12 Unique Types of Skiing (With Pictures)

by Simon Knott | Updated On: August 25th, 2022
Type of Ski

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There are lots of different types of skiing activity, some involve competitive skiing, some acrobatic, and several involve trekking into the mountains to take advantage of the wild terrain. But how many different types of skiing are there altogether?

Many different types of skiing have evolved, which require different skills. These include Alpine or Downhill Skiing, Backcountry Skiing, Nordic Skiing, Ski Touring, Adaptive Skiing, Ski Jumping, Freestyle Skiing, Ski Racing, Ski Mountaineering, Speed Skiing, Telemark Skiing, and Skate Skiing.

cat ski
Photo by Electronker under CC BY-SA 2.0

For thousands of years, travelers have trekked across the snow using skis and poles. Hunters used them so they would be better able to catch their prey and others used skis as the fastest method of transport.

Little changed over the centuries but by the 1930s recreational skiing became a fast-growing pursuit. Advances in technology mean recreational skiing is now available to most people.

As people’s enthusiasm for skiing grew so also did the number of different types of skiing that they engaged in.

The Following Is A List Of Popular Skiing Pursuits Listed In Popularity:

1. Alpine or Downhill Skiing

Alpine Skiing
Photo by specialolympicsusa licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Most skiers’ first experience will be Alpine or Downhill skiing. It is the most commercially advanced and widespread form of skiing throughout the world. Downhill skiing takes place almost exclusively in commercial resorts, where the infrastructure has been developed to transport skiers up the mountain with a variety of lifts and cabins.

Skiers then ski down the mountain on prepared and signposted runs. Carving skis are generally used, which are ideal for turning on well-prepared runs.

Ski boots for downhill skiing are secured into the ski binding at the front and back, giving plenty of support and stability for the speeds that can be achieved.

One of the dangers of downhill skiing is that skiers and snowboarders must share the same runs. So, learning the dos and don’ts of skiing on the runs is vital to avoid mishaps.

2. Backcountry Skiing

(Also Known As Alpine Touring and Off-Piste Skiing)

Backcountry or off-piste skiing involves heading away from commercial runs to explore the less-traveled parts of the mountain. Backcountry skiers enjoy the wilder aspect of the terrain away from the busy tourist hotspots.

The style of skiing is more varied and requires some specialized skiing and safety equipment. For climbing uphill sections skiers attach ‘skins’, which are the natural or man-made fabric that is attached to the underside of the ski.

The grain of the fabric means the skier can easily ski forward but not backward, making progress uphill much easier.

Some skiers invest in lightweight ski boots and bindings, which reduce weight considerably and make climbing up hillsides less arduous. Backcountry skiing requires a good level of fitness, particularly aerobics, where climbing steep mountains will be routine.

Heli Ski
Photo by Adam Selwood under CC BY 2.0

Some backcountry skiers prefer to pay for a helicopter to take them to the top of the mountain. However, some countries, such as France, have now banned the use of recreational helicopter trips, stating that environmental and noise pollution is excessive.

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Backcountry skiing involves a higher level of risk especially as it routinely involves travel to remote parts. Skiers are advised to check the avalanche risks and the weather conditions before departing to be able to make a calculated risk assessment.

Preparation is the key and skiers should at least have taken an avalanche safety course. This will introduce the skier to an electronic beacon, which each member of the party has.

In the event of an avalanche, any missing members can easily be located by the signal from the beacon. Skiers are also educated in the use of a probe and a shovel.

Backcountry skiing is a great pursuit that many enjoy but it’s not without its risks. Never go backcountry skiing alone and always take adequate food and water, as well as a first-aid kit.

3. Cross Country Skiing

Norwegian immigrants introduced the first skis to the US mid-west in 1836, from which Nordic skiing has its origins. Nordic Skiing or Cross-Country Skiing involves traveling over snow-covered terrain which is flat or hilly.

The skier uses poles to propel themselves forward along with striding or skating movements of the legs to make the most of momentum.

The ski binding is specialized, so the heel of the boot doesn’t attach, allowing the ankle freedom of movement and a more efficient motion. Climbing hills is good aerobic exercise and skiers sometimes attach ‘skins’ for better traction.

Nordic skiing usually takes place in the backcountry where few others have been but there are now commercial Nordic ski resorts, which have been established for enthusiasts.

4. Ski Touring

ski tour
Photo by kcxd licensed under CC BY 2.0

Ski Touring is like Backcountry or Off-Piste skiing except that the skier’s boots are unattached at the back for ease of climbing the mountain. Ski Tourer also use ‘skins’ attached to the base of their skis to maximize purchase as they climb uphill.

Once the skier reaches the top of the mountain the rear of the boot is clipped into the binding once more, so the skier can ski down with a fully functioning boot and ski.

Climbing up any mountain wearing ski gear and carrying equipment is hard work, so a good level of aerobic fitness is necessary. From a safety perspective, as with Backcountry Skiing, there are risks associated with ski touring.

Ideally, skiers should have taken an avalanche course and only set out when they have full equipment, food and water, and a first-aid kit.

5. Adaptive Skiing

The ‘adaptive’ in Adaptive Skiing refers to the adaptation of skiing equipment so that people with disabilities can take full part in snow-based activities.

Mainstream organizations such as Washington state’s, ‘Outdoors for All’ and the Scottish-based UK organization, Disability Snowsport UK, offer a full range of lessons, equipment, and information.

Equipment adaptation is tailored to the individual’s ability, whether they experience mobility issues or sight impairment.

Ski resorts are also taking the initiative and several major resorts including Jackson Hole, Whistler Blackcomb, and Winter Park all have facilities for the disabled. The growth of the Paralympic movement has helped to spur the expansion of adaptive facilities.

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6. Freestyle Skiing or Freeskiing

Some say that Freestyle Skiing evolved as a rebellion against the tight constraints of ski racing, in a similar way as punk rebelled against a formalized music industry. The result is a whole new genre of skiing activities, some of which have become established in the Olympics. Always quick to see a new opportunity fashion and specialized equipment have also become part of the event.

Freestyle skiers use downhill runs, looking for purpose-built features on runs or in terrain parks. These can consist of specially made jumps, boxes, and rails to slide along.

Mogul skiing has been added to the freestyle discipline and from 1992 is now included in the Olympics. Ski Cross, where skiers compete directly against each other on a downhill course that features jumps and banked curves, was added in 2010.

While the Halfpipe and Slopestyle were added to the Olympics in 2014. Slopestyle is a skiing or snowboarding contest, which involves acrobatic tricks while negotiating a downhill course with rails and ramps.

7. Ski Jumping

Ski Jump
Photo by Planetxau licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Ski jumping is one of the most flamboyant disciplines in the sport. Either the jump works, and you will have the full adulation of the crowd on the way down and if it doesn’t work your will humiliation will be complete. Either way, it’s a lot of fun even just to watch.

Each ski jump attempt is broken down into four sections:

  1. The approach – the skier launches onto the ramp keeping a crouch position. The aim is to minimize wind resistance and maximize speed in the process. The faster you go the farther you will land.
  2. The take-off – as the skier leaves the ramp there is a transition from maximizing speed to maximizing lift.
  3. The flight – the higher you can fly the farther you will go. The skier adopts an upright position leaning forward with both skis in a V-shape. Ski jumping skis are long and wide and they act almost like wings to keep the skier airborne as long as possible.
  4. The landing – keeping the aerodynamics of the body and skis as you come into land requires balance and precision.

Many resorts now have smaller ski jumping facilities, where skiers can get a taste of what competitive ski jumpers put themselves through. A huge inflatable airbag is located at the end of the ski jump so that skiers can safely land without injury however bad their technique.

8. Ski Racing

Ski Racing
Photo by ActiveSteve licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

As the name suggests ski racing is essentially about speed. Skiers are timed on a steep, downhill run, where the main objective is to get down the course as quickly and safely as possible. The surface of the course is hardpacked and often icy snow, which tests the racer’s cornering skills to the limit.

The times between individual races frequently come down to 1 hundredth of a second, so skiers now adopt supersmooth helmets and racing ski suits that eliminate creases and create very little drag in the airflow.

As was downhill racing there are various slalom courses, where skiers steer a course down the run around markers or gates. There are three different disciplines slalom, giant slalom, and super giant slalom.

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9. Speed Skiing

Speed Skiing
Photo by Bysprinten Mosjøen licensed under CC BY 2.0

Man will always be fascinated with speed and so it’s no surprise that speed skiing came into being to satisfy the hunger of certain skiers. Competitive speed skiers go to extraordinary lengths to ensure drag is minimized as far as possible.

Clothing will be purpose-made to ensure it fits as snugly as possible to the skier’s physique. This minimizes the chance of wrinkles and disruption of the airflow. The fabric is also manufactured to have a very high sheen to reduce wind resistance.

All equipment is specially made too, with the helmet and poles sculpted into a sweptback shape. Some competitors, such as Ivan Origone from Italy, go so far as to use ‘calf-fairings’, which streamlines the airflow over the lower leg.

In March 2016, Origone shattered the world record for speed skiers with a final top speed of 158.4mph. As he started his run, he accelerated down the ramp faster than an F1 car, reaching 125mph in 5.5 seconds. Such acceleration is close to that experienced when jumping out of a plane.

10. Ski Mountaineering

Ski mountaineering is about as extreme as skiing gets. It is like one big step beyond backcountry skiing. Ski mountaineering involves climbing the mountain, which on steep sections must be done on foot while carrying your skis on your back.

Skiers will also equip themselves with traditional climbing gear such as rope, carabiners, a helmet, ice ax, and crampons.

With all this equipment ski mountaineers need to be particularly fit, especially when climbing at higher altitudes.

Skiers that are attracted to ski mountaineering enjoy the multidisciplinary challenge of using different equipment and the natural challenges the mountain presents. As with any of the mountain or remote disciplines of skiing, it is best to travel in a group and have taken the appropriate training.

11. Telemark Skiing

Telemark skiing gets its name from the Telemark region of Norway, where the discipline originated around 1868. It evolved as a new technique for cornering, where the ski boot is only secured at the front leaving the heel free to move. This enables the skier to bend forwards more with the knees bent.

It is a more difficult technique to master than conventional downhill skiing and so its adoption has always been limited. It does however have its advantages. Learning to ski with telemark equipment does improve your overall ability.

New skiers are inclined to lean back onto the center of their skis, but the telemark stance will sharpen their balance and agility. The boots also tend to be more comfortable for new skiers to walk in.

12. Skate or Nordic Skiing

Nordic Skiing
Photo by Baker County Tourism Travel Baker County licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Skate skiing also originated in Norway as a method of traversing flat snow. The skis are pointed outwards in a V-shape and the legs are used alternately to push away, in the same manner as skating. Once you have enough momentum less leg energy is needed to keep moving forward.

It’s not a widely used technique but some resorts are equipped with special tracks for skate skiing.

Skate skiing is a great workout for the legs, where you be using most of the muscle groups.

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