Did you know? Fourteen facts on alpine skiing

By Traci Hendrix | March 21, 2013, 3:15 p.m. (ET)

Alana Nichols, the most decorated U.S. athlete at the Vancouver 2012 Paralympic Winter Games, is aiming for a second consecutive appearance on the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing Team. The International Paralympic Committee named Nichols "One to Watch" in the lead-up to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

The Paralympic Winter Games is March 7-16, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. With 96 medals up for grabs in 32 alpine skiing events, 298 athletes will compete. Get situated for Sochi with these 14 facts on alpine skiing:

A sport for injured soldiers

The sport known today as Paralympic alpine skiing started after World War II when injured soldiers wanted to return to the slopes. As Austrian and German veterans began successfully adapting alpine skiing to their needs, Gretchen Fraser, the first U.S. alpine skier to win gold at an Olympic Games, also began teaching skiing to amputees in army hospitals in the United States. Competitions started in the late 1940s with popularity booming 

From the beginning

Alpine skiing debuted at the first Paralympic Winter Games, held in 1976 in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, with competitions for slalom and giant slalom. Downhill competitions were held for the first time at the 1984 Games in Innsbruck, Austria, while and super giant was added for the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway. 

Alpine skiing’s six

Alpine skiing has more disciplines than any other winter sport. At the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, six disciplines will be contested as a part of the alpine skiing program: downhill, super G, giant slalom, slalom, super combined and snowboard.

Snowboarding debut

Snowboard cross is officially one of the disciplines included in alpine skiing program for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. It was added on May 2, 2012, much to the delight of U.S. athletes, who claimed four medals at the 2012 World Snowboard Federation Para-Snowboard World Championships. In the Games, athletes with lower limb impairments, such as an amputated leg, will compete for the podium. 

Podium potential 

In Sochi, Russia, next year, there will be 16 medal events for men and 16 medal events for women in alpine skiing. Only Nordic skiing, made up of the separate sports of biathlon and cross country skiing, has more medal opportunities, with 38 combined. 

Leading in Lillehammer

At the Lillehammer 1994 Paralympic Winter Games in Norway, the United States led the alpine skiing competition with 39 medals, including 24 gold medals. It marks the most successful U.S. appearance in history. Since the 1980 Paralympic Winter Games, Team USA has claimed 89 gold medals, 88 silver medals and 60 bronze medals in alpine skiing competitions at the Games. 

Victors of Vancouver

At the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, Team USA was represented by 24 alpine skiers and three guides, who combined for 11 medals, the most of any sport. Alana Nichols of Farmington, N.M., led the team’s medal haul with two gold, one silver and one bronze. Stephani Victor (Park City, Utah) won three medals in Vancouver, and Danelle Umstead (Park City, Utah) won two. 

On course

The alpine skiing course in Sochi, Russia, will be located in the “Mountain Cluster” at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort’s Aibga Ridge. The course was tested in March 2013 at the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Cup Final.  

Fast enough for the highway

The top Paralympic alpine skiers can exceed speeds of 65 miles per hour in competition.


While the International Ski Federation governs able-bodied skiing, Paralympic alpine skiing is governed by the same ISF rules, only modified by the IPC Sports Committee to accommodate physical disabilities. 

Guides of the Games

Four disability groups are represented in alpine skiing, including visual impairment. Guides are sighted skiers who assist a visually impaired skier down the slopes by directing the skier where to go. Some guides rely only on their voices while others use radios to help communicate. If the visually impaired skier medals, the guide also medals. 


To ensure fair competition in Paralympic alpine skiing, athletes are classified based on their ability, and compete against athletes with similar classifications. Currently, there are 11 different classes for standing alpine skiing, five for sitting and three for visual disabilities. 

The final factor

When athletes with different classifications compete against each other, results are factored in order to create a fair competition. In the factoring system, a number is designated for each class based on their functional mobility or vision levels, and that number is multiplied by the finish time. The resulting number is the one used to determine the winner in events where the factor system is used. With factoring, the fastest skier down the hill may not win. 

Keep an eye on Nichols

Nichols was the only U.S. athlete to make the IPC’s 2013 “Ones to Watch” list for alpine skiing. As of March 2013, she was ranked No. 1 in women’s super G sitting by the IPC and is in the Top 6 for all other events.