Unlike in the other alpine disciplines, the downhill course is set by an International Ski Federation (FIS) official rather than a representative of one of the competing nations. In downhill, the gates are marked by red flags and dictate where a skier must turn (in other disciplines, gates alternate between blue and red). There is no hard rule that dictates how much distance must lie between downhill gates.
The course must be clear of all obstacles, but pine needles are often scattered along the course to aid athletes’depth perception. This is especially useful when an airborne racer is trying to land a jump. Padding and netting also may exist along the side of the course to cushion a fall or prevent a racer from sliding into the forest.
For safety, there are two downhill training runs held on the Olympic slope prior to race day. Although an athlete benefits from completing both training runs, it is only required that a competitor pass through the start gate once. On race day, athletes may inspect the course by side-slipping through it.
The super-G course is normally set the day before the race. The course must have a minimum of 35 changes of direction for the men and at least 30 changes of direction for the women. The gates are set alternately red and blue. (Note: Not every gate necessarily mandates a “change of direction.”)
Unlike in the downhill, there are no training runs on the super-G course, only a race-day inspection. Athletes must memorise the course quickly, trust their instincts to find the fastest line, and have already mastered the technique to produce an error-free run.
In giant slalom, the number of turns is determined by the vertical drop of the course, for 2006 Men’s drop 450m, Ladies’ drop 400m. The vertical drop, or altitude change, is figured by subtracting the elevation at the finish from the elevation at the start. The number of turns is not synonymous with the number of gates, since some gates might not require a direction change.
Weather permitting, the first course should be set the day before the race.
A men’s slalom course requires 55-75 gates. A women’s course requires 45-65. Gates are set with alternating red and blue flags. Weather permitting, the first course should be set the day before the race.
The combined event is held on two distinct courses — one for downhill and one for slalom. The downhill-combined course is set by an International Ski Federation official — the race director — rather than a representative of one of the nations. The two slalom-combined courses are set by two different people representing two different nations.