PyeongChang 2018

All of Your Biggest Questions About Mixed Team Alpine Skiing, Answered

Because the Winter Olympics only come every four years, many of the sports and events that take over your TV for two weeks can be hard to follow. Figure skating’s scoring system is excessively complicated. Luge, bobsled, and skeleton all look confusingly alike. Oh, and there’s curling (seriously, what is curling?). And as if you weren't thoroughly confused by the standard assortment of Winter Olympic sports, the PyeongChang Games features a new event -- yes, another -- that's not exactly self-explanatory.

It's called mixed team alpine skiing, and it's easily the wildest of all the alpine skiing events we've seen so far.  

So what the heck is mixed team alpine skiing?

Alright, calm down.

In mixed team alpine skiing, a team of four -- two men and two women -- compete head to head in a series of heats with another country’s four skiers down a parallel giant slalom course with gates placed 10 meters apart. It’s structured so that a woman from Country A squares off against a woman from Country B, followed by a man from Country A versus a man from Country B. That’s alternated through four heats.

The heats tend to run quickly, with an average time of around 20 seconds down the track, which makes the event fast-paced, dynamic, and maybe a little hard to follow.

How do you win in mixed team alpine?

The scores are tallied based on heat victory. So, let’s say Country A wins the first two heats, loses the third, and wins the fourth, their three-heat total will let them advance to the next round. In the event of a two heat win tie, the fastest times of the fastest male and female skier on each team are combined, and the team with the fastest combined time wins.

The heat structure is particularly compelling in an Olympic event because it presents a real tug of war battle with multiple ties and lead changes. And because the heats are so fast and frequent, there’s an instant gratification aspect to seeing who wins.

No, but like, how do you earn a gold medal?

We’re getting to it!

And this is the really cool part. Teams are seeded by their Overall Nations Cup point totals and placed into a single-elimination tournament bracket. This rules because you can root for upsets and, again, because of how fast the event is, find out immediately who wins. As opposed to something like the NCAA tournament which is super exciting the first weekend and then sort of loses steam with breaks in games over the course of the week (for me anyway).

What makes it even more interesting is that the overall score is based on all events. So even though France may be the breakout team in this particular event, their team aggregate score ranks them sixth in the world, even behind the United States, who aren’t looking too competitive in mixed team alpine.

Who’s gonna win?

We’re not fortune tellers, but France seems like an early favorite. Although, with their top skier (and Mikaela Shiffrin’s boyfriend) Mathieu Faivre leaving the games after expressing a total lack of team spirit, the field may be a bit more open.

Of the 16 teams competing, Austria and Switzerland sit at the top of the rankings list. Yet, in the most recent world title, France and Slovakia finished in first and second in mixed team alpine, respectively. All said, it could really go any number of ways. And with such close margins separating finishing times, we could see some upsets (come on South Korea!).

As previously stated, the US doesn’t look too strong in this competition, with many of our top names (Shiffrin, Vonn, and Ligety) sitting the event out.

Where has this been all my life?

Mixed team alpine skiing was first recognized by the International Ski Federation in 2014, so this is the first Winter Olympics where it’s been eligible as an event.

OK, when's it on TV?

Mixed team alpine skiing makes its big Olympics debut during NBC's primetime coverage on Friday, February 23, at 8pm.

Check back during the games for all of Thrillist’s continuing Olympics coverage. Think of us like an all-knowing friend watching along with you to answer all the important questions, like how heavy are Olympic medals. We'll explain everything from curling rules and figure skating scoring to what OAR means, why winning athletes are receiving stuffed animals and much, much more.

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Erik Helin is a Thrillist contributor.