In very general terms, alpine ski racing is nothing more than getting from the top of a hill to the bottom, skiing through a designated course defined by poles (or “gates”), in the fastest possible time. Simple, really……
There are four main types of alpine ski race courses (disciplines) that are set, often split into two categories: “technical events” and “speed events”. The technical events consist of Slalom (SL) and Giant-Slalom (GS) courses, while the speed events include Super-Giant Slalom (SG) and Downhill (DH), the blue riband event!
As the names suggest, the Speed Events of SG and DH involve much higher speeds when compared to the Technical Events, where precision is key!
There are also certain variations, or combinations, of these separate disciplines, such as Parallel Slalom, Combined and Kombi, which are outlined below.
Slalom races are the “slowest” of the races, and involve skiing a course where gates are spaced closer together, requiring shorter and quicker turns to complete the course. The gates are set with in alternating red and blue colour and are arranged in a different configurations to provide a challenge for the racer.
The gates themselves are set relatively close together, with racers taking a direct line down the course, often requiring them to “clear” or knock the gates out of the way. You will no doubt have seen racers looking the business wearing shin, hand and face guards – a necessity for slalom!
Slalom races are generally comprised of two runs, held on the same piste but with different courses set, with the total combined time deciding the results.
Giant Slalom races, involve a moderate increase in speed, with the courses being longer than slalom and, instead of single gates, skiers must round double gates with a cloth (or plastic) panel on them. The gates are spaced further apart than for slalom, again with alternating red and blue colours. From as technical perspective, the ski turn radius required to complete a GS race is longer than for slalom. Hard protection (shin, hand and face guards) is not worn for GS races, however older racers (U14+) sometimes wear padded catsuits to help soften any untoward clipping of gates (yes, the bruising can be impressive!)! Again, GS races generally involve two runs on separate courses, on the same piste. As for slalom, the total combined time decides the results.
SG races involve a further substantial increase in speed. These races consist of more widely set gates than in GS which racers must ski around, with the gates being double gates with a panel on them.
Turns are longer still, with the ability to hold the turn against the increased forces (due to the higher speeds) meaning that normally only U16+ ages groups are allowed to compete in this category, due to their more developed physiology.
There are some U14 SG races, however these are generally set as shorter courses, more aligned with a full FIS GS race set-up.
SG races involve a single, timed, run to decide overall results.
Downhill races are regarded as the pinnacle of alpine ski racing, however that should not take away from the incredible skill-set required for such as slalom racing.
The speeds achieved are extremely high, with the courses being the longest and fastest of all the alpine disciplines – courses can be up to 2.5 to 3km long, taking 180 secs to complete! The highest recorded speed achieved in a downhill race was 100.6mph, by Johan Clarey (Fr), when racing in the Lauberhorn World Cup in Wengen, 2013!!
Racers require substantial development, along with many years of practice, to reach the level of expertise to be able to complete, let alone compete in, a DH race.
DH courses are shown by single-colour, ie not alternating, double gates (with panels), to avoid confusing the racer. Only one timed run is allowed per racer, to decide the overall results.
Other Race Types
A regular occurrance and firm favourite of Gordon’s trainees, usually held every Sunday when on the artificial mat, a parallel slalom is exactly that: two identical slalom courses set-up side by side, with the racers going head to head! It can be run either as individual head to head ie two racers only, or as a team event, with a set number of racers in each team as a relay.
Can also be termed “dual slalom”, “pro-slalom” or just “head-2-head”.
Combined (or Super-Combined)
Combined races are stand-alone events, comprising one speed event, such as SG, and one technical event, such as SL. Only a single run of each type of race is allowed, being completed on the same day: the times are then combined to give the overall result.
With the breadth of skills required to perform in both technical and speed events, combined races are a true test of a racers all-round ability.
Kombi races are most often used in childrens’ races, where they are fantastic for their overall ski development.
The races themselves consist of, literally, a combination of such as slalom and giant-slalom features ie shorter and longer turn types, possibly with some rollers, small jumps etc included for fun!
Depending on the race itself, and the club organising, junior racers may get two or even three runs down the same course, with the best two out of te three runs counting for their overall result (this may vary race to race).
Can my child race?
The types of race each age group of child can enter will vary, however there is a race for everyone! Generally, the older the racer, the more technical the race discipline and/ or the faster it becomes. For example, while children of any age can enter technical races, such as slalom (SL) and giant-slalom (GS), children of 14+ yrs of age are also able to enter speed events, such as super giant-slalom (SG) races, where speeds are in excess of 50mph! Younger children in the U8 to U12 age groups are limited to more age-suitable events, such as slalom, giant-slalom and kombi races.
Certain races are more “manageable” than others, depending on the national significance of that particular race and also the location held, however all athletes should be able to compete in at least one or two races throughout the year. A fantastic introductory race is our home race, the Lecht Open, held in mid-January each year and which is especially suitable for younger racers in the U8, U10 and U12 age groups. These races are held on the slopes our athletes train on every week, therefore they will be very familiar with the environment and hopefully less apprehensive than in a more unfamiliar location.
Those racers still attending school are also encouraged to enter the Scottish Schools Snowsports Association (SSSA) series of artificial and snow races, where the school participates. These cater for primary and secondary school children, both novices and more experienced skiers and whether having previous racing experience or not. These races are very much designed to be fun and help the children become involved in ski racing, with individual and team scores events.