Freestyling and Alpine Shredding—Different Types of Skiing Explained

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Skiing is possibly the most popular sport in winter. If you pay attention to skiing in games like the winter Olympics, you may notice various types of events listed. For example, skiing events may be known as halfpipe, alpine, or freestyle. What does all this mean?

These refer to different types, or styles, of skiing. Considering that the sport has been popular for hundreds of years, many variations of skiing have popped up over the years. The disciplines can differ based on the course of the path and whether skiers are concentrating on achieving a high speed or carrying out stunts.

If you are confused about all the subcategories of skiing, this brief guide will provide an explanation. Though there are many genres of skiing, only a handful are officially recognized by sporting event bodies like the Olympic organization. Here are the most common variations of skiing that you can consider trying out yourself:

Alpine or Downhill Skiing

When people talk about skiing, they often refer to alpine or going downhill, possibly the most common form of the sport. When you are at ski resorts, you are most likely to shred downhill alpine style. As the name suggests, this type of skiing is strongly associated with the alpine slopes. It refers to athletes racing down steep slopes while navigating natural obstacles.

Alpine skiing is defined by speed. Unlike most other types of skiing, it’s not an event judged by the acrobatic stunts of the athletes. There are several disciplines under alpine skiing newbies that you should know about. The straight up downhill skiing refers to speeding and racing down a hill. Then there are slalom, giant slalom, and super-G events that are usually held at the Olympics.

With downhill skiing, racers can reach speeds as high as 90 mph when going through gates. With Super-G events, there are more gates down the slope, making the path more challenging. More gates mean more turns that cause the skier to slow down.

In slalom, a number of gates are placed together, which means athletes have to zigzag quite a bit. In giant slalom, the gates are closer together, creating a more challenging format of slalom. Nowadays there are also combined events, where athletes go down a single path with slalom-style gates and classic alpine speeding slopes.

Alpine skiers require remarkable strength and control to speed down slopes. The sport is similar to sprinting events, where runners have to maintain speed. Alpine skiing is highly exciting and is one of the best ways to enjoy the sport.

Telemark Skiing

Telemark skiing is very similar to alpine skiing. It is not categorized under alpine because it requires a different set of equipment. In telemark skiing, athletes race to the base of a mountain, alpine style. However, they do so with skis that don’t attach to the heel of the skier’s boot. Telemark skiers enjoy more flexibility as a result.

This type of skiing incorporates elements of both freestyle and alpine skiing. It’s speedy going downhill, but it’s also acrobatic, similar to freestyle skiing discussed below.

Freestyle Skiing

Freestyle skiing is often described as a “snow circus.” Unlike the more rigid disciplines of the sport, such as alpine skiing, freestyling allows athletes to combine moves. You might have seen famous freestylers do leaps off ramps and backflips, not because the course requires it, but for aesthetic purposes. Freestyle skiing is just as artistic as it is pragmatic, and that’s why this sport has legions of fans. Freestyle skiing often ranks as one of the most popular events at the Winter Olympic Games.

Freestyle skiing is just “cool,” in the words of McRae Williams, a world champion and an Olympian in this category. The sport is exciting to engage in as it is to watch from the sidelines. If you are a particularly adventurous skier with a flair for showmanship, then freestyle skiing may just be for you.

There are actually a number of different subcategories under freestyle skiing. As of 2018, there are five “disciplines” formally recognized under this category. These are halfpipe, ski cross, ski slopestyle,aerials, and moguls. Olympic athletes specialize in these categories.

The differences in the disciplines depend on the type of slope the athletes navigate. Halfpipe freestyle skiing refers to racing through a “half pipe” style slope made in the snow. Athletes navigate a curved path by doing breathtaking turns and thrilling jumps. It is in this event that you are most likely to see flying jumps. Halfpipe skiing is the most exciting to watch and perform if you have the stomach for it.

Though halfpipe looks like it requires a lot of work, the most difficult freestyle skiing style is actually moguls. To become a moguls expert, you would need great knees. It requires part natural talent and part hard work. Moghuls skiers do a lot of backflips and sharp twists, so you will need a strong pair of legs.

Along with moguls, another tough freestyle skiing discipline is the slopestyle. It’s a style that the most experienced players engage in due to the degree of difficulty.

Ski cross is a special style where four athletes participate in a game that features acrobatics like jumps and rollers. It’s fun to watch but is rather aggressive to play. At the Olympics, players may push and shove each other during the event. Ski cross can be compared to Alpine racing because of the speed, but the athletes do more things to make the event look fun.

If you are impressed by jumps and leaps in skiing, then your calling might be aerials. These skiers jump high in the air, sometimes over 50 feet, and perform various impressive flips. Aerial skiers are often simultaneously gymnasts. So it would help if you had a background in gymanstics when engaging in this style.

To become a freestyle skier, you will need to have acrobatic leanings and a whole lot of guts. All freestyle disciplines involve speeding and flying over steep slopes, so it’s definitely not the sport for people afraid of heights. You would also need top-notch equipment to become a freestyle skier because of all the leaping, spinning, and twisting you will be doing.

Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country is the easiest type of skiing that even amateurs can engage in. It’s similar to downhill skiing but is not as focused on speed and sharp turns. Rather, cross-country mixes downhill with the acrobatics you may see in freestyle skiing.

Cross-country is also the oldest type of skiing. When the Norwegians first started skiing, they were cross-country skiers. It was once a mode of transportation to get through heavy piles of snow. Throughout the ages, cross-country skiing has evolved into various styles. However, you need to be in good physical condition to undertake this sport.

This particular type of skiing also requires getting the right gear and the right type of ski. You would need lightweight skis for this event, unlike the harder type often used in downhill skiing. You will also need a great pair of skiing shoes, as cross-country athletes often have to navigate a variety of terrain, unlike other skiers. Cross-country skiers also require additional gear when going on trips, such as avalanche safety and climber skins.

Off-Piste Skiing

Off-piste skiing is not for amateurs. This form of skiing involves navigating unprepared patches of snow. As a result, it can be quite dangerous. Only the most experienced skiers engage in off-piste. It’s similar to diving in a sense, where you need both talent and hard work to succeed.

You may also know off-piste skiing as backcountry skiing because of the tendency of these skiiers to go off the paved trail. Even with the dangers involved, off-piste skiing can be very rewarding. But you should really know what you are signing up for as this is not a newbie sport. You will first have to practice and perfect your downhill or freestyle skiing before delving into off-piste skiing.

Adaptive Skiing

Adaptive skiing is accessible skiing. It’s a unique subcategory under skiing that allows disabled athletes to participate in the sport. Adaptive skiers use special equipment to engage in the game. So if you have a physical disability, you won’t need to rule out skiing completely. You may be able to try it with gear like sit skis and mono-skis. Adaptive skiing can be as competitive as regular skiing. But mostly, it’s a lot of fun.

The next time you watch the sport, you would have a better understanding of what all the categories are. If you are thinking of taking up skiing yourself, consider which category you want to participate in based on the above information. To find out which skiing style suits you, the best option is to ask an expert.

If you are naturally athletic or have a background in gymnastics, then it might be easier to pick the type of skiing you want to do. The categories don’t differ greatly as you can see. It largely depends on what your body is capable of doing on the snow.

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