Para Alpine Skiing
ParalympicsGB’s skiers helped Great Britain secure a record-breaking performance at Sochi 2014.
Our seven athletes and three guides took to the slopes of Rosa Khutor in 2014, winning one gold, three silvers and one bronze medal.
Alpine disciplines at the Paralympic Winter Games are downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super giant slalom (super-G) and super combined. Results are factored to take each athletes’ degree of impairment into account when calculating a time. While there are different factors for the different disciplines in each of the three sport classes, the same factors are used for men and women. Athletes and spectators see the factored time after each run. In all events the winning competitor is the one who, without missing any gates, records the fastest factored time over the course.
Paralympic Alpine Skiing conforms to some of the parameters that have been laid down by the ISF (International Skiing Federation) in terms of the difference in altitude and the number of gates along the course.
Downhill: The most spectacular of the para Alpine skiing disciplines. The vertical drop (altitude distance between the start and finish gates) varies from 450m to 800m, with competitors required to pass through a series of red gates that are used as checkpoints during the descent.
Super-G: Developed in the early 1980s as an event between free downhill descent and the giant slalom. Today, it is much closer in terms of speed and technical features to the downhill discipline. Super-G competitions are held on a slope with a vertical drop variation of 400m to 600m, with the course marked with a minimum of 30 alternating blue and red gates, positioned to enforce changes of direction.
Giant Slalom: Gates are closer than those in the speed events and the vertical drop varies from 300m to 400m. The competition is contested over two rounds using the same slope but with different courses. The starting order in the second heat is created by reversing the first 30 classified places from the first heat or, in some cases, the first 15 classified places.
Slalom: The vertical drop difference can vary from 140m to 220m. The competition is carried out over two heats on the same slope but with different courses, in the same way as giant slalom. The number of gates on the course varies. The slalom requires considerable agility and dexterity since the slopes in slalom competitions are very steep, with thick snow often artificially iced in order to avoid any premature deterioration of the competition surface.
Super Combined: An event which incorporates elements from other events but is itself a standalone event. Contested on a single day, it comprises one run of either downhill or super-G and one run of either giant slalom or slalom. The most common format is one super-G run and one slalom run. The times are combined and a ranking list drawn up.
First year at a Paralympic Games
Kelly Gallagher, her guide Charlotte Evans, Jade Etherington and her guide Caroline Powell with their medal haul at Sochi
Skiing became increasingly popular following the end of the Second World War, when injured servicemen sought to return to the sport. The first documented championships for disabled skiers were held in Bad Gastein, Austria, in 1948 and featured 17 athletes.
At the first Paralympic Winter Games in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden in 1976, athletes competed in slalom and giant slalom. Downhill was added to the Paralympic programme in 1984 in Innsbruck, Austria, and super-G was added in 1994 at Lillehammer, Norway. Sit-skiing – or mono-skiing – was introduced as a demonstration sport at the Innsbruck 1984 Paralympics and became a medal event at the Nagano 1998 Paralympic Games.
The first para alpine skiing medal ever won by GB was a bronze for John Watkins in the men’s alpine combination at the 1984 Winter Games. In 1992 GB secured one silver medal and four bronze medals in Alpine events and, in 1994, GB won a further five bronze medals in para Alpine skiing.
At Sochi 2014
Kelly Gallagher and guide Charlotte Evans struck gold on day three, claiming the Paralympic title in the women’s visually impaired (VI) super-G – an historic first gold medal for any British Alpine skier at either the Olympic or Paralympic Games.
Two days earlier Jade Etherington and guide Caroline Powell had got the team off to a flying start by clinching women’s VI downhill silver within minutes of the start of competition.
The medal was the first in skiing for 20 years and the first of four for the duo, who went on to claim silver in the slalom and super combined and bronze in the super-G.
A fifteen-year-old Millie Knight, the youngest athlete on the team, was named GB flagbearer for the Opening Ceremony and confidently tackled the slopes with guide Rachael Ferrier to record two fifth-place finishes.
James Whitley also showed his potential by securing two top 15 finishes on his debut, with fellow newcomer Ben Sneesby finishing 11th in the men’s slalom sit-ski. Anna Turney overcame challenging conditions in the women’s sit-ski event to finish 4th in the women’s super-G, while former serviceman Mick Brennan secured two top ten performances and a 14th place finish.
1 – Russia (6 gold, 6 silver, 4 bronze)
2 – Germany (6 gold, 4 silver, 1 bronze)
3 – France (5 gold, 3 silver, 2, bronze)
Kelly Gallagher and Charlotte Evans (guide)
- VI super-G: Gold
Jade Etherington and Caroline Powell (guide)
- VI downhill: Silver
- VI slalom: Silver
- VI super-combined: Silver
- VI super-G: Bronze
Sport classes LW 1-9: Standing skiers
Skiers with leg impairments:
Sport Class LW 1: This sport class is allocated to athletes with an impairment that strongly affects both legs, for example an above knee amputation of both legs or significant muscle weakness in both legs.
Sport Class LW 2: Skiers have a significant impairment in one leg. Some skiers, for example, have an impaired leg from birth. You will see them ski with one ski only.
Sport Class LW 3: This sport class is for athletes who have a moderate impairment in both legs. They will ski with two skis and prosthesis. Some LW 3 skiers have mild coordination problems or muscle weakness in both legs, or a below knee amputation in both legs.
Sport Class LW 4: Similar to skiers in Sport Class LW 2, LW 4 skiers have an impairment in one leg only, but with less Activity Limitation. A typical example is a below knee amputation in one leg. They will use two skis during the race.
Skiers with arm impairments:
Sport Class LW 5⁄7: Athletes in this sport class ski with an impairment in both arms. Some athletes have amputations and others have limited muscle power or coordination problems. They will race down the slopes without ski poles.
Sport Class LW 6⁄8: Skiers have an impairment in one arm. Skiers will compete with one ski pole only.
Skiers with combined arm and leg impairments:
Sport Class LW 9: Skiers in this Sport Class have an impairment that affects arms and legs. Some skiers in this class have coordination problems, such as spasticity or some loss of control over one side of their body. Depending on their abilities, they will ski with one or two skis and one or two poles.
Sport Classes LW 10-12: Sit-skiers
All sit-skiers have an impairment affecting their legs. They are allocated different sport classes depending on their sitting balance, which is very important for acceleration and balancing during the races.
Sport Class LW 10: Skiers in this sport class have no or minimal trunk stability, for example due to spinal cord injuries or spina bifida. They therefore rely mainly on their arms to manoeuvre the sit-ski.
Sport Class LW 11: Skiers have good abilities in their upper trunk, but very limited control in their lower trunk and hips, as it would be the case for skiers with lower spinal cord injuries.
Sport Class LW 12: This sport class includes skiers with normal or only slightly decreased trunk function and leg impairments. Skiers with leg impairments in Sport Classes LW 1-4 often also fit this sport class, so that they can choose if they want to ski sitting or standing in the beginning of their career.
Sport Classes B1-3: Skiers with visual impairment
Sport Class B1: Skiers in this sport class are either blind or have very low visual acuity. By way of explanation, their level of visual acuity is such that the athlete cannot recognize the letter “E” (15x15cm in size) from a distance of 25cm. During the race they are required to wear eyeshades.
Sport Class B2: This sport class profile includes athletes with a higher visual acuity than athletes competing in the B1 class, but they are unable to recognize the letter “E” from a distance of 4m. Moreover, athletes with a visual field of less than 10 degrees diameter are eligible for this sport class.
Sport Class B3: The B3 sport class profile describes the least severe visual impairment eligible for Para Alpine Skiing. Eligible athletes either have a restricted visual field of less than 40 degrees diameter or a low visual acuity.
In Para Alpine Skiing, you will see athletes with visual impairment skiing with a guide. The guide skis in front of the athlete and verbally gives directions to the athlete.