Downhill skiing, also known as Alpine skiing, is a technique of sliding down snow-covered hills, slopes, and even mountainous regions with skis. Unlike other skiing techniques such as ski jumping, Telemark, or cross country that use free-heel bindings for skiing, downhill skiing uses skis with fixed heel bindings.
The curated downhill course for skiers is adjusted for speed skiing that is usually races considered a sport. However, downhill skiing is often performed as a recreational activity, practiced at ski resorts around the area with other services like ski lifts, snow grooming, artificial all-year-around snow activities, etc.
It comes as a shock to many people when they discover that downhill skiing has been a much-anticipated part of the Winter Olympic Games since its inception in 1936. Thanks to the attention the sport gained, many other big competitions have started around the colder regions dedicated to downhill skiing, like a modern slalom competition was introduced in Oslo.
History of Downhill Skiing
Slalom, a ski race involving a wining course between gateways, was devised by a British sportsman Sir Arnold Lunn in the early 1920s. Due to the increased appreciation for the sport and its popularity, people started participating greatly in concurrent skiing competitions. Soon new derivatives found their way, changing and modernizing the slalom rules by the time it was made part of the Winter Olympic Games, and so downhill skiing was born. It was recognized by the world governing bodies of skiing, i.e., Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS) as an official sport – with the first downhill skiing championship being held the following year. Due to the fraternity’s passion and involvement with the game, slalom and downhill skiing debuted side by side in the Winter Olympic Games in Germany.
Modern Day Downhill Ski Racing
The downhill ski course is usually marked with gates formed through a pair of poles placed at least 26ft apart through which the racer has to pass. The whole idea of the race is to allow contestants to make a practice run at it. After which, they are allowed to compete individually in a set order decided by the practice performance showdown they just had. This gets them to start with 1-minute or fewer intervals of each other to keep the momentum of the competition going. Hence, naturally enough, the contestant who completes the whole course in the shortest burst of time, without missing any of those pole gates, is the winner.
Downhill Skiing Techniques
Downhill skiing techniques are more focused on the use of your feet, balance, and gear. As smoothly as you can turn your skis from one direction to another, the better you will be at it. Furthermore, similar forces allow the skier to halt the descent and move in the opposite direction of the movement, which allows him to have skidding forces between the skis and the snow. This further delays the descent as a properly focused technique expresses fluid motion bursts from one angle to another. The descent continues through the variating angles as the contestant adjusts to match the changes of the steepness of the ground below. For someone looking from afar, the whole ordeal looks more like an “S” shape than a straight line, with the contestant bending to go forward than launching.
Following are the three main types of downhill skiing techniques that are most commonly used:
One of the oldest downhill skiing techniques still commonly practiced and used today is stemming. The concept of this technique is to angle the ski’s tail off towards the side while balancing the tips to remain close together. In this position, the skis allow the snow to resist the passageway being created through the stemming of the skis. Naturally, it results in a blunt force that retracts downhill speed, helping the contestant to sustain a turn in the opposite direction ever so smoothly. Similarly, if instead of stemming a single ski, the contestant goes on to stem both of them, a blunt turning force is applied. Instead, it just allows the player to ski with retardation of downhill speed.
Carving is one of the more advanced techniques of downhill skiing. However, the reason why it is commonly used is that once mastered. It becomes one of the best sets of action in a skier’s arsenal. Moreover, it is not even as difficult to learn, given how carving gets its name from literally carving the shape of the ski itself. Therefore, the carving technique rotates the ski onto its edge and creates a patterned cut alongside. It allows the ski and the player to bend forward into a shape of an arc. The contact of the said arc of the ski edges and the snow deliberately leads the ski to move forward within the arc and without launching the player off. This tends to allow the skier to change its direction of motion easily.
As the name goes, snowplow turn is basically a turning technique that allows the skier to turn by plowing snow. It is one of the simplest techniques involving downhill ski turns and is oftentimes suggested to beginners to master. The whole idea of the snowplow turn is to get into the snowplow position as you are going downhill the skiing slope. As you get into the position nearing the turn, it allows you to put pressure towards the inside of your opposite foot, which is likely the one in the direction of the turn. For instance, you plan to take a right turn, so your right foot should feel the pressure. Hence, in a successful snowplow turn ski attempt, the skier should be able to keep a controlled speed while turning across a fall line.
Downhill Skiing Equipment
Skiing experts recommend that you try out the different gear before making a huge investment in owning your personal ones. Quite evidently, buying personal ski gear is a hefty price tag. Even if you are really passionate but just starting out, no matter how tempting the winter deals may be, it is always better to have a run on rented equipment to gain proper insight, knowledge, and understanding of the right fit for each skiing ability your body type. Following are the five main items that make up the whole ski gear, have a look:
Quite obviously, you are preparing for a downhill skiing expedition, so you will need the exclusive downhill skis. Unlike the generic ski types, alpine skis are created to easily enable exclusive downhill skiing techniques for the skier. Think of it as the special suit of your player in a video game. As the game progresses and more suits are unlocked, the more it enhances the player’s performance. Similarly, over time, alpine skis have been upgraded to become the best version of skis for downhill skiing with variants such as:
- Powder Skis
- Freestyle Skis
- All-Mountain Skis
- Kid’s Skis and more.
Next, after the skis, we have bindings. Bindings are like a connection device between the skier’s boots and the ski. The main purpose of the bindings is to allow a prolonged connection of the boots and the skis, all the while the skier is skiing. If the skier loses balance and falls down, the binding has a cognitive ignition to release the skier from the skis to mitigate the risk of severe injury. There are mainly two types of bindings that you can choose from:
- The heel and toe cognitive system – called a “step-in.”
- The plate system binding (more old-school than new).
You cannot just go along with any boots when out for downhill skiing. There are specialized boots and are considered one of the most important parts of the whole skiing gear. The idea is that the better boots you’ll be wearing, the more control you will have over the ski. Nowadays, ski boots come in sorts of styles, materials, enhanced protection against injuries, weather, rain, and snow. Moreover, you can also find boots with the inner lining or cushioning of the boot to be made with specialized material to keep the skier both comfortable and warm.
Next in line, we have the skiing helmet, which is THE MOST IMPORTANT protection gear of the whole skiing ordeal. Without your ski helmet perfectly secured on your head, it is impossible that you are even allowed to ski. The dangers and risks of getting injured during a ski expedition become ten folds worse without a helmet as your head is fully exposed without it. Hence, with time, modern ski helmets have been made to look more attractive while providing enhanced protection to the skier. They come with additional features to mitigate injury risk and make the experience more worthwhile, such as vents, earmuffs, headphones, goggles, and camera mounts.
Additional Protective Accessories
Lastly, there is no surviving a downhill ski adventure without added protection. Not only will it take the nervous edge off but also greatly reduce the chances of singular injuries like concussions, dental hazards, nose bleeds, etc. Additional protective accessories that have exclusively been recognized by the alpine events mainly consist of:
- Mouth Guards
- Shin Guards
- Chin Guards
- Arm Guards
- Back Protectors
- Pole Guards
Tips for Choosing the Best Skiing Gear
As we have discussed above, there is no shortage of finding suitable ski gear. However, it is essential to have the know-how and understanding of getting your best fit and perfect find. Hence, here are some notable tips that can help you choose the best skiing gear the first time around:
- Make your choice alongside your coach, trainer, or someone who already knows the downhill ski challenges. This will allow a knowledgeable input and, in turn, help in making an informed decision.
- Never buy skiinggear against the type of ski you are going for. After all, it is a given that you should pick your ski based on the preferred train. But many people think other types they find suitable may work interchangeably, which is not right.
- Measure your preferred ski length accordingly. You’ll want to take it from the top that is your chin and towards your head with the size chart assisting for a better fit.
- Considering you have a knowledgeable person shopping with you, you would want them to confirm your ski dimensions so that your ski gear supports the type of skiingyou want to do. In this case, downhill skiing.
- You have a choice of buying your bindings separately or choosing the ones that are integrated for convenience and good performance. An advanced tier skier would always go for a spate binding as it allows them to choose something that fits their needs the best.
Our Final Thoughts
Now that you know all about downhill skiing, it’s high time you pack up your bags and head up north to give it a try. If you are feeling nervous about your first attempts, it is good to know that the FIS recognizes the dangers associated with skiing in a possibly dangerous environment and at dangerous levels of speed.
Over time and technological advancement, the authorities have taken great efforts to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the downhill skiing participants. Even the competitions are monitored and moderated by official jury members who carry the right to dismiss any skier that seems weak, unprepared, or not inclined to follow safety measures.
Even though downhill skiing is a game of courage and dedication, life is too short not to give it a try at least once. So what are you waiting for? Your downhill ski adventure is waiting for you. Good luck!