Alpine Skiing: Interesting Facts and History

What is Alpine Skiing?

Alpine skiing is also commonly called downhill skiing. It is a competition of speed, winding in between the icy mountainous terrains, and the ticking clock. Alpine skiing is one of the most adrenaline-pumping sports out there. The skiers are required to race alongside each other on challenging icy mountains.

Though there are various forms of alpine skiing, all of them require navigating between red and blue gates down the hill. The winner is the one who beats the others in the fastest finish time. Alpine skiing is an important and popular Winter Olympic sport and has about five medal events.

The Different Types of Alpine Skiing Competitions

Since the first alpine ski competition in the 1850s in Norway, this sport has made its way to numerous countries and events. The Olympics have following varied forms of alpine skiing as medal events:

1. Downhill

This is amongst the fastest alpine skiing events. This event has less number of red and blue gates which are spaced quite far from each other, which implies that the skier has to make fewer turns, and the racecourse is almost straight. In downhill alpine skiing, the racers can reach up to a staggering speed of 90 mph! It is a one-lap race.

2. Slalom

With more red and blue gates marking the turnings, the skiers in slalom cannot get as much speed as in downhill. However, the high number of turns, jumps, and glides required in this type of alpine skiing competition makes it riskier. It is also a one-lap race.

3. Giant Slalom

This type of alpine skiing is like a mix between the previous two: it has the red and blue gates like slalom, but they are placed quite far apart, resulting in wider turns. Thus, in giant slalom, the skiers get to gain more speed than in slalom but have wider turns, which ups the level of challenges.

4. Super Giant Slalom

Introduced as a competition in 1987, this alpine event runs on a longer course than slalom or giant slalom. There are several gates in this competition that swing across the hill. The skiers have to run the lap twice. The first 30 finishers of the first lap run in the reverse order for the second lap, eradicating any advantages during the first run. The skier having the lowest total running time, wins the race.

History of the Alpine Skiing

As anyone could guess, alpine skiing originated in cold regions such as Russia, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. The discovery of the remains of various wooden planks preserved in peat bogs indicated that skiing dates back to the prehistoric times. It is said that skiing was originally invented and used as a method to cross wetlands and marshes. No one knew it would become such a popular winter sport in the future.

Winters in the North Pole are quite harsh. As water freezes and rivers and lakes turn into hard ice, crossing the water using a plank and sliding over the slippery ice became a norm there. Skiing was, in reality, an effective means of transportation in the countries that experience harsh winters.

During the 1760s, skiing became an integral part of military training as well. Historical accounts show that the Norwegian military used to make their soldiers practice skiing down the icy slopes. They also held competitions judging the speed and obstacles-tackling of their military men.

The transition of skiing from an inevitable method of transportation during winter to a recreational competition is dated back to the 19th century. Sondre Norheim was a skiing legend from Norway who is said to have started the modern-day alpine skiing. He invented skiing down the curved sides using stiff bands in bindings made out of willow.

He is also known for conceptualizing and practicing the slalom style of alpine skiing. As historical accounts indicate, Norheim is also celebrated as the champion of the first-ever skiing competition in Oslo, Norway. This competition is said to have taken place in 1868.

It was not immediately after the adaptation of alpine skiing as a competitive sport that skiing made its way into Europe and the US as a popular sport. It was about two to three decades later, in 1930 when the International Ski Federation (FSI) recognized downhill racing.

Men’s downhill championship and slalom medal event were first held in 1931; while, women’s slalom events made their way in 1950. Alpine skiing competition was added to the Olympic Winter Games in 1936, held in Germany.

Interesting Facts about Alpine Skiing

  • The word Ski is derived from the word Skio in Norwegian which is translated to a split piece of wood.
  • Records show that the first-ever downhill skiing competition took place in 1879 in Sweden.
  • More than 80 countries around the world offer some type of recreational ski facilities, but countries like Austria, Norway, and Switzerland have the most participation levels (more than 25% of the whole population).
  • The skill of being airborne while skiing – which made alpine skiing possible – is attributed to Sondre Norheim coming up with a perfect way of binding his ski to the boots.
  • The author of the famed Sherlock Holmes is attributed to be the one who introduced skiing to Switzerland.
  • Despite being a popular competitive sport in countries like Sweden, Norway, and Austria, alpine skiing was included in the Winter Olympics in 1936.
  • Franz Pfnur was the first man who bagged a gold medal in alpine skiing in the Winter Olympics of 1936.
  • In alpine skiing, the skiers are claimed to have more speed than some fast cars.
  • In 2006, Simone Origone set the world record of fastest skiing. His speed was recorded to be 156.2 miles per hour – which is way faster than the speed of the cars running at 120 miles per hour on the road.
  • The oldest skis were discovered near Lake Sindor in Russia and date back to 6000 BC era.
  • The International Ski Federation came into being in 1924 and has been overlooking the ski events and competitions all around the world since then.
  • The record of the world’s longest ski jump (about 253.5 meters or 832 feet) was set by Stefan Kraft in 2017 on a hill in Vikersund.
  • Nick Willey holds the record of non-stop skiing for about 202 hours and 1 minute in Austria at Thredbo in 2005. He set the record by going about 916 times over the icy terrains, covering about 1,150 kilometers (715 miles).
  • China has the world’s largest indoor skiing facility spanning over 43,919.7 square meters (472,747 square feet).
  • A crew member of the Apollo 17, a space shuttle, expressed that the techniques utilized in alpine skiing should be used and adopted by the astronauts for mastering the art of cross-country skiing. According to him, the skiing technique could come in handy for learning to walk on the moon. He even envisioned a lunar skiing holiday in the future.
  • While using all the balancing skills you probably know and defying gravity at your best, you are also burning about 350-400 calories every hour when skiing.
  • Around 40 states in the USA have ski resorts. The largest and most popular ski resort in the country is Vail Mountain Resort in Colorado, spanning over 5,289 acres. Approximately 1.5 million people visit this ski resort every year.

Final Words

All in all, alpine skiing is a thrilling sport that is mastered by many. It is a challenging sport that requires extensive training and a lot of determination. Skiing for adventure and fun is also good for the kids. Today, numerous ski resorts around the world offer skiing terrains as well as ski training for kids and adults.