Ski Resort Life

Vancouver 2010: Alpine Technical Events

Downhill–with its autobahn speeds and spectacular crashes—may be the mountain's riskiest event, but the turny, precise technical courses demand a level of exactitude unmatched in the Winter Olympic arena.

Giant Slalom The Austrians—perennially dominant across the alpine field—prize the GS above all and consider it to be the skier’s event. It requires deft precision and measured abandon, making it, arguably, the most challenging discipline to master. Thank goodness for malleable polycarbonate gate poles, which give a little when racers hit them. Even at relatively slow GS speeds, forces can exceed 75 gs—roughly equivalent to a full-speed helmet-to-helmet collision in football—as racers brush gates aside with their forearms and shoulders. Multiply that by the 40 to 50 gates—set about 30 feet apart—and you start to understand the rigors of the average GS course. True, life-threatening crashes aren’t common, but pity the racer who even slightly miscalculates a turn and hooks a gate with a hand or ski tip.

Slalom Agility is a slalom skier’s best weapon. Accordingly, slalomers favor short skis they can maneuver quickly and precisely through the gates. But the law of diminishing returns applies: The shorter the ski, the more difficult it is to recover from balance bobbles. So the FIS has set minimum length requirements—165 cm for men, 155 cm for women. In the two runs—each on a different course—that make up a slalom event, racers thread their way through 40 to 75 gates. Rules state that only a skier’s boots and ski tips must pass through each gate. In pursuit of the most direct line, racers knock the spring-loaded gates out of their way with their shins (this is called a boot-top turn or shinning) and/or their opposite hand (a cross-block). With its relatively short courses and quick turns, slalom may be the best event to experience from the sidelines—where there’s little danger of an out-of-control racer ragdolling into the crowd, and spectators can get close enough to hear the rhythmic slap of the gates and the scrape of razor-sharp edges on ice.

Super Combined Alpine racing is increasingly a specialist’s sport, with many racers favoring either the technical or the speed disciplines. But the combined event showcases generalists—the athletes whose talents span the alpine spectrum. This year, the two-run event will be a super combined, so named because both portions—one downhill run and one slalom run—will be held on the same day, testing athletes’ endurance as well as their versatility. The two runs may be held in either order, depending on weather conditions that day. The athlete with the fastest combined time wins.

Who to Watch: Ted Ligety, USA; Didier Cuche, SUI; Anja Paerson, SWE; Maria Riesch, GER

America’s best hopes: Bode Miller, Ted Ligety, Jimmy Cochran, Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso

Who’s your pick to win?

View the trailer for Truth in Motion, a film about the U.S. Ski Team’s Journey to the Olympics.

Technical events schedule 
Feb. 14: Women’s super combined
Feb. 16: Men’s super combined
Feb. 21: Men’s GS
Feb. 24: Women’s GS
Feb. 26: Women’s slalom
Feb. 27: Men’s slalom