Obscure Sports Weekly: Slalom Skiing

Slalom skiing is a form alpine skiing in which the skier must pass between poles or gates. Alpine skiing encompasses all forms of skiing that are downhill on fixed-heeled skies and is typically divided into five categories: downhill, super combined, super-G, giant slalom and slalom. In competitions, the skier participates in each of these events.

The first slalom skiing competition took place in 1767 when Norwegian military men challenged each other to a downhill skiing competition on dangerous terrain that went in between trees. It continued to evolve, and in 1866, a race in Oslo merged different ski forms such as cross-country, jumping and slalom. This event saw the rise of skiers using poles to stop and turn and being awarded points for style. Arnold Lunn established the rules of modern slalom in 1922. These rules changed the scoring process so riders are rewarded based only on time, and they created the use of gates instead of single poles.

A typical slalom skiing course is equipped with anywhere between 40 and 80 gates. A gate consists of two poles the skier must pass through. During the initial days of slalom skiing, the poles were rigid, made of materials such as bamboo, which forced the skiers to pass their entire bodies through the gates. Modern obstacles are made of hard plastics and sit on hinges that allow the skier to knock the poles down as they pass through. This process is referred to as blocking. With the development of these new poles, only the skier’s feet and skis have to pass through the gates, allowing the rider to take a more direct path down the course.

Changes in the rules and setups of slalom skiing led to new developments in equipment. In the 1980s, skiers began to use more padding and safety gear, such as shin pads, hand guards and helmets, to protect them during the process of blocking. The Fédération Internationale de Ski, the governing group of international winter sports, place a minimum ski length of 165cm for men and 155cm for women since smaller skis where found to be more difficult to recover on.

Bode Miller, American alpine skier, is ranked as the number one Olympic male skier. He has won six medals in three different Winter Olympics: two silvers at the Salt Lake City 2002, all three ranking medals at Vancouver 2010 and a bronze at Sochi 2014. Aside from his Olympic accomplishments, Miller has acquired six World Cup titles and four World Championships.

Photo courtesy of: http://giphy.com/gifs/olympics-skiing-jimmy-huega-2eCn0392SRgiI

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