Alpine Skiing World Cup Courses Rules: Length, Drops, Gates and more

Alpine skiing is the most viewed from all skiing competitions. The thrill and the easy rules (the one who has the shortest time from start to finish wins) makes the downhill, super g, giant slalom, and slalom very attractive to sports fans. The rules are not very complicated, and even the average person understands enough to follow and build a passion for alpine skiing. Though, some questions arise as you become more familiar with the sport. For example, the most asked one is about the slalom course and the way how the poles are set. We did our homework and studied the rules to bring you all answers. Below you will find all you need to become a real expert in alpine skiing, especially slalom.

Sarka Zahrobska on Slalom course Source: Pixabay

Who sets the rules

International Ski Federation (FIS) is the organization that sets the rules for all ski competitions.

Its ski competition rules state requirements for all ski disciplines. The 134 pages material includes all the details from the course’s length, insurance policy requirements, the position of microphones or digital timers, to the penalties and disqualification rules.

You can find the full material at the end of our post if you are interested but we picked the most important rules below.

The length of FIS Alpine skiing courses

The official rulebook does not set the exact length of competition courses. However, it states the minimum and maximum vertical drop of each discipline for men and ladies competitions.

Vertical Drop for FIS World Cup, World Ski Championship, and Olympic Winter Games

Minimum - Maximum Vertical DropDownhillSuper GGiant SlalomSlalom
Men Competitions800 m - 1100 m400 m - 650 m250 m - 450 m180 m - 220 m
Ladies Competitions450 m - 800 m400 m - 600 m250 m - 400 m140 m - 220 m

Number of runs

The World Cup competitions are either one or two runs events. See in the table below every discipline and number of runs.

DisciplineNumber of Runs
Super G1
Giant Slalom2
Alpine Combined2
[1 Downhill or Super G run and 1 Slalom run]

In Slalom and Giant Slalom, thirty best skiers from the first run qualify for the second run. They start the second run in reverse order. The thirtieth from the first-run starts as the first one in the second run. The best skier from the first-run starts like the last one (thirtieth) in the second run.


The setting of the gates is easy to understand in Downhill, Super G, and Giant Slalom. However, it is a bit more complicated in Slalom.

Downhill, Super G, and Giant Slalom Gates and Course Setting

Gate in Downhill, Super G, and Giant Slalom consists of four slalom poles and two gate panels. Two poles hold each gate panel.

The skier has to cross an imaginary line that connects the two gates.


Downhill, Super G, Giant Slalom Gates

The difference is in the width of the gates. In Downhill, it has to be at least  8 meters, in Super G from 6 to 8 meters for open gates (from 8 to 12 meters for vertical gates), and in Giant Slalom, the width must be from 4 to 8 meters, and the distance between the turning poles of successive gates has to be at least 10 meters.

Slalom Gates and Course Setting

Slalom is different from other disciplines. The gate consists of either two poles or just one turning pole.

Horizontal and Vertical Gates

There are several possible combinations of gates and turning poles. There are horizontal (also called open) gates and vertical (also called closed or delay) gates.

Slalom gates

Slalom Gates and Turning Poles

Horizontal gates are usually placed at the start (the first gate) and at the finish (the last gate) of the course.

Vertical Gates Combinations: Hairpins and Flushes

The successive combination of two vertical gates is called hairpins. A combination of three to four successive vertical gates is called flushes.

Hairpins and flushes present rhythm changes for the skier. Also, the combination of vertical gates (which have to be set in a straight line) helps the skier gain speed.

Hairpins and Flushes

Combination of Vertical Gates: Hairpins and Flushes

The general rules for setting the poles are:

*if the gate is made of two poles then the gate width must be from 4 to 6 meters.
*consecutive gates must alternate in blue and red.
*distance from turning pole to turning pole has to be from 6 m to 13 m
*in hairpins or flushes the distance of the subsequent poles must be between 0.75 m to 1 m
*delayed gates must have a distance between turning poles from 12 m to 18 m

The general rules for setting the slalom courses are:

*a number of direction changes are 30 to 35% of vertical drop (+/- 3 direction changes).
*the gradient of the slalom course should be from 33% to 45%.
*competition course should be approximately 40 m wide

Rules for gates combinations:

*each slalom must contain from one to three vertical combinations
*slalom must contain at least three hairpin combinations
*slalom must contain at least one but a maximum of three delay gate combinations

Who sets the course?

Coaches of different skiers set the individual courses. The list of coaches (and skiers they represent) picked for creating runs is available at the FIS documents library here.


Now you have enough information to present yourself as an expert when watching FIS World Cup on TV. We hope that our short excerpt of the most important issues from the rules helped you. Suppose you want to know more, feel free to consult with full International Ski Competition Rules as published by FIS. They can be found here or below in pdf reader.

Click to access ICR_02072020.pdf


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Ski Pro Guru

Simon is the leading editor of for almost 3 years. He started skiing in his teens and now he switches from Alpine to Cross-Country Skiing regularly. He tried also snowboard for a few years, but then returned to conventional skiing :) In his free time he follows soccer, tennis and reads a lot of contemporary proses and novels.


  1. Why did the 2019 men’s downhill in Soldeu only have a 710m vertical drop when 800m is the FIS minimum?

  2. What is the minimum distance between the turning gate and the first delay gate in a slalom course?

    • From the rules:

      801.2.3 A gate must have a minimum width of 4 m and a maximum of 6 m.
      The distance from turning pole to turning pole of successive gates must
      not be less than 6 m and not more than 13 m (valid for all categories).
      Exception U16 – U14 competitions:
      – between 7 m and 11 m
      The distance between gates within combinations (hairpin or vertical) must
      be not less than 0.75 m and not more than 1 m. The gates in hairpin or
      vertical combinations must be set in a straight line. Delayed gates must
      have a minimum distance of 12 m and a maximum distance of 18 m (U16
      – U14 Competition 15 m) from turning pole to turning pole.

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