Competition at the Highest Levels

Alpine Skiing

Alpine Skiing

Racing down ski slopes at top speeds is one of the most exciting - and dangerous - winter sports. Paralympic alpine skiing traces its roots to disabled World War II veterans in Europe, many of them former skiers, who figured out ways to continue practicing the sport they loved.

Male and female athletes race in disciplines that vary in speed and closeness of gates: downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom, super combined and snowboarding, which will make its Paralympic debut in Sochi.

Fastest alpine skiing event. Courses are long and steep, and gates are spaced far apart. Missing a gate means disqualification. Usually athletes take only one run, except if the course has been shortened because of weather or safety.

Skiers complete two runs on the same day on different courses. Fastest total time wins. Skiing is very technical: courses are shorter than in other alpine events, but have a higher numbers of gates placed closely together. Missing a gate means disqualification.

Giant slalom
A faster variation of the slalom, with fewer gates spaced further apart. Skiers take two runs, which are added together to determine final results.

A one-run speed event, on a course that is shorter than downhill but longer than giant slalom or slalom. Fastest calculated time wins.

Tests skiers’ skills in both the fastest and the most technical events. Athletes race a downhill or super-G run plus a single run of slalom. Skiers complete the two runs on different courses on the same day.

Snowboard cross
Making its Paralympic debut in Sochi. This event is only available to standing competitors and is a speed sport. Each racer competes three times down a course with bank turns and rollers. The two fastest runs are added together for a final time.

Some skiers, like those with visual impairments, use regular skiing equipment. Other standing skiers may use one ski or two, with regular poles or outrigger ski poles for stability.

Athletes who use wheelchairs ski on sit-skis or mono-skis, single skis attached to sophisticated sleds that have shock absorbers to allow greater comfort and control on uneven terrain.

Outriggers – ski poles with shortened skis attached at the base, providing balance and steering maneuverability.
Wipe-out – big time crash
Bank turns – also called “euro-carve,” an extended-leg turn using the edges of the skis or snowboard
Rollers – small hills on groomed runs

Athlete Classifications

Alpine skiing in the Paralympics is divided into three categories: standing, sit-ski, and visually impaired. Within those groupings, skiers compete in sub-categories based on their functional mobility or vision level.

Athletes with different impairments compete against each other, and a factoring system – like a “handicap” in golf – is used to create fairness on the slopes. A competitor’s finish time is multiplied by his or her factored number to give the final time.

Visually impaired skiers race with sighted guides who start a second ahead of them and call out directions by voice or radio, while hurtling down the course at up to 65mph!

Class Disability

LW 1 – 4

Standing skiers with leg impairments. LW 1 have the most significant impairments; LW 2 athletes ski on one ski, and LW 3-4 ski on two skis

LW 5 – 8

Standing skiers with arm impairment. Depending on the disability, they will ski with one or no poles.

LW 9

Skiers with both arm and leg impairments. They ski standing, on one ski or two, with one pole or two.

LW 10 – 12

Sit-skiers, allocated to the different classes by their sitting balance, very important for maneuverability at high speeds

B 1-3

Skiers with visual disabilities, including low visual acuity and restricted field of vision. B1 athletes, who are blind or have very low acuity, wear black eyeshades and must ski with a guide. B2 and B3 athletes have the choice of skiing with or without a guide.

Back To Sports

More From PBS