Skiing Vocabulary

This page covers the vocabulary and language of skiing by looking at its background, equipment and people. Check your understanding with the vocabulary quiz and comprehension quiz.

skiingSkiing is the action of travelling over snow or ice with one's feet placed on skis (long narrow pieces of wood or other material). There are many different forms of skiing. Some skiing events take place on icy mountain slopes and peaks and others take place on level or bumpy runs and trails. The three main types of skiing are Alpine, Nordic and Freestyle. Alpine skiing events take place on steep terrain. Many people call this "downhill" skiing. The boots are attached to the skis with bindings. The toe and heel of each boot are firmly fixed to the skis. Top downhill skiers can go 100 kilometres per hour or faster. Their average speed is similar to a car on a highway. Nordic skiing is generally for terrain that is less steep. In this type of skiing, the toe is fixed firmly to the ski, but the heel is free. The most popular type of Nordic skiing is "cross country". Freestyle skiing is a form of acrobatics. Skiers show off their skills by doing tricks.


Nordic skiing has been around for about 5,000 years. It likely developed as a method for hunting. Skis were carved out of wood. In Scandinavia, skiing was a major mode of transportation before it became a sport. Alpine skiing required more sophisticated bindings to hold the toes and heels to the skis. These were developed in the late 1800's. Downhill skiing originated in the European Alps. This is where it got its name. Nordic skiing became an official Olympic event at the 1928 Winter Games in Switzerland. This was the first year the Winter Olympics were recognized by the IOC. Alpine skiing was added in 1936. Since then many more skiing events have been added to the Olympic program, including the popular sport with one large ski better known as "snowboarding".


Different types of skiing require different equipment. The length of the skis worn depends on the type of skiing. Some skiers hold ski poles for balance and wear helmets to protect their heads. Many professional skiers wear goggles to protect their eyes as well. Ski lifts, chair lifts or gondolas are often used to transport skiers up to the top of a mountain to ski down a run. Snow-grooming machines are sometimes used when there is not enough real snow. Skiers call real fresh snow "powder".

Nordic Skiing

In the Olympics there are various types of Nordic events, including individual races, relays, sprints, combined events, and races of different distances.

Cross Country

There are two main types of cross-country skiing. Classical cross-country skiing involves straight skiing on designated trails. Freestyle cross-country is a faster type of skiing. In this sport skiers push off on each ski every time they take a stride. Some events combine cross-country and freestyle skiing. Skiers do not go down steep inclines on cross-country skis.

Ski Jumping

This event is held at the top of a hill. The hill can be "normal", "large" (higher), or "ski-flying" (highest). Skiers start at the top of the hill called an "inrun". They then jump from a ramp. The score for a ski jump is based on the distance and the style of the jump. Skiers make a V with their skis to clear the most distance. Ski jumping in the Olympics is a male-only event. Women ski jumpers hoped the sport would be added in 2010, but the IOC chose not to include it.

Nordic Combined

In this event, skiers must complete a cross-country race and at least one scored ski jump from the top of a ski hill. The distance, order and number of jumps in the Olympic Nordic combined event changes often.


This event involves cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. Skiers race around a track and make several stops to shoot at targets. When skiers miss a target they receive a penalty, such as having to ski an extra loop or having time added to their total. Racers are free to use either classic or freestyle forms of skiing.

Alpine Skiing

In the Olympics there are five types of Alpine events, including the main four below, plus an event that combines downhill and slalom racing. Downhill and Super G are "speed events" while slalom and giant slalom are "technical events". Men and women compete in the following races against other skiers of their own gender.


Downhill skiingThis is the longest type of downhill race. Skiers compete to have the fastest time. They have one run down a very steep hill that is usually covered in ice. Downhill courses (seen right) feature a variety of terrain including turns, jumps and straightaways.


This is a short course with sharp turns. Skiers must go through sets of gates (poles) that are very close together. In the Winter Olympics, skiers go down the run twice. The gates are moved for the second run. The two race times are added together for a total. Short skis are worn to maximize movement.

Giant Slalom

This is similar to slalom except that the gates are farther apart and the course is longer. The turns are not as sharp and the speeds are faster in the giant slalom.

Supergiant (Super G)

This is an event that combines downhill and giant slalom events. It is a longer run than the giant slalom and skiers use the "tuck" position as they do in the downhill events. The gates are placed farther apart, allowing skiers to pick up a lot of speed. As in all of the slalom events, skiers are not allowed to take a practice run. They are permitted to view the course ahead of time.

Freestyle Skiing

Acrobatic skiing was previously known as "hot-dogging". It was a demonstration sport at the 1988 Winter Olympics and has been an official discipline ever since. The two main forms of freestyle skiing are aerials and moguls. Outside of the Olympics, skiers compete in many other freestyle forms.


Freestyle skiing jumpAerials became an Olympic sport in 1994. Skiers jump off an elevated area and do flips, summersaults and other twists in the air. Their formation in the air is worth 50% of their score. Skiers are also judged on how high they "fly" and how well they "land".


"Mogul" is another word for "bump". Skiers race down a run that is full of moguls. Their score is based on how fast they ski and how well they turn corners and perform tricks.

Skiing Vocabulary list

word example sentence meaning
aerial In the aerial competition, the skier does flips in the air. freestyle ski jumping that involves flipping in the air
Alpine The Alpine events will take place on the local mountain ranges. downhill ski events
biathlon Target shooting is an important component of the biathlon event. a ski race that involves cross-country skiing and shooting at targets
binding If your binding breaks, your boot will fall off your ski. holds the ski boot onto the ski
combined The combined events require both types of skills. a competition that mixes two events
freestyle Aerials and moguls are the two main types of freestyle event. acrobatics on skis (also a type of "cross-country")
gates When the gates are placed closer together it is difficult to gain speed. two sets of poles that skiers must go through in certain events
goggles Goggles protect your eyes from wind and ice. eye protection for skiers
hot-dogging Doing stunts on skis is sometimes called hot-dogging. another word for flipping in the air on skis
incline When a hill has a steep incline the skier goes faster. the angle of a slope
IOC The IOC decides which new sports will be introduced each year. International Olympic Committee
loop Skiers have to do an extra loop if they receive a penalty. a circular track
moguls Skiers with bad knees should avoid trails with moguls. snow bumps that are groomed into a ski run for a freestyle challenge
Nordic The Nordic skiers train for long-distance races. cross-country
peaks Gondolas and lifts take skiers to the mountain peaks. mountain tops and cliffs
penalty Adding seconds to a racer's score is one form of penalty. a time or score punishment for making an error or breaking a rule
relay The fastest member of the relay team will do the last section of the race. an event where members of a team take turns to complete a race or task
rifle The biathlon skier wears a rifle close to his body. a gun with a long barrel
sharp (turns) It is difficult to go fast on a course with many sharp turns. very tight (not wide)
slalom The slalom event requires amazing precision. a downhill event with sharp turns
slopes Cross-country skiers gain speed when they reach sections with slopes. downgrade sections on a piece of terrain; hills
stride The kick and glide is a type of ski stride. one step or pace on skis
target If he misses another target, he won't win the race. the object you are aiming for
terrain The steep and icy terrain is for advanced skiers only. ground that you pass over
Contributor: Matt Errey. Matt is the author of several books including 1000 Phrasal Verbs in Context and Common English Idioms for learners, and Matt's ESL Games and Quizzes for teachers.