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Disabled ski racing: how it works


James and myself beginning a Europa Cup race in November 2018 in Landgraaf, Holland

Many people ask how the para alpine ski races work. To be honest, until a couple of years ago I had no idea myself! The following is a beginner’s guide to the para alpine racing world, with no previous experience necessary.


Racers who compete in World Para Alpine Ski races have to undergo a rigorous classification process by the International Paralympic Committee. There are three types of skiers; visually impaired; standing and sitting.


Visually impaired skiers must ski with a guide (who goes first). The guide speaks through a radio or speaker and verbally guides the athlete down the race course.


Standing athletes have a physical impairment, such as a missing limb or weakness on one side of their body. Standing athletes can also use outriggers - tiny skis on the ends of their poles - for balance if they wish (but don’t have to).


Sitting athletes have limited use of their lower body and use a sit ski (otherwise known as a ‘rig’).


Within these three categories, there are numerous subcategories which indicate how disabled a person is. The greater the disability, the more time is taken off your overall race time in order for fairness amongst competitors. This can make a big difference!


Not all disabilities are classifiable. For example, deaf individuals would not experience enough of an impediment to their skiing to warrant being classified at all. If individuals have more than one classifiable disability, they are classified according to their most severe disability.


But once you are classified, you can now buy your ski racing licence and your athlete’s ID card to be able to enter the…


World Para Alpine Ski races

These are held over the world in a combination of snowdomes and on the mountain. There are four disciplines; slalom and Giant Slalom (the technical events) and Super-G and Downhill (speed events). In order to get to the next level of ski races, you have to be fast enough in two races within the past year to have low enough race points, which leads me into a detour…


What are race points and how are they calculated?

Racers’ disability category correlates to the ‘factor’ they get. The ‘factor’ is a number between 0 and 1, by which your overall time is multiplied. For example, if your run took 34 seconds, and your factor was 0.86, your overall time would be 29.24 seconds. The more severe your disability, the lower the ‘factor’. This is done to try and even out the differing levels of disability between competitors and to ensure a fair race.


Every racer who completes the race (and not all do) is given a score. This is calculated by multiplying the time difference between the fastest racer of the same gender and your time by an agreed upon number. For example, if you were 10 seconds slower than the fastest male, and if the allocates number of points per second was 12, then you would have 120 points.


This is then added onto the ‘race penalty’. The race penalty is a number which is set according to how competitive the field is. For example, if you are racing against beginners, the race penalty would be very high, such as 125 points. If you are racing against the best in the world, in WPAS races the penalty could be 25. (It can’t be less than this for WPAS races.) Voila; you now have your race points.


Your lowest two race points over the past year are averaged together to give your overall race points for each discipline in which you compete. Your overall race points decide where you rank internationally, and these rankings are updated monthly.


Returning to the types of races…

So, if you have low enough points, you are also able to enter the…


Europa Cup ski races

These are also held internationally, and are held on slightly more challenging pistes and with more challenging courses.


For technical events — Slalom and Giant Slalom — men have to have ≤ 280 points and women have to have ≤ 300 points (2018/19 criteria). Athletes who have nearly low enough points (≤ 340 points for males and females in technical events) can ask for a ‘wild card’ to compete in a Europa Cup race, even if they haven’t qualified for the Europa Cup level yet. This can be a great way for athletes to gain experience, and potentially to lower their race points by competing against other athletes with a lower race penalty.For speed events — Super-G, Super-Combined and Downhill — men have to have ≤240 points and women have to have ≤ 280 points. For wildcards, both males and females have to have ≤ 320 points (2018/19 criteria).


Once athletes have even lower race points, they can then enter the…


World Cup ski races

World Cup races are again held internationally, and again have steeper pitches and more challenging courses. This is the most elite level where the best in the world compete. Wild cards can still be applied for, and competition on the World Cup circuit is fierce. Race results can mean potential funding and sponsorship opportunities, and those who do well enough in the World Cup races (and have the lowest points) are then eligible for the Paralympic Winter Games, held every four years straight after the able bodied Winter Games. The next Winter Games will be held in Beijing in the beginning of 2022.


The criteria for World Cup eligibility is a combination of both your overall points being low enough — this varies by gender, discipline and disability — and your international ranking to ensure there are a maximum of 90 World Cup athletes at any one time.


The race calendar is continually updated. Each nation’s governing body is responsible for entering (eligible) athletes into the races and for allocating wild cards. Races can be changed or cancelled at short notice – even mid race! – depending on a variety of factors such as the ski resort itself, challenging snow conditions, bad weather and so on. This can be incredibly frustrating for athletes, their coaches, their friends and families (and finances) but is all part and parcel of the sport. We are all at the whim of Mother Nature after all!


So there you have it; a brief introduction to the world of para alpine ski racing. As you get more involved you can learn more about the nuances and detail in the technicalities, but it isn’t necessary to enjoy watching the sport. I hope you enjoy it!


Alice Luetchford skis for Great Britain with her visually impaired husband, James Luetchford. You can find out more at http://www.luetchfordskiracers.com or @LuetchfordSkiRacers on Instagram.


#disabled #skiing #parasnowsport #disabledskiing #differentlyable #paralympics #husbandandwifeteam #visuallyimpaired


First published on Medium, 18th December 2018.

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