Alpine skiing includes all forms of the sport that involve skiing in mountain settings; the Alpine classification is derived from the Alps mountains of south central Europe where this form of skiing originated. Alpine skiing today is a popular recreational activity in any mountainous area of the world where there is snow. The competitive forms of Alpine skiing are especially popular in North America, in the Rocky Mountains and the ski areas of the northeastern United States, and throughout many European countries. Alpine skiing has a worldwide following through the annual World Cup ski circuit. The Alpine events at the quadrennial Winter Olympics are among the most popular of that competition.
Competitive Alpine skiing is divided into a number of distinct pursuits, each of which has its own technical, equipment, and training requirements. There are few subjective aspects to any of the Alpine events—subject to the skier successfully negotiating preset gates placed on the course, the fastest competitor down the mountain will win the race.
Alpine skiing comprises five separate events; many elite racers will compete in all of them. Alpine skiing is contested in both men's and women's categories. The downhill, like the 100-m sprints in track and field, is the most glamorous of the Alpine events. Dominated for decades by European skiers such as Jean Claude Killy of France and Franz Klammer of Austria, Canadian downhillers such as Ken Read and Steve Podborski, and American Picabo Street made the downhill a more international competition. An event that typifies courage, the downhill requires an intense adherence to technical form to both maximize speed (usually in excess of 60 mi/100 km per hour) and to keep the skier on the course. Due to the speed of the event, injuries in the downhill are often catastrophic in nature; concussion and serious knee injuries are common if the skier falls. The downhillers must be adept at three separate components of ski movement: starts, getting a strong push from the start gate at the top of the hill to obtain the highest speed as quickly as possible; turning, often on icy surfaces at high speeds as the skier takes an optimal line down the course; and gliding, where the skier creates an aerodynamic body position, known as a "tuck" to maintain speed and balance through the flatter sections of the course. The downhill racers often must land from jumps on the course, a technique that requires skiers to relax their body to absorb the force of the high-speed landing, while maintaining an efficient position and not compromising speed.
The super giant slalom, known as the "super g," is an Alpine skiing event that is a combination of the speed of the downhill and the more technical requirements of balance and negotiating gates that are essential to the shorter slalom events. This race, like the downhill, will consist of one run down the mountain.
The giant slalom is a race course where the skier must negotiate a series of gates that require the skier to maintain speed, while in a low position to cut through the gates with a minimum of wasted effort. A missed gate is a disqualification. The race will be composed of two runs, with the skier's total time the basis of the score.
The slalom is the shortest of the Alpine courses and the most technically demanding. The gates are placed closer to one another, and the skier must execute high-speed turns back and forth through each gate. Slalom skis are shorter than those used in super g and the downhill, to improve the maneuverability of the skier through the gates. Skiers are allowed to make contact with the gates so long at they do not avoid the gate: slalom skiers often use their shins and forearms to power through the obstacle with the minimum distance traveled, and they wear significant padding along the shins and forearms, as well as a full-face masked helmet to permit the skier to pass close to the gate without being injured by the contact.
All Alpine ski events are relatively short in duration. For this reason, all Alpine disciplines have certain common training features. As with many elite disciplines, especially those where the competitive season is dictated by environmental conditions such as cold and snow fall, Alpine skiers have a well-defined training calendar of preseason and post-season training. Alpine skiers must have a strong upper body to generate drive with their poles and to counter the very powerful forces of the skis. Downhill racers will encounter significant g forces, the force of acceleration due to gravity, as they descend the course and execute turns; physical strength is required to adequately counter this effect. The leg movements made at high speed on the course require considerable explosive muscular ability, developed by various types of plyometrics exercises. The recovery time of alpine skiers is promoted through an aerobic exercise component.
The ability of the skier to absorb the often extreme forces of the jumps and bounces created on an alpine course mandates intense attention to flexibility exercises. Stiff or otherwise unresponsive joints, particularly in the ankles, knees, and pelvis, will mean more force being directed into the body and detracting from the desired forward and efficient motion of the skier.