Did you know? Fourteen facts on alpine skiing

By Jamie M. Blanchard | Jan. 21, 2014, 12 p.m. (ET)

The Paralympic Winter Games are March 7-16 in Sochi, Russia. With 96 medals up for grabs in 32 alpine skiing events, 298 athletes will compete including 38 (28 alpine skiers, 10 snowboarders) from the United States. Get ready for Sochi with these 14 facts on alpine skiing:

Tune-in alert

Watch all of the alpine skiing action live from Sochi. TeamUSA.org will stream every event of the Paralympic Winter Games while NBC and NBC Sports Network will provide additional television coverage. 

A veteran affair

The sport known today as Paralympic alpine skiing started after World War II when injured soldiers, primarily wheelchair users, 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 Winter Games, also began teaching skiing to amputees in army hospitals in the United States. Competitions started in the late 1940s.

Governing bodies

International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing acts as the International Federation for the sport which is coordinated by the IPC Alpine Skiing Technical Committee. In the United States, alpine skiing is governed by U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing, which is a part of the United States Olympic Committee.

Able-bodied rules, modified

The rules for Paralympic alpine skiing are modeled after the rules used by the International Ski Federation, which governs able-bodied skiing, including at the Olympic Winter Games. The ISF rules are modified by the IPC Sports Committee to accommodate athletes with physical disabilities and visual impairments.

First event

The World Disabled Alpine Championships, the first formal international competition for Paralympic alpine skiing, was held in France in 1974. It has evolved into the IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships, the second most prestigious event in Paralympic alpine skiing, behind the Paralympic Winter Games.

From the beginning

The first Paralympic Winter Games took place in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, in 1976, and featured two alpine disciplines - slalom and giant slalom. Downhill was added to the Paralympic program in 1984 in Innsbruck, Austria, and super-G was added in 1994 at Lillehammer, Norway. Super combined debuted at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games while snowboard will debut in Sochi.

Location, location, location

The alpine skiing course in Sochi, Russia, will be located in the "Mountain Cluster" at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort’s Aibga Ridge. The 2013 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Cup Final, held in March, served as the Paralympic test event for the venue.

One day off

Alpine skiing will take place every day of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games with the exception of March 7, which is reserved for the Opening Ceremony and has no competition for any sport, and March 12, which could be used for competition in the event of bad weather. 

Six pack

Six events are on the alpine skiing program for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games: downhill, super-G, super combined, giant slalom, slalom and snowboard, which will make its debut at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games with the debut of the men’s and women’s snowboard cross competition. Outside of the Paralympic Winter Games, team titles are also awarded in alpine skiing.

A sport for everyone

Paralympic alpine skiing competition is open to male and female athletes with physical disabilities and visual impairments including amputations, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries and visual impairments. Athletes compete in three classifications: sitting, standing and visually impaired.

Thirty years of sit-skiing

At the Innsbruck 1984 Paralympic Winter Games, sit-skiing, designed to enable wheelchair users and above the knee amputees to ski, was introduced to the Paralympic program as a demonstration sport. The first medals were awarded at the Nagano 1998 Paralympic Winter Games.

Magnificent on mono-skis

Recently, Team USA has been most successful in sit-skiing events where athletes compete on a mono-ski, which consists of a molded seat mounted on a metal frame with one alpine ski underneath. For additional stability, mono-skiers use outriggers, which resemble a forearm crutch with a short ski on the bottom. Outriggers are comparable to ski poles for able-bodied athletes.

Communication is key

Skiers with a visual impairment, even total blindness, are able to compete in the five alpine skiing events because of communication with a sighted guide. Guides ski directly in front of the visually impaired athlete. The visually impaired athletes are guided through the course using signals, including verbal, to indicate the course to follow. Athletes can also communicate with their guides through a headset that is attached to their helmets. If the visually impaired skier medals, the guide also medals.

Final factor

A results calculation system allows athletes with different impairments to compete against each other. 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.

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 led the team’s medal haul with two gold medals, one silver medal and one bronze medal. Stephani Victor won three medals in Vancouver while Danelle Umstead, with guide Rob Umstead, won two. All of the U.S. alpine skiing medalists from 2010 are contending for a spot on the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team. 

— Traci Hendrix contributed to this report