A guide to the sports at this year’s winter games
With this year’s winter games well underway, it’s time to dig a little deeper into the background of some of the spectacular winter sports currently hitting our screens at the moment. While competitors take to the ice, snow, and air in this global event, hosted in Beijing, take a look at our brief guide to these icy events.
And if the games are getting you inspired to test out a new activity or develop existing skills, why not join us on The Slope at Calshot to test out our courses, freestyle nights, family sessions and other snowsports experiences?
On the snow
These events see skiers race down the slopes through various courses, navigating a winding path of sharp turns, and in some cases, soaring jumps.
Although alpine ski events are all time trials, with no judging panel involved, the slalom races are considered technical events, while the other events are ‘speed’ events. As such, competitors regularly reach speeds of up to 95mph during their descent – blink and you’ll miss them!
Cross country skiing
A test of endurance, the cross-country skiing events involve competitors racing across snow-covered terrain using their own movement and techniques to propel them forward, as opposed to alpine skiing, which relies on generating downhill momentum to gather speed.
A key fixture of the winter games since 1924, ski jumping is one of the most exhilarating spectator sports on offer during the tournament.
Soaring through the air, competitors rely on technique to propel them as far as possible before they land. You’ll notice the unique position ski jumpers take after launching, with most adopting the iconic ‘V’ shape, first discovered by Miroslaw Graf, a Polish ski jumper, in 1969.
They say that the top of the ski jump tower (where athletes wait before the trip down) is the quietest spot at the games.
This event relies on competitors displaying skills in ski jumping and cross-country racing. Beginning with the ski jumping, athletes’ scores are used to determine their starting position in the race – so the winner of the ski jump will start first in the cross-country.
This is the only sport in the entire winter games that doesn’t have a women’s event, though looking forward to the next winter games in 2026 we might see this change.
Another combination event, biathlon skiers take on two separate disciplines: cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. Alternating between skate skiing and target shooting – from both standing and lying positions – competitors receive a penalty of 150m additional skiing for each target missed.
Freestyle is one of the more creative of skiing disciplines, comprising of events testing strength, speed and technical ability. It first featured as a demonstration sport in the 1988 Calgary games before being introduced to the winter games programme in 1992. Over the years, new events (such as ski cross, halfpipe and slopestyle) have been added to this category too.
As one of the more varied skiing categories, each freestyle event has its own unique aims and rules:
- Aerials – competitors ski off a ramp that launches them into the air, where they perform somersaults and twists before landing. Points are awarded for air, form and landing
- Moguls – participants race down a slope covered with round snow mounds known as moguls
- Ski cross – this relatively new event is based on the motorbiking world’s ‘moto cross’ and involves athletes racing across a snow covered course
- Halfpipe – using a snowy halfpipe to perform tricks, competitors are judged on each trick’s difficulty and execution
- Slopestyle – another trick-based event, but with an emphasis on performing a wide range of tricks to the best possible standard.
This year, we have an exciting new addition in the form of a ‘big air’ event, as well as mixed team freestyle aerials – so be sure to watch out as these hit your screens.
Though many of the snowboarding events at the games are equivalent to their skiing counterparts, the skills needed for success in both areas are hugely different.
Making its way into the Nagano winter games in 1998, snowboarding events have been popular with viewers and are here to stay, providing exciting viewing moments as athletes hurl themselves down slopes, into the air and across the snow.
The United States is the most successful nation in the history of the winter games when it comes to snowboarding, with 31 medals, and, as of the start of the 2022 games, competitor Shaun White is the most decorated in the competition, with three gold medals to his name.
On the ice
The official national winter sport of Canada, this ice-bound event sees teams of six using hockey sticks to control, advance and shoot a puck into the opposing goal.
Canada’s connection to this sport has seen their teams reach success during many of the competitions – the women’s team winning back-to-back gold medals for four consecutive games, losing out to the United States in 2018’s event.
Speed skating (long and short track speed skating)
During these fast-paced events, competitors race in heats or time trials, skating on an oval track set out on the ice. One for the speed demons among us, athletes competing in the long track event can reach up to 35mph as they make their way around the track.
Using special boots made from fibreglass, graphite and Kevlar, with blades placed off-centre to prevent the boot touching the ground during sharp turns, skaters aim to be as aerodynamic as they can to glide across the ice as quickly as possible.
One of the slightly slower-paced events at the games, curling is a firm favourite among fans. Combining precision and skill, teams slide polished granite stones towards a target, with sweepers brushing a clear pathway as the stone travels along the ice track. The aim is to get the stone to stop in the ‘house’ - the target at the end of the ice.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this sport’s slower pace makes for dull watching – but that couldn’t be further from the truth. A huge amount of strategy and technique goes into choosing the ideal placement of each stone, and watching teams quite literally knock the competition out of play makes for nail-biting viewing.
With skaters taking on feats of precision, strength and finesse, this event at the games is truly spectacular. Elite competitors glide, leap, spin and lift their way to (what they hope will be) high scores from a judging panel. Routines are scored on their technical ability – based on difficulty and execution.
One of three sliding events, the bobsleigh sees teams of four competing to slide their sleigh along an ice track.
Part of the winter games programme since the first games in 1924, this year marks the 20-year anniversary of the women’s event being added to the programme – and this year sees the addition of the women’s monobob (a single person bobsleigh) event being held for the first time.
In 2002, United States competitor Vonetta Flowers became the first black athlete to earn a gold medal at the winter games, doing so in the women's bobsleigh.
Billed as ‘the fastest sport on ice’, luge events see competitors race along a stretch of ice, reaching speeds averaging 75-90mph. Laying feet first on a flat sled, athletes use their body weight and position to control their movements and propel them towards the finish line.
Because of its speed and the minimal protective gear, luge is one of the most dangerous events at the winter games. In its history, some athletes have died while training for the event, leading to increased safety measures for the track’s layout.
The skeleton event involves headfirst sledding (think the luge but flipped) and sees competitors steering the sled using their body movements – reaching speeds of up to 80mph.
It wasn’t a permanent fixture of the games until 2002, where our very own Team GB gained a medal – and have won a medal at every competition since.