Alpine skiing — also known as downhill skiing — is a race between skiers, the mountain and the clock. While the length of the course, number of turns and format vary by event, athletes must generally navigate a series of alternating red and blue gates down the hill. The fastest one through the course wins.The sport debuted at the 1936 Olympics with only two events (men’s and women’s combined). It has since grown to 11, including a team event that’s new in Pyeongchang. Austria has long dominated Alpine skiing, winning almost twice as many Olympic medals (114) as the next closest country (Switzerland with 59). The Americans are fourth in the medal count (44) and have been particularly strong in recent Games. The last time the United States went home without at least one Alpine medal was at the 1988 Calgary Olympics.There are 11 Alpine events. Men and women will each compete in five disciplines (slalom, giant slalom, super-G, downhill and Alpine combined), and there will also be a team event, which is new to the Olympics.Downhill (DH) is the fastest discipline, with gates spaced far apart. As a result, there are fewer turns, and speeds can top 90 mph. Racers only get one run.While super-G (SG) is still a speed event, there are more gates, which are placed closer together. That gives the course more turns but also lowers top-speeds a bit. As in downhill, racers only get one run.Giant slalom (GS) has many more gates, spaced significantly closer together and swinging across the hill. It is considered a technical event (as is slalom). Racers get two runs, with the top 30 finishers after the first run running in reverse order in the second (30th place goes first; first place goes 30th) to help minimize the advantage of skiing early. The fastest total time wins.In slalom (SL), the gates are put even closer together, with athletes zigzagging back and forth. The two-run format is the same as in giant slalom.Alpine Combined (AC) consists of one downhill run and one slalom run. The fastest total time wins. At previous Games, the event has been called the “super combined,” and it is meant to test versatility.Sixteen nations will compete in the team event, each with four racers (two men, two women and up to two reserves). Skiers race on parallel (side-by-side) slalom courses, head-to-head.The Alpine events will be held in the Taebaek mountains, along the eastern edge of the Korean Peninsula. Downhill, super-G and the Alpine combined slalom portion will be held at the Jeongseon Alpine Center . Slalom, giant slalom and the team events will be held at the Yongpyong Alpine Center. Course details vary by event.Unlike in Sochi four years ago, Pyeongchang seems to have plenty of snow. But preparing the courses still takes meticulous attention to detail. This year, that responsibility falls to a cattle rancher from Wyoming named Tom Johnson, who also happens to be one of the world’s leading authorities on snow surfaces. “You got to build a course that’s durable. You got to guarantee the product,” he told The Post. “If it falls apart, then they hate you. But they seem to hate you less if it’s icy.”Yes. There are number of ways to be disqualified. If you miss or skip a gate (the tips of the skis and the boots must go through) but keep going, you’ll be disqualified. Losing a ski can lead to disqualification as well (depending on where on the course it happens). After the race, a skier’s equipment could also fail a series of precise technical checks.The U.S. alpine team, led by Olympic gold-medalists Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety, has a good chance of winning multiple medals in Pyeongchang.
Four years ago in Sochi, Shiffrin became the youngest Olympic slalom champion at 18. She’s continued to dominate the discipline since, as well as strengthen her giant slalom skills. She’s even expanded into the speed disciplines on occasion. Shiffrin is the clear favorite for gold in slalom, a strong contender in giant slalom and has a chance at picking up a combined medal as well.I think (Shiffrin is) maybe the best ski racer I’ve ever seen — male or female,” five-time Olympian Bode Miller told Reuters. “She’s so balanced, dynamic, intense and focused. So for me, I think she’s got a chance in any event she skis in.Vonn is the winningest female Alpine skier ever. And, by most standards, her two Olympic medals (one gold, one bronze) would be enough. But she’s hungry for more. Vonn missed the Sochi Games because of injuries, which have continued to hamper her. She’s coming back, though, and has won four World Cup races this season, including the final two before Pyeongchang. She should compete for medals in the speed events, and likely the combined as well.Going into the Sochi Olympics, Ligety was known as “Mr. GS” and he delivered, winning his second Olympic gold. (He also won the 2006 combined.) But Ligety’s giant slalom dominance has waned in recent years, as he has been plagued by a hip injury. Still, he should be in contention for a giant slalom medal.Outside of the stars, the U.S. women’s speed team is strong and could land someone else at least close to the podium. Andrew Weibrecht tends to rise to the Olympic occasion for the men: Despite often underwhelming regular season finishes, he has won two Olympic super-G medals (bronze in 2010 and silver in 2014).The Americans have plenty of competition, especially on the men’s side. Austrian Marcel Hirscher is arguably the best male skier in a generation, and he’s the favorite in both tech events (but Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen will put up a challenge). Watch out for the Norwegian men in the speed event; A ksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud both sport multiple Olympic medals.The competition on the women’s side is much less predictable. Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany has been skiing fast, and Switzerland’s Lara Gut is always a threat. But with many women retiring since Sochi (including Slovenia’s Tina Maze, who won two gold medals there), the field is relatively wide open.Miller (five Olympics, six medals) and Mancuso (four Olympics, four medals) have been Olympic stalwarts for years. In recent months, however, they’ve retired. But both still will be in Pyeongchang — as NBC commentators.How you feel about alpine skiing depends a lot on where you grew up. For Austrians, it’s basically the national sport, while most Australians could care less. In most parts of Europe, where I grew up and belonged to youth ski-racing teams, a ski holiday is much more accessible than in the US, both in terms of travel and cost.But I’m here to convince you that regardless of whether you live in a climate where you can pop on your skis as soon as you leave the house, or whether water skis would be more appropriate, alpine skiing is the most thrilling sport to watch during the Winter Olympics. Where there’s speed, beautiful nature, and unpredictability, there has to be fun, right?During the PyeongChang winter games, we will see five disciplines—often called events—for men and women, and one team competition. The easiest way to understand the differences is by the distance between the gates—the alternating red and blue plastic poles that are drilled into the snow that the racers ski around.First, there’s slalom, where the course is the shortest, as are the skis. The gates are so close that the skiers have to make incredibly quick, tight turns. The goal is to ski down in as direct of a line as possible, while making sure you go through every gate. The racers minimize the path their skis take by slapping the gates down with their shins and hands (making the coolest “thwap” sound ever), “blocking” them out of the way.Slalom can be slightly confusing, because the gates are made out of single poles, and are set up in different formations that change up the rhythm of the course. But the rapid turns and the technical proficiency the skiers need to navigate the course make it very exciting to watch.
The next one up is the giant slalom, perhaps the most well known out of the four basic events. The gates are made out of two sets of poles that are joined by flags. You have to ski between two sets of one color, trying to make your path down the hill efficiently in medium-length, dynamic turns.For both the slalom and the giant slalom, the racers have two runs, and the times are added up. The start order in the first run is determined by a combination of a draw and your standing in World Cup rankings. For the second, the top 30 skiers start in reverse order (so the 30th person goes first) to even out their chances. The later on you start, the worse your course conditions will be, sometimes with gnarly ruts, holes and bumps. (Side note: the World Cup is alpine skiing’s race circuit. Skiers compete in races all season, collecting points which at the end determine the best racers of the year.The following two events are the super G and the downhill, where you get only one shot. The Super-G is a middle ground between the giant slalom and the downhill, where you’re also speeding to get to the bottom, but where the turns are tighter. The downhill, often called the most prestigious event in alpine skiing, has the fewest turns on the longest distance, and the highest vertical drop, which means you can go very, very fast.The first two disciplines are so-called “technical” disciplines, while the latter two are “speed” disciplines. Skiers usually specialize in either the first or the second category, often choosing to compete in only the events that they excel in. The final discipline, the super combined, tests their versatility, because you have to use two vastly different skill-sets: your slalom dynamism, and your downhill endurance for one run in each event. The last discipline is a national mixed-team event, introduced during these Olympics for the first time. It’s a fun format: two giant slaloms are set up next to each other, and skiers of the same gender from two teams race to the bottom at the same time. Winners of each heat go on to the next round.Vonn has 81 World Cup victories in her career, making her the “winningest” woman in history, and on track to beating the all-time record of the legendary Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who ended his career with 86 wins. She has only two Olympic medals, having been eliminated from the games by injuries twice—so she has a lot to fight for. Vonn’s longstanding goal has been to compete against men in the World Cup, and skiing authorities are slowly warming up to the idea.But then we have Mikaela Shiffrin, Vonn’s Colorado neighbor, whose Olympic debut at 18 in Sochi four years ago gave her a gold medal in the slalom. Unstoppable in that event, and excellent in giant slalom, Shiffrin has been recently beating her rivals in the speed disciplines as well, taking two podiums in the downhill earlier this season. At 22, she already has 41 World Cup victories. Shiffrin is known to be relentless in her training, her concentration and motivation legendary.Among the men, Marcel Hirscher is a total beast, taking the World Cup title in the overall competition for six seasons in a row. The giant-slalom rivalry should be fascinating to watch: Hirscher, the current dominant force in the discipline, will be beating off several adversaries, including the American Ted Ligety, so good at giant slalom that he was once nicknamed “Mr. GS”, but who has been recovering from injuries. The Norwegian team of the “Attacking Vikings” is very fun to follow, with the giant Axel Lund Svindal racing his friend, Kjetil Jansrud, in the downhill, along with a slew of other strong competitors, including several mighty Austrians.What to watch for in alpine skiingPart of the thrill of watching alpine skiing is just how close these athletes come to each other while they race. When my favorites are about to cross the finish line, I feel myself making that last push along with them. (Actually, I’m also known to be the weirdo who sways along with their turns on the course as well.In a run that lasts more than one minute, the difference can be just a hundredth of a second. In fact, it’s almost unusual—except for Mikaela Shiffrin— for a skier to beat her closest rivals by seconds. While you’re watching, you’ll see the time measured at several points during the course, allowing viewers to compare the skier on screen to the fastest current time. In the speed disciplines, you’ll also be able to see just how fast these guys and gals are going: speeds of upwards of 80 miles per hour (130 km) are the norm. That’s much faster than the speed limit for cars on many US highways. And they are not skiing on the same surface as you were during your last weekend trip to the mountains. The slopes are specially hardened for races, making the surface akin to ice rather than snow (also, they are much steeper than they appear on TV).The skiers will have different strategies for the race. They have to think about what line of turn to take down the mountain, when to take the “tuck” position, curling up into a tight, aerodynamic ball, and when to let the skis just glide. One turn that’s taken too late, one miss-timed tuck can determine the race.They will also have different skiing styles: while often you’ll see that those who seem more composed and steady in their rhythm do better, sometimes it’s those with the flailing arms and risky moves that come out on top.Unlike sports like running or weightlifting, there is an ineffable quality to what makes a good skier: beyond endurance and muscles, skills and talent are crucial. World Cup ski racers are fighting around five g-forces per turn, or about 900 pounds of pressure, for up to 90 turns. Olympic champ Bode Miller has been clocked at 12 Gs on certain turns on the course. Those are the kinds of forces fighter-jet pilots experience. In fact, a ski race is like running a 1,000-meter sprint at full speed—three-quarters of the way down the course, an athlete’s lungs and muscles burn. And it it takes a millimeter of a wrong move to have your ski catch an edge or hit a bump, and for you to crash spectacularly and dangerously. Being hurt is part of any skier’s life, with serious injuries like torn ACLs regularly taking out champions for entire seasons. The sport can be deadly. Just this season, two pro racers died while training.Aside for your talent, strategy, guts (and, to a certain extent, size), a number of external elements, including your start number, past injuries or equipment can affect your run. Another huge one is the weather. Already an unpredictable sport, weather adds to the mix that makes skiing so interesting. Falling snow or fog can impede your visibility, but a flat light coming from behind heavy clouds can make you feel like you don’t know the top of the hill from the bottom. Warmer temperatures cause ruts to form faster. There is a myriad of types of snow, far beyond just “wet” and “dry,” that will make your skiing different—slower, faster, requiring a different touch. And the conditions can change in mere seconds.Until South Korea won the right to host the Games in 2011, it was a bare mountain. The course was created from scratch by Bernhard Russi of Switzerland, the 1972 Olympic champion, and is the ninth one he has designed.It is 2,852 metres in length, with a vertical drop of 825 metres, so is much shorter and less steep than some on the World Cup circuit. That means any mistakes will be punished severely, because it will be near-impossible to make up lost ground.Yes, but… The downhill and the super-G — which is also steep but with more turns — are both decided on a single run, and are known as the speed events. The technical events are the giant slalom and slalom, which are both raced over two legs. There is also an Alpine combined event with a downhill and a slalom leg, and a team slalom event.
The Olympic men’s downhill final has been postponed due to high winds on the course forecasted to persist throughout the day, skiing’s international governing body announced. The race will now be held at 11 a.m. local time on Thursday (9 p.m. Wednesday ET). As a result, the men’s Super-G race originally scheduled for Thursday has been moved to Friday. The event was supposed to begin at 9 p.m. ET Saturday (11 a.m. Sunday morning local time). It was to be the first medal awarded in alpine skiing. Matthias Mayer of Austria is the defending gold medalist and Switzerland’s Beat Feuz is the 2017 world champion.Conditions are favorable on the mountain, aside from winds gusting up to 45 mph. Temperatures are expected to remain below freezing in Jeongseon until Tuesday, with warmer daytime highs forecasted later in the week. Temperatures at the top of the mountain should remain below freezing, however. The downhill training run for the men’s alpine combined, scheduled for Monday, was canceled due to the weather forecast. The men’s downhill event was previously scheduled for Sunday morning at 11 a.m. local time, (9 p.m. ET Saturday) in South Korea, at the Jeongseon Alpine Center. The race has been postponed due to wind conditions.
The men’s downhill features the best male speed skiers in the world. The downhill is one of the most anticipated events of any Winter Games. The race is raw power and speed as competitors plummet down a mountain course, sometimes going over 90 miles per hour.Like any great athlete, downhillers make something very tough look fairly easy. When we watch the likes of Beat Feuz of Switzerland or Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal rocket through a nearly two-minute run, we don’t see the tremendous G-forces they’re fighting or the tremendous leg strength needed to drive their ski edges into rock-hard snow, even ice to maintain control.And we certainly don’t see the fear.But for many it’s there.Last weekend in Germany, the snow snake bit American racer Stacey Cook. Hard. Cook figures the crash happened when she was going more than 80 mph. Her skis splayed, she lost control, smashed into protective netting on the side of the course, and then catapulted back onto the course like a rag doll.It was really, really fast, but in a part of the course that stuff like that normally wouldn’t happen,” Cook said, “so it’s kind of unexplainable.Cook was speaking at a press event this week in Pyeongchang, where she’ll compete in her fourth Olympics. The women’s downhill is Feb. 21.Yes, despite the horrific-looking crash, she will compete.I definitely have some extra work for myself trying to get healthy again and back in my ski boots, which will be the most painful thing,” Cook said, adding, “I think once I get in my boots and feel comfortable, the racing will come naturally.Cook was sore and bruised, but she looked fine. By design. She’d worked hard to cover up a black eye from her wipeout.Can you not see it?” she asked a reporter. “This morning a friend sent a glam team to our hotel so I had a professional makeup artist.But to twist an old adage, while Stacey Cook can hide her black eye, she can’t run from the reality of the sport she loves, and fears.I’m definitely scared all the time,” she says. “I think it’s [downhill racing] a really unique women’s sport with the level of danger that comes along with it.Cook has skied since she was 4 years old, and raced since she was 6.[I’ve developed] an ability to handle the fear and also to realize that overcoming fear and overcoming obstacles makes for the best moments possible in life. And you learn that really easily within the sport and you’re able to carry it outside the sport as well.”A big step in the evolution of her “fear management” came in 2010. At the Vancouver Winter Olympics she had another major crash. She was helicoptered off the course with a concussion. It happened in her first training run; when she returned for the next training session, she was so scared she cried in the start gate. Cook got down the mountain, but that night she had an epiphany.I decided the fear was too much and I didn’t want to have that anymore,” she says. “I changed my mindset to believe in the opportunity and not the circumstance of the past. And that switch in my mindset was really key in how I went into that race [the downhill final where she finished 11th ]. And I look back on that moment often.There are probably as many ways to find the nerve, as there are downhillers.
Unlike Cook, fellow American speed skier Laurenne Ross can’t hide the scars of her chosen sport. Battered from a lifetime of downhill injuries, 29-year-old Ross also has had to figure out her relationship to fear.The way I work through fear is actually to work with it,” Ross says. “I try not to get out of fear or overcome fear or dominate fear. I try to embrace it and get to know it and understand why it’s there. Because it’s a basic human instinct that obviously has allowed our [species] to survive.It can be hard sometimes to live in that fear and try to embrace the fear, but I find that it’s a lot more helpful than trying to repress it and have it resurface later.For American men’s downhiller Tommy Biesemeyer, peer pressure helps.Particularly when he’s standing at the start of the legendary, and fearsome, Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuhel, Austria. It’s a nasty, icy plunge with jumps that fling a skier 150 feet through the air.It’s funny,” Biesemeyer says, “like I don’t know if I’d actually go out of the start gate if all the guys that I was competing against didn’t go. Like if I was up there by myself, and had the opportunity to ski it, I think I would pass.But he hasn’t passed. And Biesemeyer calls his first Hahnenkamm a defining moment in his life.I think with something you’re honestly scared of, it’s really important to have a plan,” he says. “In the start gate you’re committed. You’re doing it. And you get to the bottom and you start thinking about how you’re going to go faster [next time].Last month Biesemeyer finished a career-best 16th in Kitzbuhel, a result that’s helped fuel a run to Pyeongchang and his first ever Olympics.
Biesemeyer joined the world’s top speed skiers this week for training runs at the Jeongseon Alpine Center. As has been the case since November of last year, one member of this elite group was missing. Frenchman David Poisson, who finished 7th in the men’s downhill at the 2010 Olympics, died in a training accident in Canada.In the finish area at Jeongseon, French skiers wore fish decals on their helmets — fish in French is “poisson.We think about him every time,” says French downhill racer Adrien Theaux. “He’s one of us.”Poisson’s death, although a rare occurrence, is a reminder of the risk every downhiller takes every time they step into the start gate. And it explains the fear that’s always there, not only with the racers.Her initial response was like, you’re not skiing downhill,” says American Ted Ligety. He’s talking about his wife Mia when she learned about Poisson’s death.Ligety is one of America’s most decorated alpine skiers. He’s won two Olympic gold medals, and has raced in and won many downhills. He’ll compete in the alpine combined event at these Olympics, which consists of slalom and downhill. But he won’t race in this weekend’s main downhill event, and says at age 33, he’s not “chasing a lot of downhill starts” like he was a few years ago.That’s partly because he’s had more success as a technical skier than a speed skier. He’s currently ranked 8th in the world in the Giant Slalom, a race that’s slower than a downhill and has more gates. But Ligety also acknowledges he’s “pretty good at being risk averse,” which, he says, probably has kept him from becoming one of the world’s top downhillers.There are definitely decisions you can make on a course,” says Ligety, “that y’know, not taking a risk on this one turn might cost you a tenth or two [of a second], but it might then lead you into a fence or might cost you even more time at the end if you mess it up.I haven’t been as willing to be, like, ‘OK, I’m going to go for those two tenth’s [of a second] in this turn,’ but also [that’s] a reason why I haven’t had as many injuries as a lot of guys.Those guys who go for the extra speed will be on display this weekend in the men’s event. Risking everything. And, for most of them, loving it.I think the moment I step in the gate, the fear turns a little more into excitement,” says Ross of the U.S. women’s team. “I really look forward to that moment [when] the fear sort of turns into something else a lot of the time — excitement and anticipation.The feeling you get sometimes skiing speed, you can’t beat it.The local organizing committee and the International Ski Federation (FIS) rescheduled the men’s downhill event at the PyeongChang Olympics on Sunday due to strong wind.The men’s downhill was originally set to start 11 a.m. Sunday at Jeongseon Alpine Centre in Jeongseon, Gangwon Province, but the organizers postponed the event because of an unfavorable forecast. The FIS said the wind, gusting at up to 72 kilometers per hour, was expected to continue all day.The FIS jury and the local organizers later decided that the event will be moved to 11 a.m. Thursday, while the men’s super-G will be pushed to 11:00 a.m. Friday.They added that the alpine combined downhill training scheduled for Monday had also been canceled.Sung Baik-you, the spokesman for the PyeongChang 2018 organizing committee, said the decision was made for the safety of the athletes.A gale warning was issued and in some areas we heard that the temperature could go down as low as negative 25 Celsius, so the FIS and the organizing committee had a meeting 6 a.m. today and decided to postpone the men’s alpine downhill event,” he said. “For those who came long way to see the event, we’ll explain the situation and help them to see other events at the Winter Games.”It’s the only speed event out there that demands a different approach from its athletes every. Single. Time. Whenever Michael Phelps jumps into a pool, he knows what to expect, and what he has to do. With ski racing, not so much. Not only is each course and terrain different—even within the same race, conditions can change wildly from one moment to the next. Flat light, making it hard to suss out bumps in the terrain, can turn to blinding sunshine, making it impossible to see. A hard, icy surface can get sticky and thick from falling snow. Wind can suddenly push you off your line (or maybe faster down the hill). All of this is being navigated at speeds of up to 80 mph (that’s 117 feet per second), sometimes more, and at steeps that can get up to 45 degrees.
So why don’t more non-European viewers get excited for the skiing portions of the Winter Olympics? Other than the sport’s obvious Alpine roots, I blame two things. First, camera angles. Having reported from a number of World Cup races, I can tell you, the hills and speeds are insane. Next to the start of the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbühel a couple of years ago, it was so steep that I almost had a yard sale… and not while on skis. While I was walking. But no matter how many drones and fancy fixes they try to come up with, there is something about the cameras that appears to flatten steeps and slow speed.Second? It can be hard to get excited about the athletes. The nature of the sport means that when each racer pops up on your TV, you get only a couple of minutes of screen time with them until the next one. And if you’re not a fan, each one looks like an anonymous Spandex-clad figure, finishing within hundredths or tenths of seconds of the next.I can’t necessarily fix that for you ahead of the competitions in Pyongchang. But here’s a (pretty comprehensive) attempt to try.If, like many Americans, the only ski racers you’ve heard of in this year’s Olympics are Lindsey and Mikaela, consider this your ticket to acting like you know who might beat them out—or what’s up with the other events.If you need a refresher to what each discipline is, check out our guide to ski racing (and ski crashing) from the 2014 Olympics. Too lazy to click? Remember that downhill (the fastest, nuttiest of the disciplines) and super-G (with only slightly less speed and more turns) are called the “speed events” of alpine ski racing. GS (short for giant slalom) is the most classic of the disciplines, while slalom requires the most precision, quickest feet and shortest turns. Usually, athletes will specialize in either speed or technical events—though you will see some names cropping up in one event after another.I’ll preview the men here, and the women in a separate post.The Olympic alpine races kick off with the men’s downhill on Feb. 11, followed by the combined on the 13th, super-G on the 15th, GS on the 18th, and slalom on the 22nd.Here, expect to broaden your interests beyond the athletes racing for the star-spangled banner: since Bode Miller’s retirement, the U.S. team hasn’t found anyone with quite the panache and power to replace him in men’s speed. In technical events, meanwhile, hopes are riding on Ted Ligety, aka Ted Shred. (More on him later).Part of that is down to serious injuries, the constant bane of ski racing. Take veteran Steve Nyman. This year was supposed to be his fourth Olympics. It had potential to be a good one for the 35-year-old: He landed on the World Cup podium four times in the 2016 season, including third in the test event for the Pyeongchang downhill. At Garmisch last year, though, he got too much air off the roller, landed on his tails and dropped like a stone, tearing three knee ligaments.He’d made a comeback this season… until, in the worst kind of Groundhog Day, just a few days ago he tore his ACL. Guess where? Garmisch.And despite high hopes for Travis Ganong, who grabbed first place in the same 2017 Garmisch race that was Nyman’s undoing (twice), the chill Californian had a subpar season that only got worse right after Christmas: He crashed out at Bormio, joining his girlfriend Michelle-Marie Gagnon in rehab.As they recover, here’s who to watch for instead in each event. Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list of all of the athletes who are well-positioned to medal. The entire Olympic list is one dynamo after another—and one of the best things about ski racing is its potential for upsets. (Remember when Roland Leitinger won silver at the World Champs last year? Who is Roland Leitinger? Exactly.) But these are some of my favorites.Beat Feuz (downhill, maybe super-G and combined): The Swiss 30-year-old is in his prime and enjoying a solid season that’s put him at No. 1 in the World Cup standings for downhill. His results have included three victories and two runner-up spots, including at the notoriously insane Hahnenkamm downhill.That puts Feuz in a way better position than he was heading into the last couple of Olympics. In an all-too-common refrain for ski racers, particularly speed specialists, he had to miss the 2008 and 2009 seasons because of torn knee ligaments, recovered, won the 2012 World Cup downhill at Sochi held in preparation for the 2014 Olympics… and then found out that at those pre-Olympic races he’d reinjured his knee. Even though he participated in the Olympics, he could only swing double-digit placements in the downhill, super-G and combined.But this may be Feuz’s Olympic year. When he’s healthy, he tends to do well in big events: He won the downhill at the St Moritz World Ski Championships last year and came in third at those in Vail/Beaver Creek in 2015. (Other than the Olympics, the World Ski Championships are the other big-ticket, high-pressure event on the alpine racing calendar). He also skis super-G and combined, but it’s when the Swiss dynamo is in the start gate of the downhill that is not the time to go heat up those nachos.Aksel Lund Svindal (downhill or super-G, maybe combined): I’ll never forget seeing the Norwegian titan crash and get helicoptered off the Hahnenkamm downhill in 2016. It seemed like a career-ending injury for the then-33-year-old, who had come in number-one in the overall downhill standings in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. But like many of these guys (and women), Svindal is no stranger to (literally) molar-cracking injuries. After sitting out the rest of the 2016 season with a torn ACL, he came back last year to take three podiums in the first four speed events… only to realize something still wasn’t quite right with his knee. Another surgery, another season ended early.He’s back—again—and ready to make up for lost time. This will be the 35-year-old’s fourth Olympic games; over the years, he’s won one gold (super-G, 2010), one silver (downhill, 2010), and one bronze (GS, 2014). If he races anything like he has on the World Cup tour this season, he’s good for at least one more medal—he landed a podium, including two victories, in each of the first five downhill races this year. And after struggling to take a super-G podium all season, he won the final one ahead of the Games at Kitzbühel.Not bad for someone whose knee has been out of commission for the last two years.
Kjetil Jansrud (super-G or downhill, maybe combined): Svindal isn’t the only Norwegian powerhouse in the game this year. Jansrud hasn’t only had a great season, he’s also the only one of the athletes to be able to say he’s already won the downhill in Pyeongchang—the 2016 test run, that is. Obviously, a test event is way different than the real thing, but I wouldn’t fall off my seat if Jansrud was able to pull it off a second time. It would be his second Olympic medal in downhill; at Sochi, he took bronze. His combined is also strong: he just missed the podium in 2014, coming in fourth.It’s the super-G, though, where you’ll really want to tune in when you hear his name come on. The reigning Olympic champion, he came in second in the super-G at the World Ski Championships last year. He also won the crystal globe for the event last season (meaning he finished with the best standings in the discipline). He’s just as strong this year: Out of four super-Gs, he’s either won or been runner-up in three, putting him in the lead for the crystal globe yet again. And he’s got some extra motivation to win Olympic super-G again. If he doesn’t, it’ll be the first time since 1998 that a Norwegian hasn’t pulled it off.Matthias Mayer (downhill and super-G, maybe combined): He’s the reigning Olympic champion for downhill, but this year, the Austrian’s results have ranged everywhere from 34th to second place. He’s also in the mix for super-G, as he podiumed in two of this season’s four races.Dominik Paris (downhill, maybe super-G and combined): The Italian came in second at the Pyeongchang downhill test event, and he’s had three downhill podiums this season—the most recent of which was the last downhill before the Olympics at Garmisch. That means he should be riding into the Olympics on a confidence high.He hasn’t podiumed in super-G since the end of last season, but crazier things have happened. Don’t discount him in the combined, either.Hannes Reichelt (super-G, maybe downhill): The veteran Austrian knows how to bring the speed. He came in first in super-G at the Ski Championships in 2015, and this season, he’s gotten onto the podium in two of the four super-G races. In downhill, he’s just missed it the last few races—including a fifth place, a fourth, and a third, his only podium in the event so far this season.Marcel Hirscher (slalom and GS): There’s no other way of describing him: Hirscher is an absolute machine. He’s won the overall season title for six consecutive years—more in a row than any other athlete in history. Among alpine racing fans, that’s generally considered a bigger deal than the one-time result of a single race, even one as prestigious as the Olympics or World Championships.Still, Hirscher’s shown he can pull off big events, too. He’s won six golds in the World Championships—more than any male skier in 50 years. And out of a searing series of seasons, 2018 has been one of his best. Out of 16 World Cup races this season, he’s won 10 and podiumed in all but three.Hirscher’s record isn’t quite as stellar with the Olympics. He’s been at the Games twice before, and although he got silver in slalom at Sochi, his other results just barely missed the podium: two fourth-places and a fifth.This is a guy, though, who has been ticking off his to-do list this year like it’s no big thing. (When he competed at Wengen this year, a slalom he hadn’t won before and reportedly really wanted to, you could practically hear him kick it up a gear. He won). Olympic gold in both slalom and GS are the next accomplishments for him to grab. And if Hirscher wants it, this is the year for him to get it.Do not, under any circumstances, leave the room when he comes on.Henrik Kristoffersen (slalom and GS): Norway’s Kristoffersen is also a machine, and he’d be a shoo-in for an Olympic victory, except for one thing: He has the bad luck to be competing in the age of Hirscher. And compared to Hirscher, everyone else is second place.Kristoffersen is a highly consistent skier, and his results show it. This year, out of those same 16 races, he’s podiumed in all but four to Hirscher’s three. But Hirscher’s string of victories means that podium placement is different: Kristoffersen has a string of seconds. This seems to be killing Kristoffersen.Making matters worse? At Sochi, he took a bronze in slalom to Hirscher’s silver. And at the last two World Championships he’s just missed the slalom podium, coming in fourth both times. (He also came in fourth last year in GS). I can’t imagine better revenge than Olympic victory at Pyeongchang. But it’s more likely he’ll be wearing silver (and semi-fuming) instead.Ted Ligety (GS, maybe combined): When it comes to the Olympics, U.S. veteran Ligety has a pretty shiny shelf. He’s won the GS at the Olympics once and at the World Champs three times in a row; he’s also won both Olympic and World Champs gold in the combined and World Champs gold in super-G.Thanks to a series of injuries, he hasn’t had the best couple of seasons since then. But that may be turning around. After not climbing the World Cup podium since October 2015, he just came in third at the GS in Garmisch. That could give the reigning Olympic GS champ the confidence he needs to fight to defend his GS title. It’s a long shot. But if he can pull it off, there should be a lot of champagne over at the U.S. team’s lodgings.Alexis Pinturault (GS, maybe slalom, super-G and combined): Pinturault is the kind of ski racer you almost never seen any more: the almost complete all-arounder. He skis every event except for downhill. And that doesn’t only require a serious variety of skills. It also necessarily means less time to train for each event, and much less time compared to your competition–not only are you not training super-G each time you train slalom, for example, but conversely, your single- or dual-discipline competitors are training speed each time you’re not.
GS, though, is Pinturault’s specialty. The Frenchman was the bronze medallist in GS at Sochi and at the Championships in 2015, and he’s had a solid season this year that’s put him third in the overall GS standings so far (behind Hirscher and Kristoffersen). He’s also in a good position for the combined, an event he won this year at Val d’Isere and which plays on his all-arounder’s skills.His best results in both slalom and super-G this season, on the other hand, have been fifth—further away, but still within striking distance of a medal.Michael Matt (slalom, maybe GS): Team Austria’s other big hope for a medal in slalom, the 24-year-old Matt is going into his first Olympics on a season that’s showed as much potential as inconsistency: He took second place three times in a row this January. But then he followed it up with a sixth and two DNFs, getting thrown out of the course at both Kitzbühel…and then at Schladming. In terms of Olympic medals he’s a wild card. But if he can finish, he may finish big. He’s also a GS skier, where he’s had one third-place finish on the tour this season.Andrew Weibrecht (super-G): If you look at his World Cup results, it seems almost impossible that the 31-year-old American could have a shot at a medal. But that’s been true in almost every season that… he’s medaled. Weibrecht won silver in super-G at Sochi and bronze at Whistler, even though all but one of his World Cup finishes in 2014 was 20th or worse (and in 2010, his best was 11th). He hasn’t done even that well this season—his best has been 21st in super-G—but we’re including him here because, especially when it comes to big-ticket events, the veteran never fails to surprise us.