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The Ultimate Guide to Winter Olympic Sports

The Ultimate Guide to Winter Olympic Sports

All Sports in the Winter Olympic Games

The Winter Olympics is packed full of sports, with new ones being introduced every time. You can expect the world's best athletes sliding and jumping to the best of their ability to claim the top spot with a gold medal.

In this post, we will go through all the sports in the Winter Olympics. You’ll learn a bit more about the sports, and how they work in terms of their scoring, rules, and techniques.


Snowboarding became an Olympic sport in 1998 in the Nagano games. There are four disciplines of snowboarding in the winter Olympics that test riders' speed and skills on the snow.

Snowboard Racing

The first one is the giant parallel slalom, where riders battle it out against each other. They race on separate but identical slalom courses that run alongside each other. The slalom courses are set out with gates marked with red and blue poles.

Racers reach over 40mph while negotiating the gates with perfect carve turns. While watching parallel slalom races, you will notice differences in technique. Some riders will use an aggressive style to attack the course, while others will be much smoother. Generally, there is no right or wrong way, but some courses and snow conditions favour one style over the other.

There is also the parallel slalom event, which uses the same format. However, the difference is that the gates are closer together, so riders have to turn quicker. Both types of slalom see close finishes and nail-biting action.

The riders wear skintight race suits to reduce wind resistance for both snowboard slalom disciplines, just like an alpine ski racer. The reason for this is so they can get as much speed as possible.

The other speed-based snowboard discipline is the snowboarder cross. This event sees four racers racing against each other on a technical and high-speed track. The track is inspired by BMX and motocross tracks, with a series of banked turns and huge jumps.

Snowboarder cross is one of the most entertaining of all the sports in the winter Olympics. The racing is very dramatic, and there are often lots of crashes and position changes. During a boardercross race, riders wear more traditional snowboard clothing rather than race suits.

You may also enjoy watching the skiercross event, which is the same as boardercross but for skiers. Skiercross races see higher speeds than boardercross races, so the jumps are even bigger, and the crashes are more dramatic.

Freestyle Snowboarding

A large part of snowboarding is riders expressing themselves with tricks. There are two Olympic freestyle snowboard disciplines, halfpipe, and slopestyle.

The halfpipe event sees snowboarders riding down a long channel cut into the snow. They use the steep gradient to launch themselves out of the pipe, performing tricks. The nature of the halfpipe means that the riders jump seamlessly into the next trick. Riders perform several tricks on both sides of the halfpipe and are scored by a panel of judges. The riders get points for how complex their tricks were, how well they performed them, how high they got, and how they used the pipe.

The slopestyle event looks like something from a computer game. During a slopestyle event, riders have to navigate a complex course, full of obstacles and jumps. They get scored on how they get through the course while being as creative as possible. Judges look for how difficult the rider's tricks are, how clean they pull them off, and how high they go.

Olympic slopestyle courses are notoriously challenging and dangerous, so riders have to practice on them in the weeks leading up to the event.

Alpine Skiing

Alpine skiing events are the highlights of the Winter Olympic games for many fans. Alpine skiing tests the speed and technical abilities of the world's best downhill skiers. There are several disciplines with different formats.

Downhill skiing sees racers try to get the fastest time down a set course. The courses are often set on the steepest run that finishes in the resort. The Winter Olympics often give these slopes legendary status, as the racers make history at 95mph. Downhill ski racers need to stay between the painted lines, but they don't need to negotiate gates. 

Downhill racers only get one chance to set a time. If you fall or stray out of the lines, your race is over, as are your Olympic dreams.

The Super G event is a similar format to downhill. The difference is that the course has gates set widely apart, so the racers need to take sharper turns more frequently.

Slalom races test a skier's ability to complete a tight course as fast as possible while zig-zagging through gates placed close together. It is a matter of displaying technical ability while being fast. During the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018, the organisers introduced parallel slalom to the games, just like the snowboard event.

Many Olympic ski racers also compete in the Combined Alpine event. This sees them racing in both downhill and slalom races.

The final alpine skiing discipline is the Giant Slalom. This event is similar to Super-G, but the course has more gates, making it more technical. Many alpine ski racers say that Super-g is their favourite event to compete in and is probably the King of Winter Olympic Sports.

Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing takes place on a reasonably flat circuit rather than down a mountain. Cross-country skiers propel themselves along using poles. Competitors will also use a skating or striding motion to get around the track as fast as possible.

The courses can be up to 35 miles long, and racers will average speeds of up to 15mph. It is a very physically demanding sport, testing the endurance of the athletes. Cross-country races see many skiers battling head to head throughout the event.

Cross-country ski races are monitored by officials, who check to see if racers are sticking to the rules. Courses have tracks cut into the snow. If there is a track on a corner, the skiers need to stay in the tracks and use the classic striding technique.

There are often several tracks cut into the courses. The racers can use different tracks to pass each other, but they are not allowed to continuously switch from one track to the other.


Biathlon combines cross-country skiing and shooting. This event tests the endurance, speed, and shooting accuracy of the athletes.

There are several formats, but they all take place on a closed race course. As the athlete’s race, they have to stop at set intervals to shoot their targets. Skiers lie prone on the ground to shoot 5 targets set 50m away from their position. Every time they miss a target, they incur a distance or time penalty, depending on the race format.

Biathletes are regarded as the fittest in the world due to the physically demanding nature of the sport. When it comes to target shooting, the athletes need to time their shot between their heartbeats to be accurate!

Ski Jumping

Ski jumping is one of the most impressive sports to watch at the Winter Olympics. Skiers jump off a giant ramp to fly as far as they can, but they have to demonstrate a stable landing too. Competitors start on the ramp's in-run, in a crouched position. They then slide down the in-run while preparing themselves for the jump and building up speed.

At the ramp, the skier uses their speed and their legs to take off. To get the most out of their jump, the skier needs to time their pop perfectly, allowing them to fly as far as possible.

Once in the air, the ski jumper will fly for up to 7 seconds. Judges will critique their landing, and their jump is scored on the distance of their jump. The distance is relative to the K-point, which is a line placed in the landing area that the jumpers have to reach.

The ski jumper has to land in control in a telemark stance, with one ski slightly forwards of the other. After the landing, the skier needs to stay in control until they pass a line. If they fall before the line, judges will deduct points from the skier.

Ski jumpers earn points for style. But points will also be added to counter the negative effect of poor wind conditions. When there is a headwind, ski jumpers can get more lift, giving them further distance. Therefore, points are taken away to make the competition fair. 

Nordic Combined

The Nordic Combined event sees competitors ski jumping and cross-country skiing. In the Winter Olympics, there are two individual competitions and a team event.

The individual competitions consist of a ski jump followed by a 10km cross-country race. The team event is a relay race, where a jumper hands over to a four-man cross-country relay team. Each racer has to travel five kilometres.

Bobsleigh, Skeleton, and Luge


Bobsleigh is a super-high-speed sport that takes place on an ice track. The track is shaped like a tube cut in half down its length that twists down a steep mountain, like a roller coaster. The Bobsleigh itself is a torpedo-shaped sled that runs on sharp blade-like skis.

Bobsleigh teams are made up of two, for four people who start their run by pushing their sled as fast as they can. They jump into the sled at the last second, with the goal of getting to the bottom of the track in the fastest time.

Bobsleighs exceed 90mph on a run and are controlled by the team member in the front seat. The driver pulls on cables connected to the front skis to steer around the high-speed banked corners. The rest of the team just sit there with their heads down until they reach the bottom.


The Skeleton event uses the same tracks as the Bobsleigh, but the difference is that there is only one athlete. The brave skeleton athlete rides a small tray-like sled headfirst down the track.

Their chin guard on their helmet is virtually scraping the ice as they race down at over 85mph. During a run, a skeleton bob racer will experience up to 5g in the corners.

The Luge

The Luge event is the same as the skeleton. However, the athlete goes down the track feet first. The event sees races taking place over two days, with each participant completing four runs.

There is a doubles event, where tandem luges get two runs. The team with the fastest combined time over the runs receives the gold.

Ice Hockey

Ice Hockey is a very popular sport at the Winter Olympics. Spectators love it for its aggression, fast pace, and constant action. 

Ice hockey games pitch two teams against each other on an ice rink. Their objective is to score goals by hitting the puck into the other team's net.

Each team consists of six players, including a player to guard the net. The players skate around on the ice wearing protective clothing due to the violent nature of the sport.

In the run-up to the Winter Olympic games, much of the excitement comes from debating which players make up the teams. There have been some vicious rivalries over the years at the Winter Olympic games, notably the USA and Russia.

However, it is always difficult to predict who the champions will be, as many countries have talented teams. It is always good to keep an eye on the Eastern European and Scandinavian teams.

Ice Hockey Winter Olympic Sport.jpg


If you have never watched a game of curling, you would be forgiven for thinking it is not the most entertaining winter sport. However, it is pretty addictive- especially when you get to understand what is going on. The history of curling goes back centuries, but what about the game itself?

Olympic curling has both men's and women's competitions and one for mixed doubles. The icy surface is known as the "sheet” which competitors slide a curling stone along. At the end of the 138ft sheet, there is a target known as the "house." Players try to slide the stone with just enough power for it to stop in the centre of the house.

There is a house at each end of the sheet, so the player can play in both directions. Both teams play with eight stones, and the game ends when all sixteen stones have been used. The team that scores is the one with the stone closest to the centre of the target. They get a point for every stone that is closer to the target than their opponent.

Teams can knock their opponent's stones out of the target area, so theirs is closer. The team that doesn't score gets an extra throw when they start playing at the other end.

When the teams slide a stone along the sheet, the team's sweepers brush the icy surface in front of it. The sweeping action clears the ice to speed it up if necessary, under instruction from the skip and teammates. The skip is the person who slides the stone along the sheet. A game ends after the teams have played from each end five times.

This seemingly slow and niche winter sport has provided some of the most climactic moments in Winter Olympics History!

Figure Skating

Figure skating is another very popular sport at the Winter Olympics. The competitions feature individual skaters, pairs, or groups. Skaters put together graceful routines to music while skating on the ice.

During the Winter Olympics, there is five separate figure skating events. Men's and women's individual, pairs, ice dancing, and the team event. Figure skating has a very complex scoring method, but here is a summary.

Figure skaters are awarded two scores for each of their routines. The first score is determined by how technical their routine was, and the second is how well they presented their performance. Judges add the scores together, and the routine with the highest score wins.

Skaters put together both a long routine and a short routine, so they receive two scores. The shorter routine is more of a qualifying one for the long routine; therefore, not all skaters get to do their longer performance.

The skaters who get through have their scores from both routines added up to determine the gold medal.

Freestyle Skiing

Over the last few Winter Olympic games, organisers have added more freestyle skiing disciplines. Many of these disciplines come from snowboarding, but a couple of them are exclusive to those who ride two planks.

With slopestyle snowboarding being so popular, it was inevitable that skiers would have their own event. Slopestyle skiers compete on the same course as the snowboarders, but they often go bigger. Skiers have extra speed, and this allows them to go higher while performing more rotations and flips in the air.

The discipline of riding moguls is one of those exclusive to skiers, as moguls are not much fun on a snowboard. This discipline sees skiers charging down a slope with large artificial bumps all the way down it. Each skier is judged on how well they turn on the moguls, their freestyle tricks, and their speed. Mogul skiers have incredibly strong legs to cope with the high stresses caused by the course.

A more traditional form of freestyle skiing is Aerials. Aerial skiing is a very acrobatic discipline. Skiers take off from a very steep ramp that sends them straight up into the air. Judges score the skier on their take-off, how high and far they went. They also get points for their form and landing.

Skiers also have a halfpipe event during the Winter Olympic Games. It works exactly the same way as the snowboard version, with judges scoring competitors based on trick complexity, height, and technique. Skiers who compete in the halfpipe use twin-tip skis (as do slopestyle skiers). Twin tips allow the skier to take off and land backward (also known as a switch). Skiers get to take two runs, and their highest score is the one that determines the winner.

Speed Skating and Short Track

Speed skating is a very entertaining Winter Olympic sport for spectators. Its fast pace and display of technical ability are mesmerising. It is a big event, too, with fourteen speed skating events throughout the games. 

The different events include 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m, mass start, and team pursuit for both men and women. There are longer distance races too, where women compete over 3,000m, and men 10,000m.

Most speed skating races see racers go head to head in pairs on a 400m oval ice track. Each lap, the skaters switch lanes to ensure they cover the same distance during a race.

The races are timed, but the times are translated into a point system, which considers how well they performed over the distance.

The order the skaters start in is determined via a draw, which places them into groups based on their world cup rankings. An additional draw decides which lane the skater starts in and the group's starting order.

Speed Skating Winter Olympic Sport.jpg

A great addition to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics was the event that saw a 16-lap mass start. This is where 24-speed skaters raced together, and the winner was determined by sprint points. The race had three sprints, where the top three skaters were awarded points when they crossed the finish line. Everyone else's results were determined by the order they finished in.

The short track event is another speed skating discipline, but races are over a shorter distance. Short track races are about 111m long, which creates a unique set of things for skaters to deal with. Skaters need to carefully think of alternative race strategies and use different blades on their skates. The shorter distance also means that skaters need to adjust their cornering technique to get the competitive edge.

Final Thoughts on Sports at the Winter Olympics

With this ultimate guide to Winter Olympic sports, you will have a good idea of what to expect. You will be able to understand the scoring and what the athletes do.

During the run-up to the Winter Olympics, you can watch the various sports' world championship competitions. These are always good, and spectators can see who will be competing, and how well they are doing. It is also an excellent opportunity to learn about different aspects of the sports, such as the jargon, names of tricks, and the rules.

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