This is not one for the faint-hearted, in this post, we’ll delve into detail on exactly what super-G skiing is and the specifics.
To answer the question briefly and quickly, Super-G skiing is a speed-oriented discipline in alpine ski racing. Also known as super giant slalom, super-G combines high speed with technical and precise turning. In this event skiers race around widely-spaced gates that give room for massive carving turns and high speeds. Super-G is the most recently-developed alpine ski discipline and bridges the gap between giant slalom and downhill races.
History and Evolution of Super-G Skiing
In order to understand the question, ‘what is Super-G skiing,’ lets go back in time a bit. The first alpine ski racing disciplines were slalom and downhill skiing. Both events were introduced for the first alpine skiing world championship in 1931. These two events represented opposite ends of the spectrum of alpine skiing, with slalom skiing focusing on technique and downhill skiing focusing on speed.
Over time other alpine ski disciplines emerged to bridge the gap between downhill and slalom. The giant slalom was introduced to the world championship in 1950 and to the Winter Olympics in 1952.
Super-G skiing was the last alpine ski racing discipline to be recognized. The first worldwide super-G competition was at the world championship in 1987. This event then appeared in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Canada.
Comparing Super-G Skiing to Other Alpine Ski Disciplines
The easiest way to understand super-G skiing is to break down the full lineup of alpine ski race events and how they differ. There are four main alpine ski disciplines: slalom, giant slalom, super-G, and downhill. There are two additional events that incorporate the elements of the four main disciplines in one-on-one racing and combined all-around competition.
All the alpine ski events take place on a groomed downhill course marked with colored gates. Skiers have to pass around the gates in the correct order and direction and compete for the fastest time.
While the four different disciplines can be hard to distinguish if you don’t know what to look for, each has unique techniques and physical demands on skiers. The alpine ski events are divided broadly into two categories: technical disciplines and speed disciplines. The technical disciplines focus on precise turns through tightly spaced gates. The speed disciplines, as you can guess from the name, emphasize pure speed.
The four disciplines increase in steepness, length of the course, and spacing between gates as you progress from highly technical to high-speed events.
Of course, all types of skiing can have their associated risks, you can learn more about skiing safely.
Slalom (technical discipline)
Slalom is the discipline with the most emphasis on technique over speed, though skiers typically reach speeds above 60 kph (38 mph). In slalom skiing, gates are set very close together, requiring tight, quick, and precise turns.
In competition, skiers race twice on the same day, and their times are added together.
Giant Slalom (technical discipline)
Giant slalom is similar to slalom skiing, but gates are spaced farther apart and skiers reach greater speeds, often above 80 kph (50 mph). This is the fastest of the technical disciplines.
Super-G (speed discipline)
While super-g skiing is considered a speed discipline, it still requires precise turning around gates on the course. The gates are spaced much farther apart which allows skiers to reach even higher speeds. Super-G skiers often ski faster than 100 kph (60 mph). Please digest that for a second, that is mind-blowingly fast!
Another difference between super-G and the other alpine events is that competitors are not allowed any practice runs or multiple trials on the course. Before racing, the skiers may walk the course on race morning to inspect the slope, gate placement, and snow quality and must remember this information for their run. You can learn more about Super-G on Wikipedia so in my eyes if your question is; Which is harder super G or downhill? I would say Super-G skiing is harder all day long.
Downhill (speed discipline)
Downhill skiing falls at the far end of the spectrum of alpine skiing disciplines. These courses are the steepest and the longest. Gates are placed on downhill courses, but they are widely spaced and serve mainly to mark the boundaries of the course. The idea is that there are no obstacles preventing skiers from reaching maximum speed.
Olympic downhill skiers are often faster than 130 kph (80 mph). The fastest time in a downhill ski event was over 160 kph (100 mph), achieved in 2013 by French skier Johan Clarey.
Downhill racers only have one chance to get their best time, but they are allowed multiple practice runs before racing.
Combined and Parallel Events
In addition to the four primary disciplines, Olympic alpine skiing includes two more events that incorporate elements of the disciplines in unique ways. These are mixed parallel racing and combined skiing.
In the mixed parallel skiing event, two skiers race head-to-head on identical slalom courses set parallel to each other.
The combined skiing event requires competitors to compete first in a downhill and then a slalom race in the same day to test both technical and speed capability.
Technique and Equipment of Super-G Skiing
The technique is critical in super-G skiing, especially since racers only get one chance in the competition. This requires the skier to be able to visualize the course ahead and plan their turns perfectly to follow the optimal path and maintain speed.
Super-G skiers use a technique called carving, where they learn the razor-sharp edges of their skis into the snow and allow the curvature of the skis themselves to make huge sweeping turns. Because this discipline emphasizes downhill speed, super-G skiers are usually stronger and heavier than technique-focused slalom and giant slalom skiers. Significant strength is required to maintain perfect carving turns.
The equipment for super-G is also different from the technical events. Super-G skiers favor significantly longer skis. Longer skis are less maneuverable than smaller lightweight skis, but the long edge is perfect for carving those huge turns and finding stability at high speed.
Super-G is often considered the most dangerous of the alpine ski racing disciplines. Though speeds are lower than in downhill races, the technical turns required mean a skier is more likely to lose control than going straight down the middle of a course.
Key Points of Super-G Skiing
- Introduced to the alpine skiing world championship in 1987, super-G was the last of the four main alpine ski race disciplines.
- Super-G sits between giant slalom and downhill skiing in terms of course length, steepness, spacing between gates, and speed.
- Skiers competing in super-G events get no practice runs and only one chance to inspect the course. They are required to ski on memory.
- Super-G skiers need to have both incredible strengths, for carving at great speeds, and dialed-in technique, to make wide turns that are still precise around the course.