Road To The Olympic Games

Alpine skiing: What you need to know for the Olympics

What exactly is the difference between slalom and giant slalom? How does team skiing work? Here's a guide to how to enjoy all the alpine skiing events at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, along with an introduction to the newest skiing event.

Who, what and when to watch at the Winter Games

American skiing star Lindsey Vonn returns to the Olympics after missing the 2014 Games due to injury. (Christophe Pallot/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)

By Benjamin Blum, CBC Sports

The alpine skiing events at the Olympics are among the most iconic at the Winter Games, as skiers showcase their speed and technical ability in a myriad of disciplines.

But, what exactly is the difference between slalom and giant slalom? How does team skiing work? And isn't all alpine skiing technically downhill skiing?

Here's a guide to how to enjoy all the alpine events in Pyeongchang, along with an introduction to the newest skiing event:

Differences between the disciplines

There are five individual alpine events at the 2018 Olympics — downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super G and alpine combined — plus a new team event. The main individual disciplines can be broken down into two categories:

  • Speed events: Downhill and super-G races showcase the fastest alpine times
  • Technical events: Slalom and giant slalom courses emphasize turning technique

In the combined event at the Olympics, competitors must demonstrate their prowess in both speed and technical events by taking on one downhill run and one slalom run.

So what makes one type of skiing a speed event and another technical? It comes down to the course layout.

Downhill, as the name implies, has few turns to maximize speed down the hill and has the longest course of the events. On the opposite end of the spectrum, slalom events have the quickest, sharpest turns on a short course.

Giant slalom has fewer gates and wider turns, while super-G (super giant slalom) combines the turns of a giant slalom course with the speeds of a downhill event.


Introducing the mixed team event

The mixed team event is making its Olympic debut in Pyeongchang and consists of parallel (head-to-head) giant slalom-type races. There are 16 countries in the event, with two male and two female skiers on each team.

The countries are placed in an elimination-style bracket, where they will compete head to head in four races, with the winner advancing to the next round. If the matchup ends 2-2, the tiebreaker will be the lower combined time of each team's fastest man and fastest woman.

The new event has drawn criticism from some prominent skiers, while others are looking forward to the opportunity to compete in the new event.


Champions and contenders

American skier Lindsey Vonn has persevered through a litany of injuries and makes her return to the Olympics after missing out on the 2014 Games. The four-time World Cup overall champion is strong in all disciplines, but she particularly excels as a speed event specialist. Vonn won Olympic downhill gold at the 2010 Games in Vancouver as well as super-G bronze.

Fellow U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin is among the most talented technical competitors. The defending Olympic slalom gold medallist heads into Pyeongchang as the two-time reigning overall World Cup champ and, despite some recent struggles, is expected to contend for gold.

Shiffrin will be in tough against Slovakia's Petra Vlhova and German Viktoria Rebensburg in the technical competitions, while Vonn will likely square off against Austrian Lara Gut and Italy's Sofia Goggia.

On the men's side, Austrian slalom star Marcel Hirscher enters the Olympics as the reigning overall World Cup champion for the past six years. Hirscher is a force to be reckoned with in the technical events, while the Norwegian trio of Henrik Kristoffersen (technical), Aksel Lund Svindal (speed) and Kjetil Jansrud (both) are expected to be in contention for podium spots.

Important dates to remember

Here are some of the key times if you're interested in watching the medal rounds:

Men's finals

  • Downhill: TBD (postponed from Feb. 10 because of weather)
  • Alpine combined: Feb. 12 at 9:30 p.m. ET (downhill) and Feb. 13 at 1 a.m. ET (slalom)
  • Super G: Feb. 14 at 9 p.m. ET
  • Giant slalom: Feb. 17 at 11:45 p.m. ET
  • Slalom: Feb. 21 at 11:45 p.m. ET

Women's finals

  • Downhill: Feb. 20 at 9 p.m. ET
  • Slalom: Feb 13 at 11:45 p.m. ET
  • Giant slalom: Feb. 11 at 11:45 p.m. ET
  • Super G: Feb. 16 at 9 p.m. ET
  • Alpine combined: Feb. 22 at 9 p.m. ET (downhill) and Feb. 23 at 12:30 a.m. ET (slalom)

The mixed team finals will be held on Feb. 23 at 10:28 p.m. ET.

With files from The Associated Press

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