Alpine Skiing: the sport

Powder skiing in Kitzbuehel, Austria
Part of the universal appeal of Alpine Skiing is that the sport is the natural evolution of a very pleasant pastime. This provides and ample base of aficionados from which athletes can evolve.
As a pastime, week-end skiing is pleasant indeed, minus two main factors: weather and snow conditions, which can heavily influence its practice. And the undeniable fact that sliding downhill over a slippery surface balanced on two thin sticks of wood with metal edges is definitely not a natural physical activity.
To practice Alpine Skiing at any level a basic technique is needed, which involves coordinating the movements of the whole body, from the tip of the toes, to impart the skis the desired direction, to the angle of the upper body with the hip to allow the ski edges to carve into the snow and control turns.
Though basically universal, Alpine Skiing technique has evolved greatly over the last 30 years, with a particular leap since the late 1990s due to a significant re-design of ski architecture. The shorter, “carving”-type ski which is the norm now allows for easier turns, higher speeds and greater control on all slopes. Beginners find it easier to learn and intermediate skiers have more fun, while athletes improve their speed and turning performance.
Turning alternatively right and left whilst sliding down the piste is the key to control the direction and speed of the skier. To turn, novice skiers use a technique called the "snowplough" to maintain comfortable speed and come to a stop by pointing one or both skis inward, while advanced skiers use more elegant and speedier methods.
One popular method of turning is called parallel turn; it involves keeping both skis parallel to each other while alternating the weight distribution between them in order to force them turn in a particular direction. The angle of the ski in relation to the slope (called edge angle) is also important as it determines the grip on the slope face, which in turn makes controlling both the turning direction and the skier’s speed possible.
The carving skiing technique emphasizes the use of the edge angle to create greater speed and control: the skier rolls his or her knees from side to side while keeping the upper body and hips facing down the hill and maintaining direction straight downward, so that only the knees and feet are involved into making turns. This technique allows modern "parabolic" skis to turn using the radial properties of the edges of the ski without skidding or slowing down, creating a smooth arc.
As skiers gain confidence, they may tackle steeper, longer and more uneven slopes (including off-piste and ungroomed runs) at higher speeds. In North America, the easiest ski runs are marked by green circles, and are typically fairly flat and smooth. Sometimes known as "bunny slopes", they are usually groomed by specially equipped snowcats every night. A blue square marks slopes of medium difficulty; these blue squares may be steeper or narrower than green circles, or they may be left in a natural state rather than machine-groomed. A black diamond run is yet steeper than a blue square and often involves challenging terrain such as moguls, narrow passes, unmarked obstacles, double fall lines, or gladed sections. A double black diamond is for experts only; these trails are steep, rarely groomed and often left in a completely natural state. There is no standard for these designations, however, and each ski resort determines them relative to their own terrain difficulty. So, for instance, a blue-square (mid-level) trail at one ski mountain may be markedly more difficult than a black-diamond (expert) trail at another mountain. In Europe the system is based on colour alone.
North American green circles, blue squares, black diamonds, and double blacks correspond to European green, blue, red, and black trails, respectively.
Different snow and weather conditions, such as dry air in low temperatures or spring conditions, or icy crust, or fresh powder require different skiing techniques and equipment.