Slalom is an alpine skiing discipline, involving skiing between poles (gates) spaced much closer together than in Giant Slalom, Super-G or Downhill, thereby causing quicker and shorter turns.
The word "Slalom" is from the Morgedal dialect of Norwegian slalåm: "sla," meaning slightly inclining hillside, and "låm," meaning track after skis. The inventors of modern skiing classified their trails according to their difficulty. Slalåm was a trail used in Telemark by boys and girls not yet able to try themselves on the more challenging runs. Ufsilåm was a trail with one obstacle (ufse) like a jump, a fence, a difficult turn, a gorge, a cliff (often more than 10 meters high) and more. Uvyrdslåm was a trail with several obstacles.
Slalom and Giant Slalom make up the "technical events" in alpine ski racing. This category separates them from the "speed events" like Super-G and Downhill.
A course is constructed by laying out a series of gates. Gates are formed by alternating pairs of red and blue poles. The skier must pass between the two poles forming the gate. (Strictly speaking, the tips of both skis and the skier's feet must pass between the poles.) A course has 55 to 75 gates for men and 40 to 60 gates for women.
For slalom the vertical offset between gates is around 9 meters (30 feet) and the horizontal offset around 2 metres (6.5 feet), although these figures have changed in recent times because of significant technical developments in ski equipment (namely, increased sidecut) which have revolutionized the sport. The gates are arranged in a variety of different configurations to challenge the competitor, including delay gates and vertical combinations known as hairpins and flushes. A hairpin is a series of gates including two gates with one closing gate. A flush is a series of gates including three or more gates with one closing gate. The worldwide governing body, FIS (Federation Internationale de Ski) has a set of regulations detailing what configurations are allowed or mandated for an official course.
Because the offsets are relatively small in slalom, skiers take a fairly direct line and often knock the poles out of the way as they pass, which is known as blocking. (The main blocking technique in modern slalom is cross-blocking, in which the skier takes such a tight line and angulates so strongly that he or she is able to block the gate with the outside hand.) In modern slalom, a variety of protective equipment is used such as shin pads, hand guards, helmets and face guards.
Rules for slalom skiing are managed internationally by the International Ski Federation. In the United States, skiing events including slalom are managed by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
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