Definitions

downhiller

Downhill

[adv., adj. doun-hil; n. doun-hil]
The downhill is an alpine skiing discipline. The rules for the downhill were originally developed by Sir Arnold Lunn for the 1921 British National Ski Championships.

"Downhill skiing" is also commonly a term synonymous with "alpine skiing" to denote the sport and recreational activity of alpine skiing in general.

More generally, the term may be used in any sport involving the speedy descent of a hillside. Examples include snowboarding, mountain biking, different skateboarding variants, such as street luge and longboarding, freebording and mountain boarding and even municycling.

The "downhill" discipline involves the highest speeds and therefore the greatest risks of all the alpine events. Racers on a typical international-level course will exceed speeds of 130 kilometers per hour (80 mph) and some courses, such as the famous Hahnenkamm course in Kitzbühel, Austria, speeds of up to 150 kilometers per hour (93 mph) in certain sections are expected. Competing in the downhill event requires of racers considerable strength and technical expertise.

The course

A typical downhill course begins at or near the top of the mountain on a piste that is closed off to the public and groomed specially for the race. Water or salt are often spread throughout the course to ensure that it gets icy, which inhibits dangerous rutting of the course, but also increases speed. Gates (which are always the same color in downhill, in contrast to the other alpine skiing disciplines) are spaced great distances apart, but not out of sight from each other. The courses in the world's most famous ski areas are well-established and do not change much from year to year.

The course is designed to challenge the best skiers in a variety of tasks: skiing at high speeds over ice, through difficult turns, extreme steeps, flats, and huge airs(jumps). A good course will have all these elements in it, as well as some jumps intended to challenge matters and thrill both the racer and the spectators.

Equipment

Equipment for the downhill is a little bit different from the lower-speed alpine events. Skis are 30% longer than those used in slalom, to provide added stability at high speed and often have rounded, low-profile tips rather than pointed tips. Ski poles are bent so as to curve around the body as the racer stays in a "tuck position" and may have aerodynamic, cone-shaped baskets. As in other alpine disciplines, downhill racers wear skin-tight suits to minimize drag, and helmets are mandatory.

In an attempt to increase safety, the 2003-2004 season saw the FIS increased the minimum sidecut radius for downhill skis to 45 meters (from 40 m) and impose minimum ski lengths for the first time: 215 cm for men and 210 cm for women.

Races

In all forms of downhill, both at a local youth-level as well as the higher FIS international level, racers are allowed extensive preparation for the race, which includes daily course inspection and discussion with their coaches and teammates as well as several practice runs before the actual race. Racers do not make any unnecessary turns while on the course, and try to do everything they can to maintain the most aerodynamic position while negotiating turns and jumps.

Unlike slalom and giant slalom, where racers have two combined times, in the downhill, the race is a single "run." Times are typically between 1:30 (1 minute, 30 seconds) and 2:30 for World Cup courses and must be over 1 minute in length to meet international minimum standards. Tenths and hundreths of seconds count: World Cup races and Olympic medals have sometimes been decided by as little as one or two one-hundreths of a second, and ties are not unheard of.

Risks

Safety netting and padding are placed in worrisome areas where race officials anticipate crashes. Despite these safety precautions, the ski racing community is well aware of the inherent risks in downhill skiing, for it is possible for racers to suffer serious injury or death while practicing or competing. Two downhill-related deaths on the World Cup in recent years were those of Austrian Ulrike Maier in 1994 and Frenchwoman Régine Cavagnoud in 2001. Also in 2001, Swiss downhiller Silvano Beltrametti was paralyzed in a high-speed crash.

See also

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