Basics of Alpine Skiing

Robert S. Castellini
3 min readAug 25, 2022

Skiing is a popular sport and pastime in many countries. There are different types of skiing, including cross-country skiing and Alpine skiing. Cross-country skiing often occurs on flatter surfaces, well-maintained trails, or backcountry areas. Alpine skiing, also known as downhill skiing, is usually much more fast-paced and takes place on steeper slopes.

Most alpine skiers enjoy ski resorts with maintained pistes. A piste is a marked path for skiing and snowboarding, and the snow is often packed down for easier maneuvers. Advanced skiers may also enjoy backcountry Alpine skiing in unmarked areas, which can be more dangerous.

Ski resorts rate pistes at various grades to help skiers understand the difficulty of each track. The grade mostly refers to the steepness of a trail. Signs help skiers know the rating of each trail by using colored symbols. A green circle indicates the trail is good for beginners, and the steepness should be only up to a 25 percent grade. A blue square indicates an intermediate slope between 25 and 40 percent.

The most difficult trails are marked with a black diamond with over 40 percent grade. Black diamonds also have other difficulty factors that can vary widely, such as sharpness of turns, trail width, and roughness of the terrain. Few resorts have double black diamonds, deemed extremely difficult and safe only for true experts.

Pistes are graded independently by each resort, and no national or international standard for difficulty exists. This means each track is only compared to other slopes within the same resort. While grades may be similar at other resorts, skiers should be careful not to assume grades are the same difficulty between multiple resorts.

Alpine skiing requires specific equipment and an understanding of slope structure. Modern alpine skis are designed to allow sharp turns, and there are different variants of skis for each course type. Powder skis are best for fresh snow as they are wider throughout the entire length of the ski. This helps displace the skier’s weight, keeping the ski from sinking into fresh snow. All-mountain skis are the most popular type and are used at most resorts. They work well in fresh snow as well as on groomed tracks.

Each ski type uses bindings to connect the boot to the ski. The binding keeps the boot attached unless the skier falls. A twisting motion when falling allows the ski to detach, preventing injury from twisting the foot or leg.

Ski boots are another important accessory, as they help the skier control the ski through the binding. Ski boots are tall and support the skier’s ankles during turns. Newer boots have an inner liner and an outer shell. The inner part is cushioned and helps keep the foot warm and comfortable. The outer shell is made of durable plastic and has buckles on the outside. Some have straps to help tighten the boot and support the ankle.

Other necessary equipment includes the appropriate protective gear. A solid helmet made of plastic or resin can help prevent head injuries and keep the skier warm. Goggles are also helpful to keep snow out of the skier’s face, and tinted goggles can help reduce glare from the sun. Skiers also need poles to help with balance and direction changes.