Your Guide to the Skiing Events at the 2022 Winter Olympics
From alpine to freestyle, Ski Expert Theo G. explains all the ski events at the Winter Olympics, so you know what to watch out for!
At long last, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are here! It’s a very different world since the last iteration, Pyeongchang 2018, yet the excitement, spirit, and hope of the Games are unchanged. As a spectator, a large part of my interest and love for the Winter Games comes with following the skiing events. Downhill skiing makes up a premier portion of the Olympic schedule, divided between freestyle and alpine disciplines.
The history of skiing at the Olympic Winter Games dates back to almost the beginning: the competition’s 4th occurrence, Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936. This delayed introduction means that my home Olympic “city” of Lake Placid, New York has hosted the games twice, in 1932 and 1980, but my beloved Whiteface Mountain has only hosted once as a venue since 1932 was a skiing-less game. The skiing premiere in 1936 featured a single alpine skiing event—a combined downhill and slalom race. Following a 12 year hiatus during World War II, the Winter Games’ return in 1948 was accompanied by a broadening of the event field for alpine skiing, as the slalom/downhill combined was joined by individual slalom and downhill events. Alpine events continued to grow along with the games through the latter half of the 20th century, adding Giant Slalom and Super G.
The most significant expansion of downhill events began with the introduction of freestyle events at Calgary 1988 as demonstration sports. Four years later, mogul skiing was added as the first freestyle skiing event, marking the beginning of a new era for Olympic skiing. Freestyle events continued to proliferate, with the addition of Aerials, Half-pipe, Ski Cross, Slopestyle, and most recently, Big Air, which will see its Olympic debut in Beijing. There are a host of events to look forward to this year—5 alpine events and 6 freestyle events on the Women’s and Men’s side, and a mixed event for both alpine and freestyle, for a grand total of 24 events competed and 72 medals awarded across downhill skiing.
I’ll provide a brief rundown of the specifics of each event, the equipment used, and a relevant video clip that showcases what you can look forward to seeing. Let’s get to it!
Slalom is the alpine event with the shortest turn radius and quickest time between turns, making it a supreme test of precision, rhythm, and technique. Slalom races consist of two runs, with gates shifted or set differently to foster a change of course on the second attempt. A combined time is used for the awarding of medals and positions.
Slalom gates are composed of alternating red and blue poles, which a competitor’s skis must pass between to satisfy the course requirements. The poles are flexible and swing from a pivot point at their base, a feature that enables a strategy of “blocking” the gates out of the way of the skier’s body, while their skis pass around the pole. Turning tightly around each pole, slalom skiers “cross-block” the poles with their opposite hands, almost giving the run the look of a patterned dance. The cross-blocking that makes slalom unique necessitates special protective equipment, including shinguards, pole guards, and a chin/faceguard that attaches to the helmet.
Slalom skis are much shorter than most other downhill skis, coming in at 155cm for women and 165 cm for men. These short, narrow skis have sidecut that enables a tight turn radius—the discipline’s signature feature. For the viewer, slalom puts the skill and training of each athlete on display in an exciting and borderline mesmerizing way. That said, mistakes are small, and it takes a keen and trained eye to notice the many small factors that influence a skier’s time on the course and their ultimate finishing rank.
Tune in to watch the indomitable Mikaela Shiffrin compete in her signature event.
Giant slalom, or GS, is an accessible, crowd-pleasing, bell cow event for alpine racing. GS is a halfway point between the precise, rounded turns and rapid movement of slalom, and the raw strength and runaway-freight-train sensibility of the “speed” events.
In GS, competitors have two runs and are ranked by order of their combined time, like slalom. In the sport of alpine racing, GS is lumped together with slalom as a “technical” discipline in comparison to the speed disciplines of super-G and downhill. While giant slalom courses contain around the same number of gates as slalom courses, the vertical drop of a GS run, often around 1000ft, can be as much as twice as long as that of a slalom course, increasing the distance between gates and the necessary turn radius.
GS equipment includes skis in excess of 180 cm and a mandatory sidecut radius minimum in the mid 20 meters. A slalom ski would have a turn radius of roughly half that. GS also features the “bent” poles that many associate with ski racing and hard-ear helmets that aren’t necessary for slalom.
The first of the speed events, super-G combines giant slalom and downhill in a hybrid of sorts: high speed accompanied by significant turning action. Competitors only have a single timed run to differentiate themselves from the field. Courses are longer than those set for downhill, yet contain a number of gates appropriate for turns more similar in shape to GS. Super-G is more of a power-driven discipline, as athletes carve turns at high speed, relying on their strength to keep edge contact with the snow and avoid crashes.
Super-G skis are longer, coming in at over 200 cm.
Downhill is the speed event, while also marking the apex of raw force, air time, and risk in ski racing. Downhill courses are longer than super-G, coming in at almost three times the length of many GS courses. For the spectator, the event is a very enjoyable watch—athletes careen down steep slopes, launch off huge jumps, and generally compete against the laws and forces of physics while teetering on the edge of control. Skiers routinely hit speeds in the mid-80s mph and can reach 95 mph on certain courses.
Downhill skis have huge turning radii, in the mid-40 meters, and are 210 cm+ long. The above video demonstrates just how hairy things can get.
The original alpine skiing event in 1936, combined “combines” slalom and downhill, adding times from a run of each. It’s a medal event that rewards versatility in the face of the specialized nature of modern sports—something I personally welcome.
Mixed Team Parallel Slalom
New at Pyeongchang 2018, mixed parallel slalom uses a bracket/elimination format as national teams compete against each other head to head. Two women and two men race against four contestants from another nation during each round, for four parallel panel slalom races. The nation with the most wins advances, and aggregate time is the tiebreaker. As pairs race simultaneously, parallel slalom makes for an excellent viewing experience! Make sure to tune in.
The first Olympic freestyle ski event, mogul skiing has been a medal event since Albertville 1992. Though competitors are given a single timed run, scoring varies significantly from alpine racing events. Scores are broken down into three categories, each given a different weight when determining the total. The majority of a score (60%) is determined by “turns.” This portion evaluates an athlete’s form when they ski the bumps that make up a mogul course. Skiers wear special pants with patches over the knees, allowing judges to visually evaluate their precision and rhythm when turning through the mogul field. Keeping the upper body “quiet” and chest level—something ski instructors, myself included, love to focus on—is a critical factor in determining the turn score.
Air/jumps make up 20% of the score—competitors launch off two kickers during the course of a run, throwing backflips, spins, and grabs that earn moguls distinction as a freestyle sport.
Lastly, competitors aid or hinder their score by an additional 20% based on their time to finish. Mogul equipment is specialized, with skiers using short, narrow skis that enable them to complete short, rapid turns around bumps.
Olympic aerials have been a medal event since Lillehammer 1994 and are always a great watch. Aerialists launch off kicker jumps ranging in height from 8 to 14 ft tall, reaching 50 ft in the air off of the largest kickers.
The score is determined by form (50%), air/takeoff (20%), and landing (30%), with this combined total multiplied by the degree of difficulty. In terms of form, skiers are aiming for combinations of flips and twists that will outpace those of their competition.
Aerials is one of the more naturally jaw-dropping sports in the Winter Games and has more in common with gymnastics and diving than other skiing events. A new mixed-team aerials event is set for its debut this year, so be on the lookout for that little piece of Winter Games history.
Skiing’s newest Olympic event! Big air has been contested on the freestyle competition for some time, and any casual freestyle fan has seen X Games and World Cup clips of this discipline.
Athletes take turns hitting one massive jump (hence the “big”) and have several runs to attempt to put down the highest score. Trick selection is the biggest component of each score, as competitors try to push the limits of rotations and spins, all while landing cleanly and earning style points with grabs and other modifications. Unlike aerials, skiers often land backward (“switch”), and use skis and equipment that you might see any weekend at your local mountain’s terrain park.
Introduced at Sochi 2014, half-pipe gives competitors several opportunities to lay down their best tricks over the course of a run, as they get huge airs off opposite sides of a massive superpipe. Tricks are similar in nature to big air, with a high degree of difficulty on the landings. Crashes are common, but the beauty of a clean run makes this event a must-watch for skiing, as well as the more famous half-pipe snowboard competition. Skis are narrow and stiff versions of popular park skis, ideal for gaining purchase on the steep walls of an icy pipe.
My personal favorite freestyle event, slopestyle mimics a run you might see at any terrain park worth its salt on a winter weekend. For Olympic slopestyle, though, the features are much bigger, and competitors are going for broke to lay down the most impressive series of rail and jump tricks they can in hopes of taking home a medal. Some of my fondest Winter Olympic memories were made watching the inaugural men’s slopestyle competition at Sochi 2014 when Team USA swept the podium and made (ski) household names of Nick Goepper, Gus Kenworthy, and Joss Christensen.
Slopestyle skiers use “comp” park skis that are on the stiffer side and remain stable on big landings. A more flexible freestyle ski could “wash out” on its tails, subtracting from points for a clean landing. Otherwise, the equipment used in this event is far more similar to the gear you’re familiar with than the equipment made for alpine racing events (unless you happen to be a FIS or DI ski racer). I can’t wait to watch slopestyle in Beijing!
Olympic ski cross is just an excellent watch. It’s top-tier action sports, the closest skiing has to the thrill of short-track speed skating. Athletes spend as much time in the air as they do on snow as they charge down a banked course riddled with jumps and gaps. Part of what makes ski cross so exciting is how deeply unfair it can be—if another racer crashes and wipes you out, then so it goes—you’ve lost your shot at gold. Absolute must-see streaming!
And there you have it, your 2022 Winter Olympic downhill ski events! I’ll be up all hours of the day and night to watch live runs, replays, and draft my recaps. Hopefully, I’ll find some time to ski here in Utah when I log off Peacock! If you have any questions about the events or need some new ski gear to aid you in your bid to qualify the next time around in Milano Cortina 2026, shoot a message to me or another Ski Expert, and we'll be happy to chat.