Para Alpine Skiing: Sports of the Paralympic Winter Games

Para Alpine Skiing: Sports of the Paralympic Winter Games

Para alpine skiing is a snow sport where men and women with physical and vision impairments race down mountain slopes at top speeds. The sport was born when disabled veterans returning home from the Second World War began looking for ways to return to the activities they loved. The skiing movement grew so big that in 1976 two Para alpine skiing events premiered at the first Paralympic Winter Games in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden. Austria has won the most Para alpine skiing medals with the United States and Germany close behind. Para alpine skiers compete on steep, snow-covered slopes following paths marked with poles called “gates”. There are total 30 events for men and women, each with its own unique course and gate arrangement. Events focusing on speed such as downhill and super-G use steep courses with a small number of wide turns, while the others such as slalom and giant slalom feature sharp turns and big dips to challenge a skier’s agility. Slalom skis are short, allowing for fast turns while downhill skis are long and more suited for speed and stability. Sit-skis are specially fitted chairs atop of one ski and are used by athletes with lower limb impairments. They feature a seat attached to a single ski and are equipped with a belt and suspension device to absorb shocks on uneven terrain. Ski poles are used for propulsion and balance. They’re also used to knock down gates during a run. Some Para alpine skiers use special poles called outriggers that have short ski blades on the end to add extra balance and help with steering. Para alpine skiers with a vision impairment ski with a guide who gives verbal cues to help them navigate. Headsets are often used during a race by the athlete and guide to help them communicate. There are 30 events in five categories in Para alpine skiing. Downhill is the fastest event with skiers reaching speeds over 100km/h. Slalom and giant slalom test skiers’ agility as they zigzag through a series of gates. Missing a gate results in disqualification. The super-G is a speed event and has about 35 gates. In super combined, skiers complete a single run of either downhill or super-G and then do a single run of slalom. For all Para alpine events, winners are determined by the fastest times. Slalom, giant slalom and super combined are the events where skiers take two runs and combine the two times. Athletes with a wide range of physical impairments participate in Para alpine skiing, therefore a factoring system is used. Athletes are divided into three categories: standing, sitting and vision impaired. Each category is then split into sub-categories to account for the range in activity limitations. Results are calculated by adding a percentage to the athlete’s race time. The percentage is specific to each sport class within each impairment group. Para alpine skiing pushes athletes to the limit as they fly down snowy slopes, inspiring the world with their courage, determination, and highlighting the equality that sport presents.

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