Alberta & BC Rockies Skiing and Boarding

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Snow Skiing is a winter sport that originated as a mode of transportation, but is now a recreational and competitive sport. Skiing is a technique for moving over snow (horizontal or sloped) with ease. Originally, long planks of wood were attached to boots and poles used to pull ones self over top of the snow. Skiing has evolved into several variations: downhill, cross-country, freestyle skiing, ski jumping and the biathlon. Recently snowboarding has become a popular off-shoot.

The objective of downhill skiing is to navigate down a challenging ski hill with either grace or speed. It became popular as a port in the European Alps in the 1920s, and was first an Olympic sport in the 1924 Charmonix (France) games, with women competing at that level in the 1950s. There are five events in the Winter Olympics

Downhill - Aerodynamically efficient racers reach speeds of 130km/h on the straightaways. Downwhill has the greatest vertical drop of the four alpine events: 800 - 1100 metres for men and 500 - 800 metres for women. The course includes wide sweeping turns to both control the racers' speed and test their turning abilities, and course-side netting protects skiers and audience. The fastest time from the start gate through the finish gate wins. Skiers are permitted at least one training run on the course prior to the race.

Slalom racing requires aggressiveness, quickness and agility. Slalom courses are the shortest of any of the disciplines and contain 40 to 75 turns between gates, with each gate measuring 4 to 15 metres apart. Men's slalom courses have a vertical drop of 180 - 220 metres and women's 140 - 200 metres. The fastest skier over two runs is the winner.

Giant slalom
Giant Slalom (GS) requires technical precision, strength and a good sense of rhythm. This sport has both a longer course than Slalom and provides a greater distance between the gates. The skiers must negotiate at least 30 gates placed 10 metres or more apart. The course itself has a vertical drop of up to 450 metres for men and 400 metres for women, and is up to 35 metres wide typically over uneven terrain, combining flats, steeps and rolls. The fastest skier over two runs is the winner.

Super giant slalom
Super-G, as it is often called, combines the speed of downhill with the aggressiveness of slalom, with long, sweeping, high-speed turns. Vertical drops for Super-G courses are only a few hundred metres less than for downhill and feature rolling and hilly terrain. The racers may only visually inspect the course by skiing on it without gates prior to the race.

The combined event requires skiers to race both the downhill and slalom events, and a complex formula is used to aggregate downhill and slalom times. First held at the 1932 World Alpine Ski Championships, this event was an Olympic event since 1952.

A variation of downhill skiing is freestyle skiing, which has two disciplines: aerials and moguls. Aerial competitors ski down a steep run, launch themselves 15 metres in the air, spin, flip and twist around, drop back to earth, land gracefully and ski on. They are scored based on difficulty of the jump, as well as their quality of execution (including the landing). In moguls, skiers race down a steeply pitched run studded with snow bumps (called moguls), ski off a jump, do some mid-air tricks, land, continue down the course, jump again, land, and ski on until crossing the finish line. Scoring is based on time down the hill and the scoring on the various jumps.

Many skiers can spend an entire weekend on the hill (several resorts have on-hill accommodation), or stay overnight at local hotels, lodges or inns. If you want to ski the next day and a big dump is expected overnight, consider driving to the hill and overnighting. You're fresher for a day of great skiing, and the snow may close the highway and you have the hill to yourself.

Many skiers can spend an entire weekend on the hill (several resorts have on-hill accommodation), or stay overnight at local hotels, lodges or inns. If you want to ski the next day and a big dump is expected overnight, consider driving to Banff and overnighting. You're fresher for a day of great skiing, and the snow may close the highway and you have the hill to yourself.

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Skiing and snowboarding are relatively expensive sports, though you can save on the high initial costs of equipment by renting your equipment. Moguls skis generally are shorter and lighter than alpine skis, making them easier to control. The tips and tails are more flexible than regular skis and they have a sidecut similar to slalom skis. Aerials' skis are relatively short and light making them easier to control during the tricks, and have tips and tails that are more flexible than regular skis. The boots for all variations are the regular alpine skiing type.

A skier's wardrobe includes a warm water-resistant winter outfit (not jeans), a tuque, a scarf or neck tube, ski gloves, ski goggles and warm undergarments and socks. Of course, for above-zero spring skiing, you no longer have to dress for warmth. All competitive downhillers must wear a helmet. Interestingly, skiers are a fashion conscious bunch, often with bright and color-coordinated outfits. In stark contrast, snowboarders tend to dress drab and break most colour coordination "rules" trying to set now limits for outrageous.

Most sports shops will have ski equipment and clothing in season (watch for "end of season" sales by Valentine's Day) though ski hills have pro shop to sell anything forgotten, broken or lost. There is also an annual fall Ski Swap for both new and used equipment, which makes it easy to compare products and prices.

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Where to go

The Canadian Rockies has several major Ski/Snowboarding resorts within two hours drive (Canada Olympic Park, Wintergreen, Nakiska, Fortress Mountain, Rockies/Mt. Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise) and several more just a little farther away (Ski Hills Listing) All hills offer a range of ability and budget, and offer season's and weekly passes. All resorts offer lessons and equipment rental and most have "first-time skier" specials.

If you choose to try Cross-Country, many public golf courses and parks around the city have trails you can ski for free, though the Canadian Rockies's winter snow conditions are rather unpredictable. In southern Alberta, you can head out to Bragg Creek, Kananaskis Country, Canmore (especially the Canmore Nordic Centre, host venue for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games) for excellent winter snow conditions. In the BC Rockies, having enough snow is usually not a challenge, but avalanche dangers are a greater concern. In central Alberta, check out the Athabasca Lookout Nordic Centre which offers a biathlon gun range, approximately 50 km of world class ski trails, a luge run and telemark hill. The Athabasca (Fire) Lookout Tower is very popular with seasonal tourists, offering spectacular views of Solomon Valley.

For both the social and competitive aspects of skiing and snowboarding, check out the ski and snowboard clubs. For starters, try the the Bow Valley Quickies Ski Club (on Spray Ave, Banff).

The major local ski hills have many spectator events and competitions over the winter. Contact the hills for information.

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