Skiing is a multifaceted pastime. If you are not a skier, you may look at skiing as more of a hobby than a sport, but is this justified?
- The Different Types Of Skiers
- The Different Skiing Disciplines
- Ski Touring
- Skiing Is An Olympic Sport
- Olympic Skiing Disciplines
- Final Thoughts
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It all depends on how you look at skiing and how you have been exposed to it. Skiing means different things to different people, so in this post, we will answer the question: Is skiing a sport?
The Different Types Of Skiers
If you take a good look around a ski resort, you will come across all sorts of characters. Some will live there, while others are just there on a short ski trip.
Some of the visitors to the resort are die-hard skiers. They will do anything to spend as much time on the mountain as possible. Only family, work, and other life commitments prevent them from living in the mountains full time.
These skiers will go out on the mountain in all weather conditions. They will have the latest gear and ski from when the lifts open to when they close every day.
At the other end of the spectrum, some skiers take their ski trips with a more casual attitude. These people will only go out when the weather is perfect, stop for long lunches, and take full advantage of the après scene and nightlife.
These skiers love the mountain lifestyle for a week or two. They prefer a more leisurely type of winter trip and to experience other things a ski resort has to offer.
Then there are the people who have moved to the ski resort for the winter. They take any job they can get just to be there and pay for their lift pass, from cleaning to washing dishes and servicing skis and snowboards.
These people live in small but expensive accommodation, as that is all that is available in ski resorts. But to make their lodgings more affordable, they often have to share with many other people.
Those who move to ski resorts for the winter make lots of sacrifices to do so. They love the mountain lifestyle and don’t mind slumming it for a few months to have the experience, often before going off to college or a career.
After a few winters in the mountains, the ones who keep coming back will either choose another lifestyle or find ways of making the mountains their permanent home so that they can ski as much as possible.
If you have been exposed to the more casual skiers, it is easy to understand why you think skiing is more of a hobby than a sport. However, if you saw firsthand what the more committed skiers do on the mountain, you might change your opinion.
The Different Skiing Disciplines
Skiing is a very varied sport, thanks to its different disciplines. Yes, all the disciplines involve a plank on each foot and sliding on snow, but they have unique styles.
Alpine skiing is the most popular form of the sport. When someone mentions they are going skiing, this is likely what they mean.
Skiers get to the top of the mountain via some kind of ski lift. The types of ski lifts you will come across are drag lifts, chairlifts, gondolas, and cable cars.
Mountains in ski resorts are covered with a network of these lifts and groomed slopes. The slopes are color-coded to indicate how challenging they are, so skiers can go to those that suit their abilities.
Experienced alpine skiers look for more challenging terrain to enjoy and to test themselves. Therefore, they may leave the groomed slopes in search of powder snow.
After a good snowfall, you can find the powder at the sides of the groomed slopes or in the backcountry. Skiing powder requires a different set of skills and knowledge of mountain safety.
However, most alpine skiers will spend most of their time on the groomed slopes and ski powder when it is easily accessible.
Cross Country Skiing
Cross country skiing is very different from alpine skiing, as it involves pushing yourself along rather than using ski lifts and gravity.
Rather than sliding down the mountain, a cross country skier glides along purpose-built tracks. The tracks are groomed with a machine and have two grooves cut into them, one for each ski.
Cross country skiing is regarded as one of the best forms of exercise. It works your whole body while being low impact on your joints.
There are two styles of cross country skiing, classic and skate. The classic style sees the skier striding forward, while the skate technique involves pushing with the inner edges of the skis.
Freestyle skiing can be broken down into several subcategories. But the essence of them all sees the skier performing intricate tricks in the air.
The modern-day version of freestyle skiing comes from snowboarding. Many of the tricks use similar terminology and are influenced by those performed by snowboarders.
Ski resorts have snowparks consisting of jumps and other features. These provide a fun environment of well-looked after features, predictable enough to master these tricks.
Freestyle skiers use different equipment to alpine skiers. The skis are shorter, more flexible, and symmetric. These characteristics make the skis more forgiving for landings and easier to ride backward.
Freeriding is when a skier leaves the resort’s slopes and goes into the backcountry to find the steepest and most extreme lines down the mountain. They ultimately hunt for powder, but to do so, they drop off big cliffs and ski steep couloirs and exposed faces.
Freeriding is seen by many to be the ultimate form of skiing. These skiers hike, climb or use helicopters and snowmobiles to access their lines.
This is the most dangerous skiing discipline, thanks to the nature of the terrain. It is littered with hazards, including avalanches, tree bowls, and crevasses.
To be a freerider, you need to be well educated in the dangers of the backcountry.
Ski touring is a method skiers use to access the backcountry and can be as extreme as you make it. Freeriders ski tour, but this method is also used by people who just want to ski powder away from the groomed slopes of the resort.
The process of ski touring involves hiking up the mountain on your skis. But to do so, you need specialist ski touring equipment.
Touring skis use bindings that hinge at the toe to make the forward glide much more manageable. For the ascent, you attach textured adhesive strips to the base of your skis, called skins. Skins prevent you from sliding backward but allow you to slide forwards.
When you get to the top of the mountain, you remove the skins and lock your bindings down at the heel, so they perform like traditional bindings. Once you are ready, you ski the powder back down to the bottom.
Ski tourers are very dedicated to finding new powder lines. They will spend several hours hiking up a mountain for a run that lasts just a few minutes.
Ski touring may seem like a lot of effort for a short run. But, the descent is just one element of your day, as being in the mountains is a beautiful experience.
Skiing Is An Olympic Sport
Skiing is a staple sport for the winter Olympics. There has been a skiing discipline in the games since 1924.
Currently, there are several different skiing disciplines in the program. Some have more history than others, while the more modern ones are growing in popularity with every game.
Each form of skiing requires the competitor to be fast, demonstrate endurance and agility. But to be truly successful, they need to be determined to win.
Olympic Skiing Disciplines
Here is an overview of all the skiing disciplines you will see during the Winter Olympics.
Alpine skiing is one of the Winter Olympic highlights for many people. This discipline is the ultimate test for competitive skiers’ technical skills and speed.
There are several subcategories of alpine skiing in the Winter Olympics. All the categories test ski racers in slightly different ways.
Downhill ski races are usually set on a ski resort’s steepest and fastest slope. Racers follow the course to get to the bottom in the shortest time possible.
The courses are set out with painted lines on either side of the slope. Ski racers need to stay between the lines but don’t need to ski through gates.
Competitors only get one run to set their time. If they ski outside the confines of the painted lines, they are disqualified.
Super G uses a similar format to downhill races. However, Super G courses have gates set to make racers take sharper turns and more often. The Super G is often said to be a ski racer’s favorite event.
The Giant Slalom event is similar to the Super G race. The difference is, is that the Super G course has more gates, increasing its technical nature.
During a slalom race, a skier has to zig-zag through lots of gates set close together. The skier needs to be fast to set a good time but also has to have superior technical ability to win.
During the Winter Olympics, you may notice that many of the competitors race the Combined Alpine Event. This event comprises both slalom and downhill races to demonstrate their versatility.
For the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018, the International Olympic Committee introduced the parallel slalom event. This event sees two racers go head to head on identical separate courses side by side.
As we have discussed earlier, cross country skiing takes place on a purpose-built course. And Olympic cross country races use the same format and techniques used by amateurs.
Olympic cross country ski races consist of a mass start, and athletes race head to head to get to the finish line first. The courses are up to 35 miles long, and the athletes average 15 mph over the distance.
Cross country ski races are physically demanding. They test the competitor’s stamina and physical fitness.
The races are closely monitored by course officials to ensure that the athletes stick to the rules. The rules state that the skiers need to stay within the cut grooves in the track and use the classic cross country skiing style.
The tracks have several grooves cut into them for the skiers to use to pass each other. However, they are forbidden to flip between the channels throughout the race continuously.
The Olympic Biathlon event combines shooting with cross country skiing. Biathlon races are designed to test the athlete’s shooting accuracy, speed, and endurance.
Throughout the Winter Olympics, there are several formats of Biathlon. However, all of them take place on a closed track.
During each race, Biathletes stop at predefined intervals to shoot their designated targets. They lie on their stomachs to shoot 5 targets placed 50m away from their shooting position.
If they miss a target, they are penalized with a time penalty. How long the penalty is, depends on which racing format they are using.
Biathlons require an incredible amount of training to compete in. Therefore biathletes are said to be the fittest people in the world, thanks to how demanding the races are on their bodies.
During a race, their heart rate becomes incredibly high, which poses a problem when it comes to their shooting accuracy. Biathletes have to wait for their heart rate to drop and time their shots between heartbeats to hit their target.
Ski jumping is an awe-inspiring event to watch at the Winter Olympics. Its gravity-defying nature is a real crowd-pleaser.
Ski jumpers launch themselves off a giant ramp in order to fly as far as they can. But distance is just one element of the jump judges are scrutinizing, as their landing needs to be conducted in a particular way.
The top of the jump has an inrun, which skiers set off from crouched in an aerodynamic position. As they slide down the inrun, they prepare themselves for the takeoff while building up speed.
When the skier gets to the edge of the ramp, they use their speed and leg strength to take off. The skier has to pop from their lower body at precisely the right time to get the maximum distance.
After they have taken off from the ramp, the ski jumper can spend up to 7 seconds in the air. The judges appraise the jump and award points based on the quality of landing and the distance traveled.
The judges measure the distance in relation to the k-point. The k-point is a line painted in the landing area that the ski jumper has to cross.
In addition to this, the ski jumper has to land with control. They demonstrate their control landing with one ski slightly in front of the other, known as the telemark stance.
Once the skier has landed, they need to cross another line. If they lose control and fall before reaching the line, the judges will deduct points.
One of the most significant factors of ski jumping is the local wind conditions. Therefore, judges give ski jumpers points to make up for any handicap caused by wind during their jump to make the scoring fair.
Wind can actually help a ski jumper fly further. For example, if they experience a headwind during their jump, they can get more lift, giving them extra distance. In this case, judges take away points to provide all the competitors an equal chance.
The final Olympic skiing discipline is the Nordic Combined event. This sees Olympians competing in both ski jumping and cross country ski races.
For the Olympic Nordic Combined competition, there is a team event and two individual events.
The Nordic Combined team event is a relay race, where after the ski jumper lands, a four-person cross country relay team takes over. Each member of the cross country team has to complete 5km.
The two individual Nordic Combined events see the ski jumpers going on to do a 10km cross country race.
So is skiing a sport? Indeed it is, and as you can see, it is an integral part of the Winter Olympics.
One of the great things about skiing is that you can take it as seriously or as casually as you like. Whether you want to be dancing in your ski boots on the bar at lunchtime or racing in a skintight ski suit, it doesn’t matter as long as you have fun and stay safe.
Many people make the pilgrimage to the mountains each winter all over the world and enjoy their sport the way they like it the best.
Skiing isn’t just a sport; it is a lifestyle. Some people may not recognize that, but those living it know only too well.
Images from Pixabay and Unsplash