Beginners Guide to Olympic Alpine Skiing - Sochi 2014

16 December 2013 / 08:38

Alpine skiing has been part of the Olympic Winter Games programme since Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936 and the current ten event programme was established at Calgary 1988.

Both men and women compete in five disciplines – downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super giant slalom and super combined, which from Vancouver 2010 consisted of a single run of slalom and downhill.

Austria are Olympic alpine skiing's most successful nation with 31 golds – 13 more than nearest rivals Switzerland – among their 105 podium places.

Downhill events are traditionally known as the blue-riband event of the Games and Germany's Katja Seizinger is the only athlete to ever defend the title.

Norwegian Kjetil André Aamodt has won eight medals – four gold, two silver, two bronze – more than any other alpine skier at the Olympics. 

Kjetil André Aamodt

Great Britain have never won an Olympic medal, though Alain Baxter claimed slalom bronze at Salt Lake City 2002.

He was later stripped of his medal, a decision he failed to overturn despite the strong support of the British Olympic Association and his national governing body.

Gina Hathorn narrowly missed out on a medal when competing for Great Britain at Grenoble 1968, finishing fourth in the women's slalom, just three hundredths of a second outside bronze.

Gina Hathorn Team GB

Martin Bell, whose brother Graham competed at five Olympics and is now a commentator for the BBC, finished eighth in the men's downhill at Calgary 1988 but Felicity Field’s sixth place in the women’s downhill in 1968 remains the best British performance in the discipline.

Ten medals are available in Olympic alpine skiing, with men and women both competing in the same five disciplines.

Slalom ski races have courses that require short tight turns, whereas giant slalom races have courses which are set with more widely spaced turns. Both are considered technical events and the winner is decided after timings from two runs – held on the same day – are added together.

Downhill and super-giant slalom, also known as Super-G, have few turns, the courses have gates spaced widely apart and skiers often reach over 60mph, hence they are designated as speed events and are decided over a single run.

The combined event is designed to find the best all-round skier, with competitors judged over one run of downhill and one run of slalom and their time combined. History shows that the winner is not necessarily the fastest skier in either of the two disciplines.

In downhill and Super-G the start order is determined by a bib draw and points from World Cup events leading up to the Games. Skiers ranked in the top 15 will receive a start number eight-22, while the those ranked between 16 and 30 will receive a start number one to seven or 23-30.

They are followed by the rest of the field, beginning with the skiers with the most World Cup start list points, then FIS points.

In giant slalom and slalom the first-run start order is determined by a draw, again using World Cup ranking points. The top seven skiers are randomly assigned start positions one to seven, while those ranked between eight and 15 are randomly allocated the next eight bibs. The remaining skiers are slotted in the order of their FIS points.

In the second run, the skiers with the fastest 30 times from run one start first, in reverse order. They are followed by the rest of the field i.e. ranked 31 and up.


The rules are the same for men and women, but the courses differ. Downhill is raced over the longest course while slalom is the shortest, with the number of gates ranging between 56-70 for men and 46-58 for women.

Alpine skiing events are spread evenly across the Olympic programme, with reserve days in case of unsuitable weather conditions.

Because of the speeds involved, three training runs are held before downhill events but in other events only a one-hour visual inspection of the course the morning of the race is allowed.