As skin-tight speed suits attest, it’s not how good you look but how fast you go that wins you Olympic medals in the alpine disciplines. But in freestyle, style counts too.
Moguls Moguls competition, an Olympic event since 1992 (Albertville), rewards technical execution, artistic expression and speed. Competitors pinball down a steep bump field that’s interrupted by two kickers, one near the top and one near the bottom. Five judges award points for precise turns—knees together, skis in constant contact with the snow, shoulders parallel to the finish line—and two judges score the aerial maneuvers for difficulty, amplitude, execution and landing.
Downhill–with its autobahn speeds and spectacular crashes—may be the mountain's riskiest event, but the turny, precise technical courses demand a level of exactitude unmatched in the Winter Olympic arena.
Giant Slalom The Austrians—perennially dominant across the alpine field—prize the GS above all and consider it to be the skier’s event. It requires deft precision and measured abandon, making it, arguably, the most challenging discipline to master. Thank goodness for malleable polycarbonate gate poles, which give a little when racers hit them. Even at relatively slow GS speeds, forces can exceed 75 gs—roughly equivalent to a full-speed helmet-to-helmet collision in football—as racers brush gates aside with their forearms and shoulders.
It’s only when things go wrong that you get a sense of how absurdly dangerous alpine racing’s speed events are.
Downhill Viewed in the two dimensions of television, downhill looks deceptively tame. No camera angle really captures the rate at which these speed freaks travel, the steepness of the terrain, the forces they withstand or the heights at which they soar when speed and terrain conspire to spit them into the void. Should a skier make one tiny error of line or balance, one momentary loss of vision or tactical miscue and, in an instant, Olympic dreams crash and burn.
More than 1,000 bales of straw and 300 truckloads of snow keep Olympic halfpipe dreams alive in Mother Nature's absence.
British Columbia’s snow-starved Cypress Mountain, just outside Vancouver, is still set to host the Olympic snowboarding and freestyle events starting February 13 despite a dearth of natural snow. Dump trucks have hauled more than 300 truckloads of snow from neighboring Mount Strachan to Black Mountain where competition will take place. In lieu of snow, workers have built halfpipes and other ski cross and snowboard cross course features from 1,065 bales of straw.