7 Things to Know About Para-Alpine Skiing

You may know a thing or two about the Win­ter Olympic Games, but you might not know as much about the inter­na­tion­al sport­ing event that takes place just a few weeks after each Win­ter Olympics: the Win­ter Par­a­lympic Games.

The Par­a­lympics is a mul­ti­sport com­pe­ti­tion for ath­letes with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties. The 2014 Win­ter Par­a­lympics  in Sochi, Rus­sia, will see ath­letes com­pete in six dif­fer­ent sports, includ­ing alpine ski­ing. Para-alpine ski­ing has been part of the Win­ter Par­a­lympics since the Games’ incep­tion in 1976. Here are sev­en things to know about the sport.

Under­stand­ing the Clas­si­fi­ca­tions
Ath­letes in the Par­a­lympics have dif­fer­ent types of dis­abil­i­ties, and para-alpine ski­ing is open to ath­letes with any visu­al or phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ty.

The events are bro­ken down into three gen­er­al dis­abil­i­ty types: stand­ing, blind, and sit­ting. With­in each type, there exist sev­er­al dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories. For instance, the visu­al­ly impaired class con­sists of B1 (total­ly blind), B2 (visu­al acu­ity of less than 2/60) and B3 (visu­al acu­ity of 2/60 to 6/60). The stand­ing class includes 11 dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories.

The Mono­ski
The sit­ting class (para­ple­gia of vary­ing degrees or dou­ble leg ampu­ta­tion) uses the mono­ski as the equip­ment of choice. Also known as the sit-ski, a mono­ski has a mold­ed seat sit­ting atop a shock absorber, mount­ed onto a medal frame. The base of the mono­ski has a block mold­ed into the shape of a ski boot sole, which clicks into a sin­gle ski’s bind­ing.

Instead of poles, mono­skiers use out­rig­gers for sta­bil­i­ty. Out­rig­gers look some­what like an arm brace which extends to a pole, with small ski-shaped pieces at the bot­tom of the poles. 

Award­ing the Medals
Each of the three groups (sit­ting, stand­ing and visu­al­ly impaired) receives its own medal event, where gold, sil­ver and bronze medals are award­ed. Although dif­fer­ent class­es exist with­in each group­ing, there is a fac­tor­ing sys­tem in place to lev­el the play­ing field between ath­letes of dif­fer­ent class­es. The skier’s final time will be mul­ti­plied by the fac­tor num­ber asso­ci­at­ed with their par­tic­u­lar class. This means that the gold medal win­ner isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly the per­son who makes it down the moun­tain in the short­est amount of time. It’s the fac­tored time that will deter­mine who walks away with the medals.

The Dis­ci­plines
The Win­ter Par­a­lympic alpine ski­ing pro­gram con­sists of six dif­fer­ent events:

Down­hill: Ath­letes ski down a long, steep course and must pass through manda­to­ry gates.

Super‑G: Super‑G is all about speed. The Super‑G course is a lit­tle short­er than the Down­hill course, and the ath­letes have a sin­gle run to show their stuff.

Slalom: Ath­letes com­plete two runs on two dif­fer­ent cours­es with­in the same day. The times from each run are then com­bined. The course is typ­i­cal­ly short­er than Down­hill, but the num­ber of gates along the course is great­ly increased.

Giant Slalom: Sim­i­lar to the Slalom event, but with a longer course and few­er gates.

Super Com­bined: Super‑G meets Slalom. Tech­ni­cal­ly, the Super Com­bined can be a com­bi­na­tion of any of the two dis­ci­plines, but the typ­i­cal event con­sists of one run of the Super‑G course and one run of the Slalom course.

The sixth event? Read on.

Snow­board­ing and the Par­a­lympics
For the first time ever, the 2014 Win­ter Par­a­lympic Games will fea­ture a snow­board cross course—think berms, jumps, rollers, and oth­er man-made obsta­cles.

Ath­letes will com­plete three runs on the course, and the times from their two best runs will be com­bined. Unlike snow­board cross at the Olympics, where four ath­letes hit the course at once, the Par­a­lympic course will have just one ath­lete com­pet­ing at a time.

Who’s the Boss?
To date, we’ve seen 25 coun­tries rep­re­sent­ed in alpine ski­ing events in the Par­a­lympics.

USA has amassed the most gold medals (89), but Aus­tria takes the cake for most podi­um fin­ish­es (253 medals over­all, ahead of USA’s 237). Ger­many and Switzer­land take third and fourth place, with 110 and 104 total medals, respec­tive­ly.

Who to Watch For
It looks like the 2014 games will be quite com­pet­i­tive: Russia’s Alek­san­dra Frantce­va is fresh off three golds at the 2013 IPC Alpine Ski­ing World Cham­pi­onships; Slovakia’s Hen­ri­eta Farkaso­va is con­sid­ered to be her biggest com­peti­tor (she took gold in Super‑G, Super Com­bined and Giant Slalom at the 2010 Win­ter Par­a­lympic games, plus a sil­ver medal in Down­hill).

Three-time World Cup gold medal­ist Amy Pur­dy will be com­pet­ing in the snow­board­ing cat­e­go­ry for USA.

Jakub Krako of Slo­va­kia took gold in Giant Slalom, Super Com­bined and Slalom at the 2010 games, and sil­ver in the Super‑G event, with Jon San­ta­cana of Spain right on his heels, with a gold in Down­hill and sil­vers in Giant Slalom and Slalom at the same games.

For more infor­ma­tion on the sport, reg­u­la­tions and ath­letes, check out the offi­cial Par­a­lympic Alpine Ski­ing site.