It’s been a difficult Winter Olympics thus far for Alpine skiing great Mikaela Shiffrin. The 26-year-old American has twice done something she hardly ever does in international competition: "ski out" of a race.
It’s a dreaded term for elite ski racers, one that is usually accompanied by the letters DNF – did not finish – meaning a skier failed to complete the course and register a valid run.
Making the gates
Alpine skiing courses are lined with brightly colored markers, called gates, which athletes must ski through as they navigate the slope. In the downhill, super-G and giant slalom disciplines, gates are marked by pairs of flags anchored to the snow by flexible plastic poles. Making contact with a flag is allowed, provided that every part of the skier’s body and equipment stays inside the inner-most pole.
Slalom is a bit different. For starters, the gates are made up of single poles rather than larger flags. The poles, alternating in color, indicate various turns the skiers must perform down the hill.
A common misconception is that the color of each pole indicates whether the skiers must go to the right or left of it. While this might often appear to be the case when watching a slalom competition, the color of each pole is simply meant to let the skiers know which gate is up next. It falls upon the athletes to learn the proper combination of turns outlined by the course, which happens during set inspection periods in the hours or days before a race.
SEE MORE: Alpine Skiing 101: Competition format
What does it mean to ski out?
Simply put, skiing out means missing a gate at any point during a ski race. The consequences of doing so are instant disqualification from the event even if it spans multiple runs, as slalom, giant slalom and the combined event do at the Winter Olympics.
Sometimes, especially in the speed disciplines of downhill and super-G, ski outs happen when an athlete loses control and crashes off his or her skis. Shiffrin suffered a minor crash – and was uninjured – during her giant slalom run.
However, skiers can also ski out even without crashing if they stray too far outside the racing line, as Shiffrin did two days later in the slalom.
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