Slalom Gates Explained: Slalom Rules

  • Post category:Outdoors

A question asked by many is how slalom gates work? It may be the winter Olympics and you find yourself watching the ski slalom but you don’t fully understand all the rules. Or, you may be a skier or snowboarder and want to look at getting into the slalom.

The slalom is composed of sets of gates marked with either flags or poles. For men’s events, there are between 55 to 75 gates, and between 40 to 60 for women. The first set of gates are always colored red, the next set will be blue. The colors keep switching between red and blue to enable the skier or snowboarder to understand which side of the gates they need to go through. Sounding slightly complicated still? Hopefully, the diagram below will help.

As you can probably tell I didn’t major in art….

Skiers or snowboarders start at the top of the slope, as they make their way down they get to the first red set of gets, they need to go between the two sets of poles or flags with both skis and legs or the snowboard and their legs depending on activity. Once through they head towards the blue gate and have to go through this gate in the same manner. This is repeated all the way down the slope until the finish line (providing you stay on your feet!). If on their way down they miss a set of gates they are disqualified from the event. Missing a gate can be as little as one ski running on the wrong side of the gate, it’s an event of very fine margins.

Why do slalom skiers get so close to the poles?

The reason skiers and boarders get so close to the poles is all about speed and time. The ultimate aim of the event is to get down the slope in as little time as possible while going between each gate. So you could give yourself a little extra room to make sure you get through the gate but you’ll be slightly slower. At the top competitions around the world with the fastest riders and skiers, if you give yourself a little more room to make sure you don’t get disqualified you’re likely to come last. For that reason, it’s worth pushing the limits to get as close to the edge as possible.

So why are there two poles?

This is a good point, as every person competing in the slalom is only getting near and touching the inside flags or poles. What purpose does the second flag have? It is basically how the rules are written, it’s that simple. The rules state that the competitor must pass between a gate, aka it has a start and an endpoint. Basically, you can ignore the outside poles as no one is going to ski near them, just focus on the inside pole while watching and enjoy the adrenaline-filled fun.