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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Alpine skiing is a recreation and sport where participants put on skis and slide down mountains covered in snow. It is also called downhill skiing. Specialized resorts with all facilities have been developed where trees have been cut, snow is groomed (or smoothed), and ski lifts take skiers up the mountain. Skiers then ski down various trails or slopes.

This type of skiing is thought to have been started by Odd Kjelsberg of Winterhur, Switzerland in 1889. It developed out of cross-country skiing which goes back thousands of years as a means of transport in cold climates. Alpine skiing became popular when ski lift technology was developed to tow skiers to the mountain top.

The challenge faced by skiers is to control their speed and direction as they descend the mountain. Novices slow down or stop by pointing their skis inwards, a technique knows as “snow plowing”. More experienced skiers use a variety of methods. One way is the parallel turn where skis are kept parallel while leaning to one side or the other and turning the skis in that direction. Another technique is called “carving”, where skiers turn their knees side to side but keep their bodies straight. This allows skiers to maintain a steady speed down a slope. Private and group lessons are offered at most resorts. There are also a large number of video and other online tips and lessons for skiers these days.

A number of countries and continents use a rating system to grade the difficulty of their ski trails. Among these are North America, Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. North America uses a series of colored shapes to advise skiers of the degree of difficulty they will encounter on each trail. Gradient is the main criterion determining a trail’s rating. A green circle marks the easiest slopes, while the intermediate slopes have a blue square and the difficult slopes one or more black diamonds.

Australian resorts use the same system as in North America. Europe uses the color green for beginner, blue for easy, red for intermediate and black for expert. The degree of difficult of trails for experts can vary greatly. Scandinavia uses double and triple black diamonds. Austria and Switzerland use orange for extremely difficult slopes. Japan has green for beginner trails, red for intermediate, and black for expert. New Zealand uses similar colors as North America and Australia, although true beginner trails can be hard to find, and green can be more difficult than blue or even black in America.

Another important factor for alpine skiers is the type of snow. Most skiers prefer powder, which is soft, untouched, newly fallen snow. Maneuvering in powder snow is easier than in other types of snow. Novices don’t always like it though, as it is easy to sink into if skiing too slowly. They usually prefer packed powder. Crud snow results when many skiers have already passed through the snow, churning it up and creating tracks, divots, and wet, slippery patches. This snow type is difficult for most skiers. Slush is partly melted snow and is more difficult to ski on as wet snow is heavier. Ice is harder and more slippery, making it difficult to control moves. A smooth ride is possible with crust snow but the soft, easy ride of powder is missing, and the crust can break.

Alpine skiing competitions include racing and freestyle. Skiers race down a slope while weaving in and out of gates. The winner is the skier who completes the course in the fastest time. In the downhill event, skiers can exceed 60 mph. Freestyle skiing includes moguls, aerials, half-pipes and extreme skiing. Competitions are managed by the International Ski Federation, with headquarters in Switzerland. In America, the governing body is the United States Ski and Snowboard Association.