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Alpine Skiing

Updated on April 14, 2010

The primary objective of the casual skier is to enjoy the downhill run and to reach the bottom of the slope safely. Control is of the utmost importance, and the skier should be able to stop or turn. Checks and turns of the snowplow and stem variety - the ski tips close together, the heels relatively far apart - are the most elementary. For more advanced skiers there are variations of the Christiania, or Christie, where skis are parallel, and weight shift and body rotation are used. Experts can accomplish jump turns and other acrobatic maneuvers in the air.

For downhill  racing,  speed  is the most  important requirement, although not at the sacrifice of control, as slopes are uneven. Skiers do not race en masse, but separately, and each contestant is timed. Record times are obviously no criterion, since snow conditions vary, as well as the slope and length of the descent. Racing speeds sometimes exceed 80 miles (128 km) per hour.

The slalom form of downhill racing calls for great turning ability. The skier races against time through a number of pairs of flagged poles, each pair known as a gate, placed on the course so the skier must take a serpentine zigzag path down the slope. The faster the skier can change course and check his speed, the better he will do, but if he takes too great risks, he may fall or miss going through a gate. Judgment and control, as well as speed, are therefore of the utmost importance. The giant slalom, combining characteristics of the downhill and the slalom, has a longer course than the regular slalom, with gates set further apart.

Photo by Alan Rainbow
Photo by Alan Rainbow

The principal skills of Alpine skiing involve straight running, or skiing directly down the hill; traversing, or skiing across the hill at an angle; jumping over bumps and gullies; checking speed; and stopping. Straight running, traversing, and jumping are done with the skis together. Turning, checking and stopping can be done either with the skis together or stemmed out at the tail in the form of a V. When a maneuver is carried out with the skis together, it is referred to as parallel skiing; when the skis are angled out, it is called stem skiing, or stemming. Stemming is easier than parallel skiing but is slower and less efficient. It is used as a preliminary stage in learning parallel skiing, although many skiers never progress beyond it. The basic maneuver is known as the snowplow. The skier stems out the tails of his skis, presses forward with his knees, and exerts pressure on his inside ski edges, which are tilted inward on the snow. This position causes him to slow down or to stop. To turn, he places his weight over what will be the outside ski and at the same time he steers it in the direction of the turn by knee pressure. This maneuver is called the snowplow turn. The stem turn is similar, but it starts and finishes with the skis together. The most advanced of the stem maneuvers is the stem christie. This turn is initiated by a stem, but it is continued with the skis held together, as in parallel skiing.

In parallel skiing, turning is generally effected by unweighting the skis with a quick rise or drop of the body, then immediately applying a twisting force by means of a rotational (with the turn) or counterrota-tional (against the turn) movement of the body. Once started, the turn is controlled by the banking of the skis and the application of pressure to the edges. In parallel skiing, speed is controlled either by turning or by sideslipping. In sideslipping, the skis are banked as in a turn, but uniform pressure is applied to the full length of the edges, causing them to slide sideways at reduced speed. Stopping is a combination of turn and sideslip, the sideslip phase being done with the skis banked very hard and with great pressure applied to the edges. The maneuver is known as a stop christie.

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