With the races at Rettenbach glacier in Sölden, professional skiers will start the Alpine Ski World Cup again at the end of October. Who scores the most points, who gets hold of one of the coveted crystal ball trophies? The disciplines to compete in are Downhill skiing, Slalom, Giant Slalom and Super-G. But what is the difference between the individual World Cup disciplines? In preparation for the upcoming World Cup season, SnowTrex gives and overview of the skiing disciplines:
The word “slalom” refers to the fast, repeated sequence of curves. In alpine skiing, slalom is the oldest and most technically demanding competition, even though it is the slowest by comparison (average speed: 40 km/h). Gates are set up in short distances (9 m vertically and 2 m horizontally) on the slalom course, which consist of two red and two blue poles alternately. The tilt poles that are used bend downwards when touched. Usually the skiers lean in to the curve in such a way that they hit away the poles with their shins so that they do not have to leave the ideal riding line. This also explains the protective equipment consisting of shin and hand protectors as well as a face shield.
In the slalom competition, the ski pros pass between the gates. The International Ski Federation FIS has published a set of rules that precisely define the number of directional changes marked by the gates. However, these can vary on the slalom course depending on the length of the piste. For men, there are always 55 to 75 changes in direction, for women 45 to 65. The gradient of the slope is usually between 33% and 45%. The men overcome a difference in altitude between 180 m and 220 m, women between 140 m and 200 m.
There are two runs in the slalom, but there are no training runs beforehand, only an inspection of the course. The times of the two runs are added together. In the second run, however, only the 30 fastest of the first run may start. Slalom, by the way, is the showcase discipline of our Trexpert Felix Neureuther. He has already won the World Cup in slalom nine times!
Downhill is considered the supreme discipline in alpine skiing, and it is also the longest and second oldest competition. As skiers can reach speeds of up to 130 km/h when going downhill – on the “Streif” in Kitzbühel and at the Swiss Lauberhorn even up to 140 km/h and 160 km/h, respectively – it is also the riskiest race. According to FIS regulation, the descent is supposed challenge the skiers’ technique, courage, speed, risk and stamina. The race tracks meet these requirements with a mixture of icy surfaces, technically demanding curves, extremely steep sections, flat sections and long jumps.
The following parameters are defined for the tracks: the difference in altitude must be in between 800 m and 1,100 m for men, and between 500 m and 800 m for women. The track is marked with gates of the same colour. However, the flexible poles used here mainly determine the direction, and only offer little resistance when touched. Before the competition, the participants may do one to three training runs. In contrast to technical ski disciplines like slalom, only on run is carried out during the downhill competition. The equipment in downhill races is also special: the skis are approx. 30% longer than slalom skis, which increases the skiers’ stability at high speeds. Men’s skis are at least 218 cm long, women’s skis at least 210 cm.
Giant Slalom is also called “Riesentorlauf” (abbr.: RTL) in Austria. As in slalom, the gates positioned on the piste dictate a constant change of direction. Howsever, the gates are not only set further apart, there are also less in number. Like this, the skier is faster than in slalom, but the distance is longer. In contrast to slalom, a Giant Slalom track can also include flat sections for gliding. The gates used in Giant Slalom consist of two double poles connected by plastic strips. They are flexible and less firmly anchored in the snow than on a slalom track. The Giant Slalom competition also consists of two runs, and the times are added up afterwards.
There have been many discussions regarding the length of men’s giant slalom skis over the recent years. Despite plenty of criticism by athletes and manufacturers, the FIS extended the ski’s curve radius (!) from 27 m to 35 m in 2012, in order to minimise knee problems for the athletes. The curve radius however is determined by the sidecut, length and width of the ski: the higher the radius (and therefore the smaller the sidecut and the length of the ski), the more effort in the whole body is necessary, so that top athletes had increasing back problems. From the 2017/18 winter season, a smaller radius of 30 m will apply again, so that the skis can be shorter and can have a bigger sidecut again. The minimum length, however, is 1.93 m.
Super-G is the short form of Super Giant Slalom – the fastest discipline after downhill skiing, and also newest discipline in alpine skiing. The course is generally shorter than in Downhill, but technically more demanding. Additionally there are more gates which are positioned even narrower – at least 35 gates for men, and at least 30 for women, with a minimum distance of 25 m in between. The difference in altitude is between 500 m and 650 m for men and between 400 m and 600 m for woman. Super-G was introduced as an additional speed discipline to downhill, and as a technical and skilful connection between downhill and giant slalom. The Super-G must contain jumps so that the downhill elements remain intact. The most successful Super-G skier is Hermann Maier from Austria, who won 24 races, five discipline standings, a World Championship title as well as an Olympic victory.
Versatility is the key to the so called Super Combination, which combines the power and stamina demanded in downhill skiing or Super-G with the technically demanding slalom. Both races in this multi-discipline are usually held in one day. The running times are then added together.