeping both skis parallel to each other while alternating the weight distribution between them in order to force them turn in a particular direction. The angle of the ski in relation to the slope (called edge angle) is also important as it determines the resistance (friction) created by the edges of the skis. Modern advanced skiing technique is dominated by "carving". To "carve" at a higher speed, a skier rolls his or her knees from side to side while keeping the upper body and hips facing down the hill and maintaining direction straight downward, so that only the knees and feet are involved into making turns. This technique allows modern "parabolic" skis to turn using the radial properties of the edges of the ski without skidding or slowing down, creating a smooth arc.
As skiers gain confidence, they may tackle steeper, longer and more uneven slopes (including off-piste and ungroomed runs) at higher speeds. In North America, the easiest ski runs are marked by green circles, and are typically fairly flat and smooth. Sometimes known as "bunny slopes", they are usually groomed by specially equipped snowcats every night. A blue square marks slopes of medium difficulty; these blue squares may be steeper or narrower than green circles, or they may be left in a natural state rather than machine-groomed. A black diamond run is yet steeper than a blue square and often involves challenging terrain such as moguls, narrow passes, unmarked obstacles, double fall lines, or gladed sections. A double black diamond is for experts only; these trails are steep, rarely groomed and often left in a completely natural state. There is no standard for these designations, however, and each ski resort determines them relative to their own terrain difficulty. So, for instance, a blue-square (mid-level) trail at one ski mountain may be markedly more difficult than a black-diamond (expert) trail at another mountain. In Europe the system is based on colour alone. North American green circles, blue squares, black diamonds, and double blacks correspond to European green, blue, red, and black trails, respectively.
Different snow and weather conditions, such as dry air in low temperatures or spring conditions, or icy crust, or fresh powder require different skiing techniques and equipment.
Ski racer competing in a Giant Slalom race
Various alpine skiing competitions have developed in the history of skiing. Broadly speaking, competitive skiing is broken up into two disciplines: racing and freestyle.
Racing involves making fast turns through gates in an attempt to attain the fastest overall time down one or two runs of a race course. Elite competitive skiers participate in the annual World Cup series, as well as the quadrennial Olympic Games and the biennial World Championships. Slalom (SL), giant slalom (GS), super giant slalom (super-G), and downhill (DH) are the four racing disciplines. Slalom is the most technical, with speeds that can reach 55km/h. Downhill is the fastest, where speeds can exceed 100km/h, showing the clear distinction between the two disciplines. The Giant slalom event is also considered a technical event and the Super-giant slalom considered a speed event, as similar speeds are reached as in the downhill discipline. There is also a "combined" event that includes one downhill run and two slalom runs on a single day. In 2005, the FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski) introduced a new event to the World Cup calendar called the super combined, or super combi, consisting of one shortened downhill run and just one slalom run. That year, the FIS also introduced an alpine team racing event at the World Championships in Bormio, Italy. Ski racing is controlled by a set of rules which are enforced by FIS. These rules include such things as regulation ski sizes, sidecuts, boot heights, binding risers and other regulations such as limitations to chemical substances found in winning racers as well as many other things which all ensure one particular skier has no advantage over another. Next year (2008) these regulations are set to be changed in order to make it harder for racers to complete a race course. Some changes include increasing the minimum ski length and also the sidecut which will make the ski turn less tightly.In 2008 ski lengths were increased as it was found by physiotherapists that the shorter skis combined with the constant knee jerking movements were considered unnecessarily harmful to racers knees due to the turning radius of the skis (especially the slalom skis) therefore the F.I.S made the minimum ski length for women in slalom 155 cm and men 165 cm. Other size minimums were put in place in the other three events.
Freestyle skiing incorporates events such as moguls, aerials, and sometimes "new-school" events such as halfpipe, big air, slopestyle, and skiercross. Together with extreme skiing, new-school freestyle skiing is also sometimes known as freeskiing. Until relatively recently, freestyle competitions also included an event called ballet, later renamed "acro-ski".
In addition to racing and freestyle, other types of alpine skiing competitions exist. One discipline administered by the FIS but not usually considered part of racing is speed skiing, in which competitors strive to achieve the highest total speed in a straight line, with no gates or turns. Numerous non-FIS competitions have emerged over the years. More traditional events include gelandesprung jumping (ski jumping for distance on alpine equipment), and "powder 8" contests; among the more recent introductions are "big mountain" or "extreme skiing" contests, in which athletes start at the top of a mountain and ski a route down that involves wide, fast turns as well as cliff drops. The competitors are judged on the technical difficulty of their routes and any tricks they perform on the way down the hill.
Organization of alpine ski competition
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 the United States, alpine skiing competition is managed by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA). The USSA organizes all levels of skiing competition from grassroots through the U.S. Ski Team and the Olympics.
Recreational Ski Racers at a NASTAR race
Man skiing slope overlooking Lake Tahoe
Most organized skiing competitions are dependent on a cadre of Race Officials and course workers who plan, organize and run the events. Alpine ski races are usually organized by a Race Organizing Committee (ROC), led by a Race Chair. Race Officials include the Chief of Race, 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. A FIS World Cup downhill, for example, requires a team of several hundred course workers that may spend over two weeks preparing a course prior to a week of racing, during which the course workers will continue to maintain the course. Race Officials and course workers are usually volunteers, but may include paid staff and, in some European countries, members of the military. Most regular venues of major alpine ski races have a local ROC which remains in place from year to year. An example of an organization of volunteer course workers are the Whistler Weasel Workers.
Ski trail ratings
In North America, a color–shape rating system is used to indicate the difficulty of trails (otherwise known as slopes or pistes). Australian ski slopes also share the same rating system.
There is no governing body that assigns difficulty ratings to ski trails. Instead, ski resorts assign ratings to their own trails, marking a given trail according to its relative difficulty when compared with other trails at that resort. As a result, identically-pitched trails at different resorts can have different ratings. Some skiers and snowboarders may interpret this as manipulation of ratings of their slopes to appeal to as wide an audience as possible; in fact, it is an attempt by ski areas to conform to the trail rating conventions.
This means that a black diamond at one resort is not necessarily a black diamond at another; it could be a blue square or double black. Thus, the NSAA advises all skiers, of all ability levels, to work their way up from an easy slope so that they can become familiar with the trail markings at a ski area.
Although slope gradient is the primary consideration in assigning a trail rating, other factors come into play — including trail width, normal snow conditions and whether or not the resort regularly grooms the trail.
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