Alpine Skiing Explained (Beginners Guide)

by Robert Stanley | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

One of the best things about skiing is that it can be whatever kind of day you want it to be - an easygoing day out on the slopes or an adrenaline-filled day. It all comes down to your choice of a ski slope. Amongst the different styles of skiing, one of our favorites is alpine skiing!

Alpine skiing is a winter sport that involves sliding down snow-covered hills on skis with fixed heel bindings. It is known as downhill skiing, albeit this term encompasses a variety of forms. Alpine skiing is a subset of downhill skiing. The ski's heel bindings are fixed rather than mobile, as in other types of skiing. Due to the fixed heel of the skis, ski lifts; assist skiers to the top of the slope in ski resorts. As we know it today, alpine skiing originated in the alps in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While it was popular in countries with natural snowy slopes, it later spread worldwide.

Alpine Skiing World Cup

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The History Of Alpine Skiing

It is compulsory to go further back in time to the origins of skiing itself to understand its history. Skiing made traveling in the snow more efficient before it was used for fun or became a sport as it is today. It works for people living in high-altitude, remote areas of the world who need to get around.

Alpine skiing is of Winter Olympics' most well-known events. Competitors routinely achieve speeds of up to 152 kilometers per hour (95 miles per hour), all while navigating a meandering track with sharp twists and soaring jumps.

What are The Rules in Alpine Skiing?

As the name implies, skiers must ski down a predefined slope with the fewest turns and maximum speed to reach the finish line. Skiers can attain speeds of up to 130 kilometers per hour. The vertical drop of the downhill slope should be between 800-1100m (for men) and 450-800m (for women).

Two teams compete against one other in a parallel slalom race, with two skiers racing side by side on the same course. In this event, the first team to cross the finish line wins; hence the team that wins three races progresses to the next round of competition.

What Type of Equipment Is Key to Alpine Skiing?

Photo by specialolympicsusa licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

1. Skis

Modern alpine skis are for carving turning and have significantly grown, with types such as:

  • Powder skis - Powder skis help when there is a lot of new snow; the design of a powder ski is broad, allowing the ski to float on top of the snow, as opposed to a regular downhill ski, which would sink into the snow.
  • Freestyle skis - Skiers who ski terrain parks use freestyle skis. These skis aid a skier in skiing jumps, rails, and other terrain park elements. Freestyle skis are often entirely symmetric, with identical proportions from the tip to the backside of the ski.
  • All-mountain skis - All-mountain skis are the most popular form of the ski. These skis do a little bit of everything, in both fresh snow and groomed routes.

2. Bindings

The binding is a piece of equipment that connects the skier's boot to the ski. The binding aims to keep the skier linked to the ski, but if the skier falls, the binding may securely release them from the ski, preventing damage. There are two types of bindings:

  • Heel and Toe System
  • Plate System Binding

In Alpine skiing, a heel and toe system of binding is used.

3. Boots

Ski boots are the most significant ski gear. They attach the skier to the skis, giving them complete control over the ski. The ski boots are made of leather and have laces to secure them. The leather ski boots began off low-cut, but as injuries became more prevalent, they evolved higher, providing better ankle support.

The new plastic model of the boots included two parts: an inside boot and an exterior shell. The inside section of the boot (also known as the liner) is the cushioning component of the boot and has a footbed and a cushion to keep a skier's foot warm and comfy. The outer part of the boot is plastic and houses the buckles. Most ski boots have a strap at the shin to provide extra strength while tightening the shoes.

4. Helmet

Ski helmets can prevent head injuries when skiing. Ski helmets also assist in keeping the head warm since they include an inner liner that retains heat. Helmets come in various forms, but most are hard plastic/resin shells with inside cushioning. Vents, earmuffs, headphones, goggle attachments, and camera mounts are familiar to modern ski helmets.

5. Protective Gear

Mouthguards can decrease the symptoms of a concussion and preserve the athlete's teeth. In slalom skiing, shin guards, pole guards, arm guards, and chin guards; protect the body areas that contact the gates. For giant Slalom and other high-speed races, back protectors and padding, often known as stealth, are put further to protect the body in the case of an accident.

What Are The Disciplines in Alpine Skiing?

There are six disciplines of Alpine skiing, with different in vertical drops, technical racing, and speed racing. Competitions at the national, international, and Winter Olympics levels are held in all six disciplines of Alpine skiing.

1. Downhill

It is a speed event of Alpine skiing with no obstacles or gates. The vertical drop for the course of women is 450 m to 800 m. In comparison, that of men is 750 m to 1100 m. The vertical drop length is higher as compared to other types of Alpine skiing so that the competitors can attain maximum speed.

2. Super G

It is also a single round speed event with a vertical drop of 400 m to 600 m. There are 28 to 45 gates along the course of the slope. The competitors have to ski through the gates (red and blue flags) in the shortest possible time to secure the victory.

3. Giant Slalom

It is a technical event of Alpine skiing with a rather short vertical drop and more obstacles. The vertical drop for men is 250 m to 450 m, and that for women is 250 m to 400 m. The number of gates varies from 30 to 65. This event is composed of two rounds (heats), the second of which is in reverse order to that of the first 30 gates of the first round.
The time taken by players to complete both heats is added up, and the winner is crowned based on the combined shortest time.

4. Slalom

With the number of gates ranging from 40 to 75 and closely spaced, this event of Alpine skiing is undoubtedly the most technical one. It is of two rounds, with the second round a reversal of the first round. The vertical drop is 180 m to 220 m for men and 140 m to 220 m for women. The combined shortest time of two heats crowns the winner.

5. Alpine Combined

This discipline of Alpine skiing is a combination of Downhill and Slalom. Therefore, it tests the mettle of competitors both in speed and technicality. It has two rounds, and the combined shortest time denounces the winner of the competition.

6. Parallel

It is a modern discipline in which the skiers face off against each other in two identical parallel courses. The vertical drop is 80 m to 100 m with a maximum of 30 gates per course. There are two rounds of this event, and time is the decisive factor to win the game.


The best thing about alpine skiing is that there is something for everyone, from snow enthusiasts to Olympic-level athletes. Strap on your skis and we'll see you on the mountain!

Photo by Piero Annoni licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0