Different Types Of Skiing

The 8 Different Types of Skiing: Complete Explanation

Last Updated on March 25, 2021 by James

Skiing is a one of the most varied sports on the planet. The word ‘skiing’ encompasses a wide range of activities that have significant differences.

The basic definition of skiing is ‘travelling over snow with two planks of wood (or ‘skis) strapped to your feet’. Within this definition, there are many different types of skiing.

Getting to know the different types of skiing will help you to choose the avenue you would like to pursue. It will also improve your overall knowledge of the ski industry, helping you to become part of the wider mountain sports community.

Every type of skiing on this list requires different equipment and a unique skillset. Some are highly physically demanding, while others are relaxing. Either way, skiing is a sport that has something to offer every outdoor enthusiast.

Alpine Skiing

Alpine skiing, also known as ‘downhill’, is the most common type of skiing. It is simply defined as sliding down snow-covered slopes.

When people close their eyes and visualise skiing, they are usually thinking about alpine skiing. Share on X

Alpine skiing is performed on groomed ski slopes. Each ski slope will be marked with a colour rating (green, blue, red or black), signalling its difficulty.

Alpine skiers use skis with fixed-heel bindings and stiff ski boots. The skis used are optimized for travelling downhill, using a curved edge shape that makes turning on piste easy.

Most skiers will first learn alpine skiing. Once they have mastered alpine, they may then choose to learn the other types of skiing.

Alpine skier
Alpine skiing is the most well-known type of skiing

Backcountry Skiing

Backcountry skiing is a broad term that encompasses any type of skiing that is performed outside of the marked slopes. Ski touring, heli-skiing and off-piste are all common ski terms that you perform in the backcountry.

Backcountry ski terrain can be accessed by ski lifts, snowmobiles, helicopters or by foot. The method of transportation will depend on the goals of each individual skier.

One of the most popular types of backcountry skiing is ‘ski touring’. It involves using ‘skins’ and ‘free-heel’ bindings to ascend and traverse backcountry terrain.

Backcountry skier
Backcountry skiing often involves skiing UPHILL

Extra wide ‘powder skis’ are also popular amongst backcountry skiers. They use a similar design to alpine skis, but have additional width that allows them to float better in deep snow.

Since backcountry skiers head outside of the resort boundaries, the threat of an avalanche is often present. With this in mind, they usually carry a range of equipment that can protect them in the event of a snowslide.

The goal of many backcountry skiers is to find fresh powder snow. This pursuit often takes skiers way beyond the ski resort boundaries, with some tours lasting multiple days.

Backcountry skier heading down a powder slope
The pursuit of powder is never ending for some skiers!

Freestyle Skiing

Freestyle is a type of skiing that revolves around jumps, rails, half pipes and anything else that allows you to catch some air. Skiers look to use the mountain as their playground, perfecting tricks on any feature that looks cool.

Freestyle is one of the newest types of skiing to be officially recognised. The International Ski Federation (FIS) first recognised it as a sport in 1979, with its Winter Olympic debut coming in 1988.

Freestyle skier
Freestyle is a modern type of skiing

When you think of freestyle skiing, you will most likely be thinking of ‘slopestyle’. This is where athletes perform tricks through a terrain park, using the snow features to perform tricks.

Aerial skiing, mogul skiing, ski ballet, ski cross and half pipe are also recognised as types of freestyle skiing. Each one of these has its own physical and mental challenges; while also requiring a different set of equipment.

Skis that are designed for use in the snow park are commonly known as ‘freestyle skis’. They often use a ‘twin tip’ shape, where the tips and tails of the skis are both raised to optimize backwards skiing.

Freestyle ski jump
Is freestyle the coolest type of skiing?

Ski Racing

Ski racing encompasses any downhill skiing that is done competitively. There are four disciplines within ski racing that are widely recognised: Slalom, Giant Slalom, Super-G and Downhill.

Every discipline involves turning around a course of ‘gates’, attempting to achieve the fastest time. Slalom and Giant Slalom are the most technical disciplines, while Super-G and Downhill are performed at a higher speed.

Ski racing is especially popular with kids living in alpine nations. Many of whom are part of ski race clubs, competing at local, national and international levels.

Ski racing is a well-respected sport across the globe. Millions tune in to watch the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup throughout the ski season, which is a circuit of alpine ski competitions held around the world.

Race skiers will use alpine skis with alpine bindings, although each racer’s equipment will be designed and tuned to their specific discipline. They are also well-known for wearing lycra suits, making them aerodynamic during a race.

Ski racer
Skiing is not just an activity, it’s also a sport!

Ski Jumping

Ski jumping is a sport that’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s a competition where skiers jump from a ramp with the aim of achieving the longest jump possible.

Ski jumping has been around a long time, with the first recorded competitions being held in Norway during the 19th century. It then became an Olympic sport in 1924, consolidating its place in the world of professional skiing.

The FIS Ski Jumping Wold Cup has been contested since 1979, consisting of 25-30 events throughout the ski season. Distance travelled and style are evaluated by a panel of judges to determine the winner of each event.

Ski jumpers use very specific equipment, including flexible boots that allow them to lean forward during flight and long ‘jumping’ skis with free-heel bindings. They also wear a lycra suit that helps them to be streamlined, increasing flight distance.

Ski jumping
Ski jumping takes some courage! (Image: Martin Rulsch CC BY-SA 4.0)

Telemark Skiing

Telemark skiing is known for its ‘free-heel’ style, making it a popular discipline amongst backcountry skiers. It involves travelling down the slope with only the front portion of your ski boot attached, making for a very specialized technique.

Telemark turns are made famous for the ‘lunging’ style required to perform them. During the turn, you will see one ski forward and one ski back, allowing for ‘knee-drop’ position.

Originating in Norway, telemark skiing has been well established since the 19th century. Although not as mainstream as ‘alpine’ skiing, it has an avid fan base to this day – largely due to its fee-heel style being well-suited to ski touring.

Telemark skiing can be challenging to learn, mainly due to its specialised technique posing a tough transition for alpine skiers. Its lunging style can also pose a significant fitness test for most skiers; your thigh muscles are sure to see a good workout.

Telemark skier
Telemark is one of the oldest types of skiing (Image: Kjetilbmoe CC BY-SA 3.0)

Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing, also known as XC or Nordic skiing, is a type of skiing that is performed on largely flat ground. Skiers use their own power to ‘skate’ along the flat, often around a track or circuit.

Cross-country skiing is possibly the oldest form of skiing in existence. It was once used by snow-dwellers as a method of transportation, which later turned into a sport and hobby.

The equipment used by cross-country skiers is highly specialised. They use thin and lightweight skis with free-heel bindings, making them ideal for pushing and gliding across the snow. Extra long poles are also used for powerful pushing, while a lycra suit is worn by athletes for streamlining purposes.

If you are looking for a serious workout, then this is the type of skiing for you. Cross-country skiing is highly beneficial to your health and fitness, with some believing that it pushes limits of cardiac performance more than any other sport.

Cross-country skiers
Cross-country skiing will keep you healthy!

Adaptive Skiing

Adaptive skiing uses specialized equipment and training to help people with disabilities participate in skiing. The various methods of adaptive skiing are generally categorized as stand up, sit down and ski bike.

A wide range of adaptations cans be used for disabled skiers. This works to bring skiing to people who would otherwise be unable to access the sport.

Adaptive skiing is also professionally recognized, with the Winter Paralympic Games being the pinnacle event. The games have been held since 1976 and feature alpine skiing, biathlon and cross-country skiing; along with other winter sports.

Advancements in adaptive technology have made skiing a more inclusive sport over the last century. The industry surrounding this type of skiing has seen significant growth, with the facilities provided and ski instructor availability contributing to its growth.

Adaptive skier
Adaptive technology makes skiing an inclusive sport (Image: Clayoquot CC BY-SA 3.0)

Summing Up

Skiing is a sport that never gets boring. There is always something new to learn, with a range of disciplines that require unique technical skills.

Choosing the type of skiing that’s right for you will usually develop over time. Chances are you will give most of them a try during your skiing journey, allowing you to build a broad range of mountain skills.

Different types of skiing are best suited to different skiers. Since every discipline poses such a specific challenge, it’s not always easy to master every aspect.

Although skiers prefer to slide in different ways, they are all part of the same mountain community. As long as you enjoy your time on the snow, it doesn’t really matter which path you choose.


Which type of skiing do you enjoy the most and why? We’d love to hear from you!