Imagine yourself standing at the top of a race course with an average slope angle of 27 percent, knowing you will soon throw yourself out there, putting faith in yourself and your gear to be able to handle the character of this particular piste. You have one shot per competition you have to make it count so you can’t let fear hold you back. You will reach speeds of over 120 kilometers per hour, you know that if, or when, you fall, you fall hard, and the only thing that will dampen the impact are those red safety nets on the sides, and a little luck. So what’s the beauty of this sport that most would never even consider competing in? The answer is in the adrenaline rush, pushing yourself to the limit and of course, the glory in possibly becoming number one in one of the toughest sports in the world.
Somewhere in between the toughness, and perhaps insanity, of downhill racing and the technical discipline of giant slalom there’s the newest racing discipline in the FIS-family: super G. The essence of the discipline is in the name. It’s about pushing yourself up to speeds higher than in giant slalom while at the same time handling the turns and twists of a race course that serpentines down the mountain. The G-forces created by the acceleration pushes your body’s ability to the limit. Like in the downhill discipline you only get one chance to do your best, to show your fellow competitors that you’ve got this down. You’ve not been able to test the course before the race. Instead, you have to rely on memory and put your trust in your experience and ability to handle the often violent turns and jumps. This awesome discipline has been a part of the world cup since the season of 1982/1983 and is said to have been implemented because of the undisputed superiority of Swedish skiing giant Ingemar Stenmark.
Someone once said: ”Skiing is a dance, and the mountain always leads”. This is the truth that all professional (and non-professional for that matter) skiers have to adapt to. The snow conditions, the slope angles, the turns and natural rollers and every little detail that affects your run needs to be taken into consideration. While downhill and super G might be likened to a boxing game, giant slalom however, resembles a graceful dance. But the speed element should not be ignored in this basically technical discipline. The long giant slalom course has between 46 and 70 gates with longer distance between them than in slalom which gives higher speed under those skis and most certainly some lactic acid in your thighs. And you have to do it twice. But it certainly is a graceful sport, especially in the hands of the likes of American giant slalom turn expert Ted Ligety.
All other disciplines aside, there’s a particular charm in classic slalom. Slalom specialists are focused, quick on their feet and have excellent reaction skills. So if downhill is the toughest of these four disciplines, does that mean slalom is for the softies? Definitely not. It takes guts to take on the gates that stand tight together, forcing the skiers to make short, tight turns, in a course with an average slope angle of 33 to 45 percent. One misjudgment of a turn, of the slope’s foundation or just a cloud in the sky can cost you the win, or even the right to race in the second run. You need to be fast, balanced and able to react quickly to have a chance to straighten out those small mistakes that can be so costly. But when it’s done right, there are few things in sports that are more beautiful than the perfect slalom run, when every turn is executed in the right angle, with the right speed and balance. Slalom specialists just might be the ninjas of alpine skiing.
Photos by Gösta Fries