Para-alpine skiing demands extreme agility, strength, and speed, with racers reaching speeds of up to 100km/hour. Adaptive alpine skiing is currently practiced in more than 40 countries; the sport continues to grow in popularity and accessibility.
At the first Paralympic Winter Games in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, in 1976, the Slalom and Giant Slalom were the only two para-alpine events. Today, there are five para-alpine events at the Paralympic Games:
Downhill: Skiers are timed as they race down a long, steep course passing through a relatively few number of gates used as checkpoints. Skiers who miss a gate are disqualified. Each athlete is allowed only one run down the course. The skier with the fastest time wins.
Super Giant Slalom (Super-G): Super-G is raced on a course that is shorter than Downhill but longer than Giant Slalom and Slalom. The number of gates the skier must pass through is determined by the vertical drop, with a minimum of 35 direction changes for men and 30 for women. Gates are set at least 25m apart and as with other events, missing a gate leads to disqualification. Each athlete is permitted one run down the course and their time determines their order of finish.
Super Combined (SC): This event combines two disciplines, such as one Downhill and one Slalom run, or one Super-G and one Slalom run. The result is calculated by the combined time of both runs.
Giant Slalom (GS): Giant Slalom is raced on a shorter course than Super G but includes more gates. Again, the number of gates is determined by the vertical drop and the penalty for missing a gate is disqualification. Each athlete completes two runs on the same day on different courses. An athlete’s times from the two courses are added to determine the finish order.
Slalom: Slalom is a highly technical alpine event. The course is shorter than other Alpine Skiing events and includes more gates (55-75 gates on a men's course and 40-60 on a women's course). The penalty for missing a gate is disqualification. Each athlete completes two runs on the same day on different courses. Times from the two courses are added to determine the finish order.
Alpine Skiing is governed by the IPC with co-ordination by the IPC Alpine Skiing Technical Committee and the rules of the International Ski Federation (FIS) are used with only a few modifications. Alpine Canada Alpin is the governing body for para-alpine and alpine ski racing in Canada.
Paralympic Alpine Skiing competitions include male and female athletes with a physical disability such as a spinal injury, cerebral palsy, amputation, and visual impairments. Athletes compete based on their functional ability and their scores are then equalized, enabling athletes with different disabilities to compete against each other. Paralympic skiers compete on the same courses as the Olympic women’s teams.
The fifteen classifications for athletes with a physical disability are as follows:
B1 - totally blind (no sight)
B2 - partially sighted (visual acuity of 20/60 – limited sight)
B3 - partially sighted (visual acuity above 20/60 to 6/60 –more sight than B2)
LW1 - double above-knee amputees
LW2 - outrigger skiers
LW3 - double below-knee amputees
LW4 - skiers with prosthesis
LW5/7- skiers without poles
LW6/8 - skiers with one pole
LW9/1 - disability of arm and leg (after amputation)
LW9/2 - disability of arm and leg (cerebral palsy)
LW10 - high degree of paraplegia, no muscles in lower body
LW11 - lower degree of paraplegia, with muscles in lower body
LW12/1 - lower degree of paraplegia, lower incomplete paralysis
LW12/2 - double above-knee amputees
Adaptive Skiing Equipment
Skis: The skis used in Alpine Skiing events are long and narrow (minimum of 60mm). Men's skis are a minimum length of 165cm and women's skis are a minimum length of 155cm. The maximum height of the binding plate is 55mm in all events.
Sit-skis: Some athletes with a physical disability compete from a sitting position using a sit-ski, also called a mono-ski. As the name suggests, sir-skis have a specially fitted chair over a single ski. The chair includes seat belts and other strapping, as well as a suspension device to minimize wear and tear on the skier's body.
Poles or outriggers: Skiers in Alpine Skiing events use poles for propulsion and balance. The poles for Downhill and Super-G events are curved to fit around the body. Slalom poles are straight and usually have plastic guards to protect the hands from injury. Athletes in certain Paralympic classifications (e.g. sit-ski users) use special poles called outriggers. Outriggers have short ski blades on the end and help the skier with balance.
In all visually impaired classes (B1 – B3) a guide is obligatory; the competitor and guide are a team. Blind skiers are directed through the course by sighted guides using only voice signals or radio communication to indicate the course to follow. All competitors in the B1 class must wear approved blacked-out goggles during the competition.
No physical contact between the guide and competitor is allowed during the race. The distance between guide and athlete in the more technical events (Slalom and Giant Slalom) must not exceed two direction changes. In the more high speed events (Downhill and Super G) the distance must not exceed one direction change. In partially sighted classes (B2 & B3), the guide must ski in front of the athlete while Class B1 guides can ski either in front of or behind the athlete.
Alpine skiing is named for the European Alps where it originated in the late 1880s. Alpine skiing evolved from cross-country skiing when a ski lift infrastructure was developed to tow skiers to the top of slopes.
Skiing for people with disabilities became popular after World War II with the return of injured veterans. It is both a recreational pastime and a competitive sport open to those with any manner of cognitive and/or physical disabilities. Recreational skiing programs for people with disabilities exist at mountains across the world. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the International Ski Federation (FIS) sanction a number of regional, national, and international disabled skiing events, most notably a World Cup circuit, a Disabled Alpine Skiing World Championships, as well as the Paralympic Winter Games.
The first documented Championship for skiers with a disability was held in Badgastein, Austria, in 1948 with seventeen athletes taking part. Since then, ski races for athletes with a disability have been carried out around the world.
The first Paralympic Winter Games in Örnsköldsvik in Sweden in 1976 included Slalom and Giant Slalom. Downhill was added to the Paralympic programme in 1984 in Innsbruck, Austria, and Super-G was added in 1994 at Lillehammer, Norway. Sit-skiing or mono-skiing, was introduced as a demonstration sport at the Innsbruck 1984 Paralympics and became a medal event at the Nagano 1998 Paralympic Games.