PyeongChang 2018

Your Guide to the Different Alpine Skiing Events at the Olympics

fake snow olympics
credit: getty images/getty images sport/Al Bello / Staff

Given the avalanche of headlines from PyeongChang, South Korea, the Winter Olympics are really all about Adam Rippon's cutting commentary on inadequate condoms, or wünderkid Red Gerard winning a gold medal and promptly cursing on live TV. But there's way more to the Games than the otherwise ephemeral moments that live on forever in viral fame. 

Chief among which is Alpine Skiing. Probably the most commonly associated with the Winter Olympics, the various alpine events are an integral part of the festivities and competition. But for the armchair expert, like you, there's a lot to unpack about the scoring and judging of these events. 

To wit, here's a simple guide to how athletes can clinch gold across all the alpine disciplines you'll see at the Winter Olympics. 

Downhill

For lack of a comparison to merit justice, Downhill is Olympic skiing meets The Fast and the Furious. In this event, athletes basically start at the top of a very big, steep hill, and shoot down it, typically reaching 80mph, but occasionally ripping down the course at 95mph

During the event, competitors have to stay within rectangular shaped gates while maintaining speed. While staying within the course is important, speed is the most paramount, as the skier with the fastest time wins. As you can imagine, the liability is greater, and gnarly wipeouts can occur, which is why athletes only have one run to notch their fastest time. 

This event has the longest course, the highest vertical drop, and judging hinges on "the six components of technique, courage, speed, risk, physical condition and judgement,” according to the International Ski Federation

credit: getty images/Sportsfile/Ramsey Cardy / Contributor

Slalom 

In this event, individual skiers race down a short hill and aim to ski between "gates," which are really just poles set up and down the slope. In the men's event, between 55 and 75 gates dot the course, while the women's events have between 45 and 60 gates. Considered one of the more technical skiing events, athletes need to ski tightly between the poles and try to minimize their contact with them. Therefore quick, angular turns are necessary to be successful.

As the ISF states, courses always "include a series of turns designed to allow the competitors to combine speed with neat execution and precision of turns."

Missing a gate means a skier is disqualified. Athletes have two runs, both of which are combined when creating a final score, and the fastest aggregate time in the competition ultimately wins.  

Giant Slalom

If you think this is akin to regular Slalom, only bigger, you're picking up on a theme, here. Giant Slalom is very similar to the previous event, only with gates placed at a greater distance. The courses for both men and women are between 250 and 400 meters and the minimum vertical drop is 300 meters for all competitors. 

The gates are different colors, with racers sticking to one color for the duration of their run. Per Olympic rules, gates are 75cm wide and 50cm high, so you can imagine they're difficult to zip through at blinding speed. 

Mikaela Shiffrin, the 22-year-old American phenom, is widely considered the best in the women's event, and she just clinched gold on Thursday with an aggregate time of 2 minutes, 20.02 seconds.

Super Giant Slalom

Super Giant Slalom or "Super G" lives up to its name, in that it combines more elements from Downhill skiing into a traditional Slalom format. The vertical drop at the beginning of the course is more intense than both other slalom events -- between 400 and 650 meters for men and 350 and 600 meters for women -- and the slope is also a bit steeper as well.

There are longer turns in the mix, as gates are placed 82ft apart, allowing for more speed. It's a faster event that prioritizes quick thinking, although it's not as fast as Downhill. Unlike the other Slalom events, athletes only get one run, and they're judged again on their fastest speed. 

Super Combined

This is a combination of a shortened Downhill course, followed by a run on a Slalom course. The combined time of both runs (one on each course) is factored into the final score, and the fastest wins. 

Parallel Mixed Team Event

In this head-to-head format race, which is making its Olympics debut at the PyeongChang Games, two skiers of the same gender race on two parallel slalom courses, turning through Giant Slalom gates placed 10 meters apart. Each team is comprised of two male and two female skiers, with two other reserve skiers of both genders. Each team faces off, back-to-back-to-back. 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) explains how the scoring works: 

"Teams score one point for a race win. If both skiers ski off or fall, the skier who has progressed further down the course is declared the winner. In the event of both teams winning two races apiece, the nation with the lowest combined time of their best man and best woman will win the heat."

All said, the scoring systems vary in complexity, but thankfully, none are as confusing as that of figure skating.

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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Sam Blum is a News Staff Writer for Thrillist. He's also a martial arts and music nerd who appreciates a fine sandwich and cute dogs. Find his clips in The Guardian, Rolling Stone, The A.V. Club and Esquire. He's on Twitter @Blumnessmonster.