Getting My Head Around The Disciplines of Ski Racing!

The world of ski racing can be confusing with the acronyms, different course set ups and plethora of equipment to get your head around. In this blog I will demystify the events so you can chat like the pro’s! We will cover the basics of racing; as well as all the race disciplines – Slalom, Giant Slalom, Super Giant Slalom, Downhill, Parallel Slalom and Skier Cross.

The Basics

As in most racing sports, the fastest time wins in ski racing. Some disciplines are held over two runs, with the fastest aggregate time winning, others are held head to head with the first over the line winning.

Skiers must navigate through a set of blue and red poles which form the ‘gates’ of the course. The skiers tips of the skis and feet must pass between each gate to be able to complete the course and log an official race time.


Slalom is the shortest race discipline in terms of the length of course, but the turny-est of them all! Racers must have quick feet and create amazing angles to succeed. Here are some of the key slalom facts:

Course Length – 180-220m vertical metres
Number of Gates – 55-75
Ski Length – 165cm minimum
Other Protective Equipment Required – Helmet with a chin guard, wrist guards on poles and shin pads

 The ‘Straddle’
A common reason for disqualification in slalom is ‘the straddle’! As racers are trying to take the most direct route through the gates, they attempt to guide their ski’ as close to the gates as possible. A straddle is where the outside ski passes through the gate correctly but the inside ski is on the other side; leaving the gate in the middle of the two ski’s (see pic below).

Most racers are able to pass through the gate with their body on one side and their skis on the other (thus the need for protective equipment).

A Slalom run is around 1 minute and racers have two runs to produce the fastest aggregated time.

Giant Slalom (GS)

Like Slalom, Giant Slalom is classified as a technical ski event. This suits skiers who are able to quickly change from ski edge to edge and cut tight turns.

Course length – 250-450m vertical drop
Gates – 56-70 gates
Average Speed – 25mph
Skis – 195cm minimum length and 35m minimum radius (ski turning circle)
Other Equipment – Arm guards

Skiers navigate through ‘double gates’ as opposed to the slalom single poles. Like in Slalom the race is competed over 2 runs, best accumulative time wins. In my opinion, this is the most exciting racing to watch as racers produce some incredible angles with their skis and change direction at amazing pace.

Super Giant Slalom (SG)

Super G is the first of the ‘speed’ disciplines in Apline racing. The successful athletes tend to be taller and stronger than those in the technical disciplines in SL and GS. The course produces much faster speeds than GS but is more turny than a Downhill course.

2010 US Men’s Ski Team
skier: Bode Miller with SG skis

Course length – 400 to 650m vertical drop
Gates – must be 25m minimum distance between gates. Typically 35-50 gates, or a minimum number of gates equal to 6% of the total vertical drop in metres
Average Speed –  50mph
Skis – minimum length of 205cm and 45m radius

Downhill (DH)

Downhill racing is not for a faint hearted. Racers have been seen to exceed 100mph and take on courses with huge jumps and dangers(???))). A wrong decision in a split second can  cause ski racers to go from a winning position to a life threatening injury. Due to the dangers involved, DH is the only race discipline where racers can ski the course before the raceday in practice runs.

Course length – 450-1,110m vertical drop
Gates – 30-40
Average Speed – 60mph
Skis – minimum length 218cm ad minimum radius of 45m

The dangers of DH racing mean it is common for course to have protective netting surrounding the course in case racers ski off course. (Move up)

Team Parallel Slalom

Teams of 4 or 5 go head to head skiing identical courses simultaneously in a relay. Once one racer reaches the bottom the next racer is released from the top. Teams are made up of men and women and occasionally mix skiers and snowboarders.

In the FIS World Cup, national team of 4 compete, 2 men and 2 women using GS skis. Because of the nature of mountain slopes being uneven, team members race head to head with an opposition on both courses (red or blue) for an accumulative time to find the winner.

Skier Cross (Skier X)

This is the only racing discipline where multiple skiers race one course at the same time. Four skiers race down a course containing artificially made jumps, rollers and high banked turns. A knockout competition, the first two racers across the finish line progress to the next stage. This is a super exciting discipline to watch with racers competing for the best lines down the course at high speeds and taking huge airs on the jumps.

 Skis – Racers ski on GS skis = 195cm length and 35m radius.


Keep an eye open on our site, for our next blog – ‘Olympic Ski Event Predictions and Team GB Medal Hopes.’


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