Alpine skiing is a winter sport where participants ride down a snow-covered hill on specialized skis. Alpine skiing was first developed as a sport in Europe in the 1850s and derived its name from the Alps mountain range. The first official modern competition was held in 1922. The popularity of alpine skiing has spread to other snowy and mountainous regions around the world. Nowadays, the sport enjoys great popularity in North America, Europe, and Asia, with participation also growing in South America and New Zealand.
- Description: A sport in which athletes race downhill on snow while wearing skis.
- Founded By: Sir Arnold Lunn
- Founded Date: 1922 (First modern competition)
- Governing Bodies: FIS (International Ski Federation)
- Countries: France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain, Andorra, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, United States, Canada, Argentina
- Regions: Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Oceania
- Categories: Outdoor Sports, Winter Sports, Olympic Sports, Skiing Sports
The history of skiing goes back thousands of years, with evidence of ancient humans using skis made of animal bones to glide over ice and snow. From then until the 19th century, though, skiing was mostly used as a mode of transport over flat ground. In the late 1800s, as skiing gained popularity in the mountainous Alps region of Europe, a new type of skiing developed which would come to be known as “Alpine” or “Downhill” skiing.
Through the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, technological advances like the chairlift and new lighter and safer ski equipment spurred even more development in the sport. All this culminated in 1922 when Sir Arnold Lunn organized the very first slalom event in Switzerland, which is considered the birth of modern competitive alpine skiing.
In 1922, just after the first slalom event, the International Ski Federation (FIS) was founded. Alpine skiing was then added to the program at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Since then, alpine skiing has become one of the Winter Olympics’ marquee sports, with men and women competing in a range of different events.
As alpine skiing gained popularity through the Olympics, it continued to grow around the world. Participation numbers have exploded in countries like the United States, China, Japan, and Korea, after they each hosted the Olympics. Canada is also a hotbed of alpine skiing, having hosted the Olympics multiple times.
Competitions and Rules
The Winter Olympics are the most important competition for alpine skiing, taking place every four years. In addition, there is also the FIS World Cup, which is a yearly competition lasting the whole ski season, culminating in the World Cup Finals in March. In general, there are four different ski styles that make up these competitions: Downhill, Slalom, Giant Slalom, and Super Giant Slalom (Super-G).
Slalom events involve racers maneuvering between tightly spaced markers called “gates,” using sharp turns and usually not going as fast as they would in a downhill event, which has much wider, sweeping turns. Super-G was introduced at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Canada, combining the tight turning of a slalom event with the high speed of a downhill event.
Best All-Time Alpine Skiers
Listed below are a few of the most talented alpine skiers to ever hit the slopes:
- Ingemar Stenmark: This Swedish racer garnered 86 World Cup wins, the most all-time, from 1974-1989. He also won two Olympic Gold medals at the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, NY.
- Marcel Hirscher: A native of Austria, Hirscher won 67 World Cup events and competed in three Olympics, earning two Gold medals from 2007-2019.
- Lindsey Vonn: One of the most famous skiers ever, Vonn competed for Team USA in four Olympics, winning one gold medal. She also won 82 World Cup races over her long career from 2001-2019.
- Mikaela Shiffrin: The American ski star began her career in the World Cup in 2011 and already has 83 wins. She has also taken home three Olympic Golds in three appearances.
How does alpine skiing work?
Alpine skiing involves racing downhill on snow skis. There are four disciplines of alpine skiing: Downhill, Slalom, Giant Slalom, and Super Giant Slalom (Super-G). The Slalom events involve tight, technical turning and slower speeds. The Downhill event has a wider course with fewer tight turns. The Super-G was developed to combine the high speeds of Downhill with the Slalom’s tight turning.
Who created alpine skiing?
Alpine skiing was developed by numerous people throughout the late 19th century in Switzerland and Norway. Informal races were held in many places in Europe and America during this time. Many American pioneers were miners working in the Rocky Mountains. The first official alpine racing event was organized by Sir Arnold Lunn of England. This event took place in Muerren, Switzerland, in 1922. The International Ski Federation (FIS) was formed shortly thereafter, in 1924.
Is alpine skiing an Olympic sport?
Yes, alpine skiing is a Winter Olympic sport. In fact, it is one of the most popular sports at the Winter Games and attracts thousands of spectators every four years. All four disciplines (Downhill, Slalom, Giant Slalom, and Super-G) are part of the Olympic Program. Downhill and Slalom were first added in 1948, while Giant Slalom followed in 1952. Super-G was introduced much later, at the 1988 Games in Calgary.