When I started this site, I mentioned that I grew up speed skiing. I eventually realized that my speeds actually weren’t all that impressive, and that there were peers and athletes who were way, way faster than I was. What I didn’t realize, however, is that speed skiing is actually its own sport. I knew that speed skiers existed and knew that it was different from slalom, but wow, this is a revelation.
So, here’s what I now know. Speed skiing involves downhill/alpine skiing, but instead of making turns (as one might in slalom), the athlete skis in a straight line. The sport is timed over a fixed stretch of the slope. According to my research, speed skiing date back to the late 1800s, when skiing as a sport was really picking up steam. The fastest run at that point was performed by Tommy Todd and was reported to be 87 miles per hour. We’ve come a long way, I suppose. In a previous post, I mentioned that the record has just been broken—the current fast speed is around 157 mph. That’s just unbelievable.
Speed skiing is practiced on its own specially-designed courses, and they’re nearly all one kilometer long. Here’s the reason I never put two and two together: there are only thirty of these courses worldwide, and many of them exist at high altitudes to minimize air resistance. I thought I was speed skiing by bombing down slopes, but in fact, you have to be on a specialized course to really do the damn thing.
Here’s how the courses play out: the first 300-400m is used to gain speed, and the top speed is measured in the next 100m. Then, the last half of the course is used to stop. If I were flying down a mountain at almost 160 mph, I sure as hell would want enough space to stop.
Speed skiers even use different equipment. They wear dense foam fairings on the lower legs and aerodynamic helmets to help increase streamlining. Ski suits are made of latex and include just minimal back protection. Speed skis must be 94 inches long at a maximum of 3.9 inches wide. Ski poles are bent to shape around the body and must be a minimum of 3 feet and 3 inches long.
I hope I’m not the only one to not realize this. Regardless, the info is pretty interesting. I’d like to take a whack at speed skiing myself one day.