Olympic Skiing

Just what in the heck is a Super G, anyway?

Flip on an Olympic skiing event and there’s a good chance what you find looks nothing like what you’re used to seeing at your favorite resort. These other-worldly athletes are masters of their trade, and the Olympic ski events are designed to test their skills beyond the standard ski resort fare.

Athletes will compete for medals in 21 unique varieties of alpine and freestyle ski events at the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang, and we want to help you understand each event so you can root on good ole’ Team USA without sounding like a gaper. Watch smarter this year; in other words, be the smart alack that corrects their friends when they confuse the Super G with the Super Combined.

Alpine Skiing Events

The alpine competition consists of eleven events: five each for women and men, with one team event consisting of both men and women. Each skier makes one or two runs down a course, and the fastest time determines the winner. Pretty simple, huh? Well the Olympic committee likes to keep things interesting, so each of these five event types have got some fun wrinkles that add to the difficulty. Let’s explore:

Downhill

The first of the so-called “speed” events, Olympic downhill events feature the longest courses and the highest speeds in all of alpine skiing. The athletes can reach speeds of up to 90 MPH; a shot of pure adrenaline if we’ve ever seen one.

Downhill competitors must ski down a slope while passing through the course’s rectangle-shaped gates en-route to the finish line. The skier who crosses the finish line the fastest, wins the event.

Skiers only get one run during competition, but because of the dangerous nature of this event competitors must participate in training runs at least once every three days.

Slalom

The slalom event is the “technical” counterpart to the downhill event: Slalom races have shorter courses, quicker turns and and more gates to pass through.

Slalom skiers must zigzag their way through somewhere between 55-75 gates (for men) or 45-60 gates (for women). The gates used in the slalom event differ from the rectangular ones used in downhill, however. Instead of having to pass through the horizontal plane that exists between the two ends of the gate, slalom skiers must weave left and right around poles that are lined up vertically, from the top of the slope to the bottom. The poles alternate between red and blue, and the skier must pass through the space in between the two differently-colored poles.

Gates are much closer together in the Slalom, with a minimum distance of 29 in. and a maximum of 42 ft. The closer proximity of gates doesn’t allow skiers as much time to build up speed, but it tests the skier’s quickness and ability to make sharp turns.

During a slalom competition, skiers take two runs down two separate courses on the same slope. The winner is whoever has the lowest combined time.

Giant Slalom

Faster than slalom but with more turns than downhill, the Giant Slalom combines aspects of both events. The Giant Slalom is considered the second of the “technical” alpine ski events, and uses the same two-run format as the Slalom.

The Giant Slalom has roughly the same number of gates as the Slalom, but uses the rectangular gate design of the Downhill event. Compared to Slalom, however, the distance between these gates is longer by at least 33 ft. This allows for skiers to build up more speed while still taking quick, precise turns.

Super G

Short for “Super Giant Slalom”, the Super G event is a lot like the Giant Slalom, only a shade more Downhill influenced. What makes the Super G unique from the Giant Slalom is the steeper slope and increased distance between gates. Gates are placed at a minimum of 82 ft. from each other, allowing skiers to build up more speed and perform longer turns (although not quite as fast or long as the Downhill event).

The Super G is the second of the alpine skiing’s “speed events”, sharing a competition structure as Downhill: Only one run is used to determine the winner.

Super Combined

The Super Combined event is, not surprisingly, a downhill race combined with a slalom race. Racers complete one run down a shortened downhill slope, and then follow it up with a run down a slalom slope. The times of the two races are added together, resulting in the athlete’s final time. Whichever athlete has the shortest combined time, is the champion.

Alpine Skiing Team Event

For the first year ever, athletes at the PyeongChang Olympics will compete in the Alpine Skiing Team Event. This event will consist of four athletes from each country (two men and two women) who will compete head to head with athletes from other nations in a Giant Slalom-style competition.

The competition will pit 16 teams in a knockout-format tournament. In each round, all four of a team’s athletes will be matched up with an athlete of the same gender from the opposing team, with the winner of each heat taking home a point for their team. The team with the most points at the end of the round advances. In the case of a 2-2 tie in points, the team with the lowest combined time from their best male racer and best female racer will move on.

There are a total of four rounds during the event, with the team that wins the final round taking the gold medal.

Freestyle Skiing Events

Another ten skiing events take place under the banner of Freestyle Skiing: once again, five for men and five for women. While the alpine competitions are fairly straightforward, the freestyle events involve a more “artistic” component. Winners are determined via a score that measures various aspects of the skier’s performance, decided upon by a panel of judges.The Freestyle skiing events are:

Moguls

Moguls, the snow-formed bumps that are a blast to ride, are the basis for this Olympic event. Skiers must take on a mogul-filled slope with two jump sections sprinkled in between mogul sections, getting graded on technique, speed and the quality of the aerial maneuvers they make off the jumps.

The mogul course that competitors ride during the Moguls event is very particular; the average tilt is 28 degrees and it has a difference in elevation of 360 ft. The course is 820 ft. in length and has a width of 59 ft.

A competitor’s run score is comprised of 50% turning technique, 25% speed and 25% aerial maneuvers. These scores are compiled by a total of seven judges; five turn judges and two aerial judges.

The Moguls event is more so a tournament than a single event. Two qualifying rounds widdle down a pool of 30 skiers to 20 finalists. From there, there are three rounds:

Round One – The 12 highest-scoring performers in this round advance to Round Two
Round Two – The 6 highest-scoring performers in this round advance to Round Three
Round Three – The skier with the highest score is declared the winner.

A little bit of a twist: The final round score is calculated by adding together the scores of only three of the five turn judges (excluding the judges who give the highest and lowest scores) and the average of the scores given by the two air judges.

Aerials

The Aerial event is all about who can perform the most challenging aerial maneuvers off a single jump. Athletes launch themselves up to 20 ft. into the air off a 6-12 ft. jump, performing a series of flips and rotations while suspended in the air.

A contestant’s jump consists of two movements: the number of flips and the number of twists. Manuever’s often will combine one or more flips with one or more twists. A panel of five judges uses a 10-point scale to grade the execution of the jump, awarding up to 2 points for their air performance, 5 points for form and 3 points for their landing.

Aerials use the same competition style as Moguls; two qualifying rounds, with then three knockout rounds. The only difference is the numbers of skiers that advance, as the field begins with 25 athletes, then narrows to 12, then 8, and finally four in the final round.

The athlete’s final score is determined by adding the score of the middle three judges (again excluding the highest and lowest scores) together and multiplying it by the “difficulty score”, a 1-5 value that is assigned to every maneuver before the competition.

Slopestyle

The Slopestyle event is most like what you’d find at a resort’s terrain park, except bigger and better. Skiers must navigate their way down a course filled with rails, boxes, jumps and other terrain features, doing so with style and technical proficiency.

From top to bottom, the Slopestyle course covers 492 ft. of vertical, has an average inclination of 12 degrees and a minimum width of 98 ft. There are a minimum of six sections of obstacles, with at least three of those sections being jumps. Athletes so not necessarily need to hit every feature; it is completely up to the skier how they want to ski the course.

The judging of the slopestyle is the most subjective of the bunch. Five judges score the run based on the general performance of a skier’s height, difficulty, variety, execution and ability to creatively link tricks. Each judge gives a score up to 100, and the average among all five judges is the skier’s final score.

The qualifying round consists of two runs for each of the 30 (men’s) or 24 (women’s) athletes. The best score of those two runs is the athlete’s official score for the qualifying round. The athletes with the top 12 scores move forward to the final round, where they will get three runs each. Whichever athlete has the highest single run score, gets gold.

Halfpipe

The Halfpipe competition has quickly become a fan favorite for the numerous high-difficulty tricks skiers perform during it. Skiers start out by building up some speed before dropping into the halfpipe and then alternating jumps off the sidewalls of the halfpipe, executing tricks while in the air, until they reach the bottom.

Olympic halfpipes have a length from 492 to 558 ft. and a width of 62 to 72 ft., with 22ft-tall sidewalls. The halfpipe has an inclination of 17 or 18 degrees.

The scoring system is virtually identical to the ones used in the Slopestyle contest, as well as the event setup. Athletes will get two qualifying runs, before the field narrows to 12. Each skier gets three runs, with their top run score acting as their final score.

Ski Cross Race

Ski Cross is the lone Freestyle event that does not use a scoring system to determine the winner. This event pits four skiers in a race on a course with a variety of terrain features such as banks, rollers, spines and jumps. First one to cross the finish line wins, plain and simple.

An Olympic Ski Cross course spans 393 ft. in vertical, an average inclination of 12 degrees and a track width of only 20 to 52 ft.. As the only Olympic ski event with multiple athletes competing simultaneously on the same course, Ski Cross has the most potential for unpredictability. Because of this, there are rules prohibiting skiers from purposefully impeding or blocking their competitors. Competitors can be disqualified if they were deemed to have broken these rules.

Both the men’s and women’s events consist of a seeding round and a knockout round. During the seeding round, 34 skiers are broken up into eight heats of four skiers each, and the times recorded for each skier is used to rank them from 1-32 in the knockout round. The knockout round goes as such:

Round of 32 – Eight heats of four skiers race, with the top two from each heat advancing.
Quarterfinals – Four heats of four skiers race, with the top two from each heat advancing.
Semifinals – Two heats of four skiers race, with the top two from each heat advancing.
Finals – The final four skiers compete in one heat to see who wins the medals.

Woof, that was a long one! Now, just kick back, relax and use all this newfound knowledge to enjoy the Olympic games like never before.

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