Watch even a few minutes of downhill skiing, and it’s probably no surprise that the downhill is the fastest of the Olympic downhill skiing events. In this discipline, athletes try to achieve the fastest time possible by rolling down a steep slope in a stowed position, avoiding gates, risers and the stiff mountain terrain. Sounds pretty impressive, right? I thought so too – and then I learned how fast these speed demons actually fly.
Alpine skiers reach speeds of around 80 mph, according to the official Olympics website, although they can cover up to 100 mph depending on the route. However, they don’t always maintain this speed throughout the race. Similar to other alpine skiing events, the turns and even the condition of the slope can affect a skier’s momentum. Despite all this, downhill remains the fastest skiing discipline. For reference, athletes who compete in giant slalom typically reach speeds of around 50 mph, while slalom skiers reach around 43 mph.
While the descent is perhaps one of the most basic courses in alpine skiing, it is also one of the most dangerous. Elevators (or small hills) and elevation gain on the course help increase an athlete’s speed. However, turning too early or too fast – or worse, losing your balance – can cost a skier a podium spot or, in more serious cases, lead to injury. To avoid the latter, alpine skiers try to stay in a stowed position throughout their race. This not only helps with balance, but also makes them more aerodynamic, increasing their speed.
The level of athleticism and speed displayed in alpine skiing still makes it one of the most anticipated events of the Winter Games. Be sure to tune in when the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games begin on Friday, February 4.