Q: What is Alpine skiing?
Alpine skiing — also known as downhill skiing — is a race between skiers, the mountain and the clock. While the length of the course, number of turns and format vary by event, athletes must generally navigate a series of alternating red and blue gates down the hill. The fastest one through the course wins.
The sport debuted at the 1936 Olympics with only two events (men’s and women’s combined). It has since grown to 11, including a team event that’s new in PyeongChang. Austria has long dominated Alpine skiing, winning almost twice as many Olympic medals (114) as the next closest country (Switzerland with 59). The Americans are fourth in the medal count (44) and have been particularly strong in recent Games. The last time the United States went home without at least one Alpine medal was at the 1988 Calgary Olympics.
Q: What are the medal events?
There are 11 Alpine events. Men and women will each compete in five disciplines (slalom, giant slalom, super-G, downhill and Alpine combined), and there will also be a team event, which is new to the Olympics.
Downhill (DH) is the fastest discipline, with gates spaced far apart. As a result, there are fewer turns, and speeds can top 90 mph. Racers only get one run.
While super-G (SG) is still a speed event, there are more gates, which are placed closer together. That gives the course more turns but also lowers top-speeds a bit. As in downhill, racers only get one run.
Giant slalom (GS) has many more gates, spaced significantly closer together and swinging across the hill. It is considered a technical event (as is slalom). Racers get two runs, with the top 30 finishers after the first run running in reverse order in the second (30th place goes first; first place goes 30th) to help minimize the advantage of skiing early. The fastest total time wins.
In slalom (SL), the gates are put even closer together, with athletes zigzagging back and forth. The two-run format is the same as in giant slalom.
Alpine Combined (AC) consists of one downhill run and one slalom run. The fastest total time wins. At previous Games, the event has been called the “super combined,” and it is meant to test versatility.
Sixteen nations will compete in the team event, each with four racers (two men, two women and up to two reserves). Skiers race on parallel (side-by-side) slalom courses, head-to-head.
Q: Where will the events be held?
The Alpine events will be held in the Taebaek mountains, along the eastern edge of the Korean Peninsula. Downhill, super-G and the Alpine combined slalom portion will be held at the Jeongseon Alpine Center. Slalom, giant slalom and the team events will be held at the Yongpyong Alpine Center. Course details vary by event.
|Event||Gender||Start Altitude||Finish Altitude||Vertical Drop||Course Length|
|Alpine Combined (Slalom)||M||745m||540m||205m||521m|
Q: Is there enough snow?
Unlike in Sochi four years ago, PyeongChang seems to have plenty of snow. But preparing the courses still takes meticulous attention to detail. This year, that responsibility falls to a cattle rancher from Wyoming named Tom Johnson, who also happens to be one of the world’s leading authorities on snow surfaces. “You got to build a course that’s durable. You got to guarantee the product,” he told The Post. “If it falls apart, then they hate you. But they seem to hate you less if it’s icy.”
The weather, including winds, have wreaked havoc on the Alpine schedule in the first few days of the Games.
Q: Can you be disqualified?
Yes. There are number of ways to be disqualified. If you miss or skip a gate (the tips of the skis and the boots must go through) but keep going, you’ll be disqualified. Losing a ski can lead to disqualification as well (depending on where on the course it happens). After the race, a skier’s equipment could also fail a series of precise technical checks.
Q: Whom should I watch?
The U.S. alpine team, led by Olympic gold-medalists Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety, has a good chance of winning multiple medals in PyeongChang.
Four years ago in Sochi, Shiffrin became the youngest Olympic slalom champion at 18. She’s continued to dominate the discipline since, as well as strengthen her giant slalom skills. She’s even expanded into the speed disciplines on occasion. Shiffrin is the clear favorite for gold in slalom, a strong contender in giant slalom and has a chance at picking up a combined medal as well.
“I think [Shiffrin is] maybe the best ski racer I’ve ever seen — male or female,” five-time Olympian Bode Miller told Reuters. “She’s so balanced, dynamic, intense and focused. So for me, I think she’s got a chance in any event she skis in.”
Vonn is the winningest female Alpine skier ever. And, by most standards, her two Olympic medals (one gold, one bronze) would be enough. But she’s hungry for more. Vonn missed the Sochi Games because of injuries, which have continued to hamper her. She’s coming back, though, and has won four World Cup races this season, including the final two before PyeongChang. She should compete for medals in the speed events, and likely the combined as well.
Going into the Sochi Olympics, Ligety was known as “Mr. GS” and he delivered, winning his second Olympic gold. (He also won the 2006 combined.) But Ligety’s giant slalom dominance has waned in recent years, as he has been plagued by a hip injury. Still, he should be in contention for a giant slalom medal.
Outside of the stars, the U.S. women’s speed team is strong and could land someone else at least close to the podium. Andrew Weibrecht tends to rise to the Olympic occasion for the men: Despite often underwhelming regular season finishes, he has won two Olympic super-G medals (bronze in 2010 and silver in 2014).
The Americans have plenty of competition, especially on the men’s side. Austrian Marcel Hirscher is arguably the best male skier in a generation, and he’s the favorite in both tech events (but Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen will put up a challenge). Watch out for the Norwegian men in the speed event; Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud both sport multiple Olympic medals.
The competition on the women’s side is much less predictable. Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany has been skiing fast, and Switzerland’s Lara Gut is always a threat. But with many women retiring since Sochi (including Slovenia’s Tina Maze, who won two gold medals there), the field is relatively wide open.
Q: Speaking of Bode Miller, why isn’t he racing? What about Julia Mancuso?
Miller (five Olympics, six medals) and Mancuso (four Olympics, four medals) have been Olympic stalwarts for years. In recent months, however, they’ve retired. But both still will be in PyeongChang — as NBC commentators.
Q: When should I watch?
Nearly all of the Alpine events will be broadcast live, often in prime time. Here is a schedule of the finals, with television coverage in parentheses (all times Eastern). Live telecasts are in bold. Races are also available by live-streaming at NBCOlympics.com or on the NBC Sports app. Daily TV listings can be found here.
Feb. 12: Men’s combined, downhill run, 9:30 p.m. (NBC, 8-11:30 p.m.); slalom run, 1 a.m. (NBC, 12:05-2 a.m.)
Feb. 13: Women’s slalom, first run, 8:15 p.m. (NBC, 8-11:30 p.m.); second run, 11:45 p.m. (NBC, 12:05-1:30 a.m.)
Feb. 14: Men’s downhill, 7:30 p.m. (NBC, 8-11 p.m.)
Feb. 14: Women’s giant slalom, first run, 8 p.m. (NBC, 7-11 p.m.); second run, 11:45 p.m. (NBC, 11:35 p.m.-1 a.m.)
Feb. 15: Men’s super-G, 9 p.m. (NBC, 8-11:30 p.m.)
Feb. 16: Women’s super-G, 9 p.m. (NBC, 8 p.m.-midnight)
Feb. 17: Men’s giant slalom, first run, 8:15 p.m. (NBC, 8-11 p.m.); second run, 11:45 p.m. (NBC, 11:3- p.m.-1:30 a.m.)
Feb. 20: Women’s downhill, 9 p.m. (NBC, 8 p.m.-12:30 a.m.)
Feb. 21: Men’s slalom, first run, 8:15 p.m. (NBC, 8-11 p.m.); second run, 11:45 p.m. (NBC, 11:35 p.m.-12:30 a.m.)
Feb. 22: Women’s combined, downhill, 9 p.m. (NBC, 8 p.m.-midnight); slalom, 12:30 a.m. (NBC, 12:35-2 a.m.)
Feb. 23: Team event, 9 p.m. (NBC, 8-11 p.m.)