An Expert Guide to the Alpine Ski World Cup Events
Ski Expert Austen Law breaks down all the main events at the Alpine Ski World Cup, how the points system works, where it's held, and more!
World Cup ski racing is the highest level of international competition in alpine ski racing, comprising the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup and the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup. The series began in 1966 and is organized by the International Ski Federation (FIS).
It is held annually, with men's and women's competitions taking place concurrently. It consists of a series of races held at various ski resorts throughout the winter season. The races are divided into several categories which include the downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-G, and combined events.
Below we’ll dive deeper into each of the various events!
The downhill event is a high-speed event where athletes reach speeds of up to 85 miles per hour as they navigate a very steep, long radius turned course. The downhill is the longest race and the fastest event. This event started in 1921 at the British National Ski Championships. The downhill ski racing equipment differs from the lower speed, more technical events, with 30% longer skis than those of the Super-G. Most recently, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde from Norway won the world downhill title for men, followed by Swiss skier Beat Fuez. For the women, Italian powerhouse skier Sofia Goggia took home the world downhill title, followed by Swiss skier Corinne Sueter. FIS regulation for ski length is 218cm for men and 210cm for women, almost 30cm longer than the average recreational ski. The downhill course is a long, elongated turn course, with big flying jumps up to 100 yards and going back to 80mph speeds.
The slalom is a shorter event, yet is the most technical that requires athletes to ski a series of single red and blue gates (single gates) placed close together. Slalom style of racing had started far before the official FIS World Cup originating in Norway and Sweden but officially started at the World Cup in 1967 in Germany. Slalom skis are much shorter, at 165cm for men and 155cm for women. These have a tight turn radius, making them fast, agile, and nimble. The distance between gate to gate in the event is usually 12m to 18m, making these turns very tight and coming with a lot of variety. Recently, the world champion for slalom for men was Norwegian skier Henrik Kristoffersen and American superstar Mikaela Shiffrin for the women’s.
The giant slalom, or GS as it is referred to by athletes, is a longer version of the slalom, with wider turns and a longer course. Giant slalom is very technical and turn-y, but generates more speed. With skis a little longer than those from the slalom, these skis are longer for more speed while still having some technical ability to race. Men’s skis are 193cm and women’s are 188cm, while still having a lot of sidecut on the ski to turn and carve really well and still hold the energy and stiffness to keep the ski fast. These skis typically have a 30m turn radius, making these skis turns much longer than the slaloms, as it reflects on the race course too. The first giant slalom race was in Italy in 1935, but officially at the world cup in 1965. Giant slalom, similar to slalom, is a two-run event on the same ski run with a break between each run. If you don’t end up finishing your first run, you do not get to race in the second run.
The super-G is a combination of the downhill and giant slalom, with a course that is longer and less steep than the downhill but still challenging. Super-G and downhill are considered the “speed” events and slalom and giant slalom are considered the “technical” events. Super-G is still very fast and a little turn-y, making this one of my favorites to watch. Similar to the downhill, Super-G only is a one-run event.
World Cup ski racing is a highly competitive and prestigious event, with top skiers from around the world vying for the title of overall World Cup champion at the end of the season. The overall World Cup title is awarded to the skier who accumulates the most points throughout the season. Points are earned based on the skier's finishing position in each race per discipline, with the winner earning 100 points and the points decreasing as the finishing position gets lower.
In addition to the overall World Cup title, there are also discipline-specific titles for each event. The skier who accumulates the most points in a specific event throughout the season is crowned the discipline (downhill, super g, GS, or slalom) champion.
Where It’s Held
The FIS World Cup travels across the globe, including a new presence in the United States. For years, North America had a quick stop on the World Cup tour including stops at Lake Louise in Canada, the famous Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek, Colorado for men’s downhill, and the women’s technical events at Killington, Vermont. For years, Aspen, Colorado held World Cup events, and more recently, Lake Tahoe in California has a new World Cup stop, making North America more than a quick stop on the World Cup tour.
Otherwise, a majority of the FIS World Cup is held in Europe, with many races in Austria, Switzerland, France, and Italy. Some other races are held in Sweden, Spain, and Eastern Europe. More internationally, the FIS World Cup also travels to Japan.
The World Cup is an exciting and thrilling event for skiing enthusiasts and ski racing fans and is a great way to see the best ski racers in the world compete at the highest level. If you're a fan of ski racing, be sure to catch a World Cup event this winter and see the action for yourself! And reach out to me or another Ski Expert to find the right gear to get into these fun events.