Skiing – A Popular Winter Sport

Skiing is one of the most popular sports in the world. It is a way of moving over snow and and an activity that millions of people of all ages enjoy. It is also an important source of income for the tourist industry of many nations.

Alpine Skiing

Alpine skiing is skiing down a hill. The word comes from the Alps, the highest mountains in Europe, where downhill skiing started. Beginners slide down gentle slopes and keep the front tips of their skis together. This is called a snow plough. When you get better, you ski parallel and keep your ankles together.

For many years skis were made out of wood. Today modern carvers are made of a combination of different materials. They have metal edges and are broader at the ends so that you can turn more easily. Generally, better skiers use longer skis because they keep steady at higher speeds. Safety bindings help prevent leg injuries. They separate you from the skis when you fall down.

The first boots were made out of leather. Today they have two parts. The outer shell is hard and gives skiers more protection, the inner boot is made up of foam or other materials and keeps your feet warm. Two ski poles are used to help you keep your balance.

Alpine skiing is a very popular form of recreation in many countries. Millions enjoy it in the USA, Canada, many European countries and Japan.

There are thousands of ski areas all over the world. In America, Colorado is the most popular state for skiing with famous resorts like Vail and Aspen. Europe has some of the most luxurious and famous skiing areas including St. Moritz (Switzerland), Val d’Isere (France), Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany) , Kitzbühel and the Arlberg (Austria) and Sestriere (Italy).

Skiing resorts in the Alps
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Nordic Skiing

Nordic skiing includes cross-country skiing and ski jumping. It is called Nordic because cross- country skiing has been a way of getting around in Norway, Sweden and Finland for a long time.

Cross-country skiing is the most popular form of Nordic skiing. Skiers glide over flat or hilly areas, and along forest trails. The skiers move by thrusting their poles into the snow and striding forward. Cross-country skiing is a good exercise and strengthens your overall physical condition. The skis are much lighter and narrower than alpine skis and do not have a metal edge. The poles are also longer than alpine poles because you use more thrust to move forward.

Ski jumping is a form of skiing for athletes. A skier glides down a steep track and flies off a platform at the end. Jumpers are judged on the distance of their jump and on their jumping style.

Cross-country skiing
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The Holmenkollen – a famous ski-jumping hill in Norway
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Freestyle Skiing

Free styling is form of skiing in which skiers perform stunts, unusual or difficult moves. It became popular during the 1960s and 1970s. Today there are three main forms of free styling. In ballet, the skiers ski down a slope and make jumps and spins on their way. In the aerial, skiers leap off a platform and perform spins and flips in the air before landing on the ground again. Mogul skiing is skiing on large bumps as fast as you can.

Other events include skiing in a half-pipe and slopestyle, in which you have to overcome obstacles while skiing down a slope

Skiing and jumping in a halfpipe
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Skiing Competitions

Ever since people started to ski there have been contests to find out who could ski fastest, jump farthest or run fastest on skis. Competitions are organized by the International Ski Federation (FIS). It holds World Championships every two years and skiing events are a very important part of the Olympic Games every four years. In addition, World Cups are held every year.

Alpine Events

The slalom is a race in which a skier skis through about 50 gates. They are placed so that a skier must make many quick turns. The times of two runs are added together. In the giant slalom the gates are farther apart and the turns are smoother.Racers must be able to accelerate very well and should never lose their rhythm.

Super G and downhill are the so-called speed events. The Super G is a mixture between the downhill and the giant slalom. It is the youngest of the Alpine events. The downhill is the most dangerous of all skiing events. A skier descends a course of about 3 to 5 km as fast as possible. They must pass through control gates that are set up to keep them from dangerous areas and to make them slow down. Downhill skiers often reach speeds of up to 130 km an hour. Both Super G and downhill races only have one run.

Downhill event at the 2010 Winter Olympics

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David Ryding (U.K.) on a slalom course

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Nordic Events

Nordic competition consists of four events.

Cross country races are held on courses with hilly and flat parts. They can have various lengths of up to 50 km. In relay races four athletes form a national team and cover the same distance one after the other. The men’s relay is 40 km long, the women’s relay 20 km long.

Jumping competitions take place on hills of various heights. Jumpers slide down a snow covered track, take off at the end, fly through the air and land on a specially built landing hill. You get points for each jump depending on how far you jump. Your flying and landing style are also judged.

In the Nordic combined athletes have to make ski jumps and then race over a cross-country track . They receive points for each event.

In the biathlon an athlete must combine cross-country skiing with shooting skills. Participants ski over a course on which targets are set up at different points. Skiers must shoot at the targets from a standing and lying down position. For every miss you must ski a penalty round. In the biathlon relay four skiers race 7.5 km each.

Standing position at the shooting range in a biathlon World Cup event
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Peter Prevc at a World Cup jumping event in 2016
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Skiing Safety

Safety is an important part of skiing. At the beginning all skiers should take a course and get instructions from qualified skiing instructors. Doing exercise is also important and can reduce the chance of injuries.

Skiers should stay on marked trails or pistes . In most regions they have colored markings that show you if they are easy, medium or difficult. Never try to ski on a slope that is too hard for you!

It is important to watch out for other skiers. Never ski when you are overtired! If you are injured stay where you are and wait for rescue skiers to come. Clothing should be warm, lightweight and wind resistant. Use sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays and wear a helmet to protect yourself from head injuries.

Signs that show slopes and their difficulties
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Helmet and goggles for skiing
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History of Skiing

The oldest skis, probably about 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, were found in Sweden and Finland. Some of the first skis were broad and looked like snowshoes. They were made from the bones of large animals.

Skis were first used for transportation and are still used as a way of travelling in Norway, Sweden and Finland. In the USA, skiers delivered the mail in the snowy mountains of the American Rockies. They were even used in wars during the Middle Ages.

Skiing as a sport developed in the 19th century. In 1843 the first competitions were held in Norway and at the end of the 19th century skiing developed in the Alps. An Austrian, Mathias Zdarsky, known as the father of Alpine skiing, had the idea of using two poles for balance and shortened his skis. After World War II Alpine skiing started to boom in the Alps because more and more lifts were built. Although cross-country skiing developed earlier, Alpine skiing became more popular.

Display of old skis at the Holmenkollen Ski Museum in Norway

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Famous Skiers

The Blitz of Kitz won three Olympic gold medals at the 1956 Games at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. Later on he appeared in a few movies and in the 1970s he was the director of the Austrian skiing team.

Toni Sailer (AUT)

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As one of France’s greatest skiers he won all three gold medals at the Olympic Games of 1968 in Grenoble. Later on he played in a few TV commercials and helped organize the Olympic Games in Albertville , France in 1992.

Jean Claude Killy (FRA)

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The Swede is regarded as the best slalom and giant slalom skier of all times. He won 86 World Cup races, more than any other skier. He won two Olympic gold medals and two World Championships.

Ingemar Stenmark (SWE)

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The Norwegian athlete dominated cross country skiing in the 1990s. He won 12 Olympic medals, 8 of them in gold. In his youth he was a good ski jumper but later on concentrated on cross country skiing.

Bjørn Dæhli (NOR)

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The Finnish ski jumper is considered to be the best ever in that sport. In the 1980s he won four Olympic gold medals and five World Championships .

After retirement Nykänen had personal problems, including a few divorces and alcohol abuse.

Matti Nykänen (FIN)

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The Norwegian has the nickname “King of Biathlon”. He is the most successful biathlon athlete of all times. From the start of his career in the early 1990s until his retirement in 2018 Bjørndahlen won 13 Olympic medals and a total of 45 medals at World Championships.

Ole Einar Bjørndahlen(NOR)

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The American Lindsey Vonn is one of the most successful female skiers of all times. She won a total of 82 World Cup races, most of them in the downhill and super-G events. Vonn is one of a handful of women who won World Cup races in all five alpine events.

She participated in 4 Olympic Games and won the gold medal in the women’s downhill at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Lindsey Vonn (USA)

Image:Stefan Brending

Marit Bjørgen is the most successful female cross-country skier of all times. In a career spanning almost two decades, Bjørgen won 114 individual World Cup races. She won a total of 15 Olympic medals, five of them at the 2018 Pyeongchang games

Marit Bjørgen (NOR)

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Marcel Hirscher is one of the most successful alpine skiers of the 21st century. Between 2012 and 2019 he won the overall World Cup a record 8 times in a row. He also won 67 World Cup races, most of them in his best events, the slalom and giant slalom.

Towards the end of his career, the Austrian skier won two gold medals at the 2018 in PyeongChang

Marcel Hirscher (AUT)

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Writing Tasks

Use the mind map below to write a summary of skiing.

What do you think about the following statements. Choose a few and write about them.

  • Skiing has become an expensive sport.
  • Professional skiers earn too much money.
  • Cross-country skiing is healthier than alpine skiing.
  • A lot of skiers ski too fast and often hurt others.
  • There should be a skiing police on the slopes.
  • Ski jumping is too dangerous and should be forbidden.


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