It is believed that people began strapping skis to their feet some 5000 years ago. In Sweden, geologists have found fragments of ancient skis dating back 4000 years and murals depicting skiing from about 2000 years ago.
Man used skiing as a form of transport to travel across deep snow and as a way of hunting in snow-covered terrain. It is believed that skiing originated in Norway and then spread throughout Scandinavia and Russia as a mode of winter transportation and eventually as a sport similar to cross country skiing. Alpine skiing evolved from cross country skiing.
In the 1850s the first competitions took place around the Oslo area in Norway and twenty years later the first ski club was formed in Switzerland. Following this, the sport spread to the remainder of Europe and to the United States, where miners held skiing competitions to entertain themselves during the winter.
At an IOC congress in 1910 the idea of forming an international ski federation was discussed and the Commission Internationale de Ski emerged to help guide the sport over the next fourteen years. In 1914 a proposal for the inclusion of ski events in the Olympics Games was put forward, however no approval was given.
Skiing featured as a demonstration sport at the Chamonix 1924 Games however the debate over the sport’s Olympic inclusion still raged. Both Norway and Finland voted against the inclusion of Olympic skiing as they thought it might detract from their own well-established international competitions.
Despite its status as one of the blue riband events of the Winter Olympics, it was not until 1936 at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games that alpine skiing made its debut when the combined (downhill and slalom) events for both men and women were held. This event was dropped eight years later and only reappeared at Calgary 1988 alongside the inaugural inclusion of the super G.
Slalom and downhill were added at the1948 St Moritz Games and the first giant slalom competition was held in 1952.
Australia in this Sport
For Vancouver 2010, two male Australian alpine skiers are hoping to qualify for the Games. Jono Brauer and Craig Branch, who both have competed at the Olympics previously, will be looking to emulate Zali Steggall who created history at the Nagano Games in 1998 when she won Australia’s first individual Winter Olympic medal, a bronze in the slalom. Steggall finished her career after Salt Lake 2002 as a four-time Olympian.
Australia has been represented by 55 alpine skiers at the Olympics with the first being at the 1952 Oslo Winter Games.
Alpine skiing involves all skiing events which occur on a downhill course and do not involve ramps or awkward bumps. The Olympic alpine competition consists of ten events: five for women and five for men. The rules are the same for all but the courses differ. Alpine racing is about as basic as it can get: a beat the clock format in which a skier goes down the mountain from Point A to Point B and the fastest time wins. There is no judging involved and races are timed in hundredths of a second.
Alpine skiing embraces two 'technical' events - the slalom and the giant slalom - and two 'speed' events - the downhill and super-G. The combined event is as the name suggests.
Downhill is the classic speed test – it features the longest and least winding alpine course and is marked by red flags.Each skier makes a single run down a single course and the fastest time determines the winner.
Slalom demands the sharpest turns of the alpine events and is contested on the shortest course. A skier must pass through a set number of gates which mark the course or is disqualified from the event. Each skier makes two runs down two different courses on the same slope. Both runs take place on the same day. The times are added and the fastest total time determines the winner.
Giant slalom is a longer, faster version of the slalom and does not involve a set minimum of bends. The course is marked by alternating red and blue flags as gate markers. As in the slalom, each skier makes two runs down two different courses on the same slope. Both runs take place on the same day, usually with the first run held in the morning and the second run in the afternoon. The times are added, and the fastest total time determines the winner.
Super-G is a play on of super giant slalom, and is a hybrid of the downhill and giant slalom and must have a certain number of changes of direction for skiers. The gates which a skier must pass between are marked by alternating red and blue flags. Each skier makes one run down a single course and the fastest time determines the winner.
Combined as the name suggests, involves a single downhill run and two slalom runs, all contested on the same day. The times are added together and the fastest total time determines the winner.
From helmet and goggles to skis and poles, all the equipment is state-of-the-art. Men’s alpine skis must be a minimum of 155 centimetres and women’s skis must be at least 150cm. At the bindings, the skis must be at least 60 millimetres wide. Other size restrictions are regulated based on the discipline and gender.
Alpine skis have undergone significant transformation over the past few years, especially in the slalom discipline, becoming much smaller in length, and wider in the shovel (the area just below the tip of the ski) and the tail.
In slalom and giant slalom, the minimum height of the shovel tip is 50mm. In downhill and super G, the minimum tip height is 30mm. There are no restrictions on the maximum length of the skis, their weight, camber, flexibility or composition.
Restrictions are also in place to limit the height that the boot can be above the top surface of the ski, with binding plates and boot insoles limited in thickness. More height means greater leverage on the ski, more flexibility and control.