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Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Tuesday, 3 November 2009
Alpine skiing

Chemmy Alcott with a skiing helmet

Winter Olympics guide - Downhill technology

Venue: Whistler Creekside
Competition dates: 13 Feb (men) and 17 Feb (women)
Holders: Antoine Deneriaz (Fra, above) & Michaela Dorfmeister (Aut)

Skiing has been helping humans conquer the white stuff ever since Norwegian hunters started using bits of wood strapped to their feet to chase their prey.

Five thousand years on, it is one of the most popular pastimes in the world.

Alpine skiing has four different disciplines - downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom.

The downhill is for speed freaks, and the slalom for master turners.

The other two are somewhere in between, and a fifth event - the combined - provides an all-round test by putting downhill and slalom together.


The downhill is alpine skiing's showpiece event, and the one with the longest course and the highest speeds.

Each skier makes a single run down a course marked out with red gates, and the fastest time wins.

The vertical drop on downhill courses is 800-1100m for men and 500-800m for women

The course is steep and, with speeds reaching 85mph, crashes can be spectacular. Plastic netting lines the course to catch anyone who comes unstuck.

There are parts of the course where skiers have no choice but to go airborne, but they will try to keep as close to the ground as possible to maintain speed and control.

Competitors get to ski the course for three days before the event begins to enable them to get used to the conditions.

The skiers decide their own starting position on the eve of the event.

A complex formula using the skiers' world ranking points determines the order they choose to race in.

The top-ranked skier gets to decide first, with their choices being based on weather and course conditions.

Ski comparison graphic

Length, width and shape all affect a ski's performance, and they vary depending on the discipline.

For the downhill, men's skis must be at least 215cm long, and women's at least 210cm long.


Downhill skiers have poles that are curved to fit around the body to reduce air resistance.

Other equipment includes gloves and goggles.


If you want to become a downhill specialist, you obviously have to be an accomplished skier.

But if you think you are ready for the challenge, Snowsport GB has details of how to get involved.

And for more information on the ski world, visit the International Ski Federation's website.


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