World Cup speed skiing
Simon Billy in Vars, Hautes-Alpes 2019.

Speed skiing is the sport of skiing downhill in a straight line at as high a speed as possible, as timed over a fixed stretch of ski slope. There are two types of contest: breaking an existing speed record or having the fastest run at a given competition. Speed skiers regularly exceed 200 kilometres per hour (124 mph)


Speed skiing dates from 1898 with a run by American Tommy Todd, reported at 87 miles per hour (140 km/h). Official records began with an 89 mph (143 km/h) run by Leo Gasperl in 1932. While training for the 1956 Winter Olympics, American downhiller Ralph Miller is credited with being the first to break 100 mph (161 km/h), at nearly 109 mph (175 km/h) in August 1955 at Portillo, Chile, a record which held up for fifteen years.[1][2][3]

In 1978, also at Portillo, American Steve McKinney's record-breaking run of 200.2 km/h (124.4 mph)[4] made him the first to break the 200 km/h (124.3 mph) barrier.[2][5] It was a demonstration sport at the Albertville 1992 Winter Olympics on the Les Arcs speed skiing course, but was deemed too dangerous after several recorded deaths.[6][7]


Speed skiing is practiced on steep, specially designed courses one kilometer (0.62 mi) in length. There are approximately thirty of these courses worldwide, many of them at high altitudes to minimize air resistance. The first 300 or 400 m (980 or 1,310 ft) of the course (the launching area) is used to gain speed, the top speed is measured in the next 100 m (330 ft) (the timing zone) and the last 500 m (1,600 ft) (the run-out area) is used for slowing down and coming to a stop. The start point in FIS races is chosen so that, in theory, skiers should not exceed 200 kilometres per hour (124 mph), hence competition is aimed at winning a particular event, not breaking world speed records. At pro races, there is no maximum speed and the speed attained is determined by conditions and safety.[6]

In theory, speeds could continue to increase by using even longer and steeper slopes; this would eventually change speed skiing into something closer to skydiving except with skis rather than a parachute. Since a slight bump or gentle turn can easily prove fatal at such speeds, there is little appetite for this.[8]


Speed skiers wear dense foam fairings on their lower legs and aerodynamic helmets to increase streamlining. Their ski suits are made from air-tight latex or have a polyurethane coating to reduce wind resistance, with only a minimal (but mandatory) back protector to give some protection in the case of a crash.[6]

The special skis used must be 240 cm (7 ft 10+12 in) in length and at most 10 cm (3.9 in) wide, with a maximum weight of 15 kg (33 lb) for the pair. Ski boots are attached to the skis by bindings. The ski poles are bent to shape around the body, with a minimum length of 1 meter (39.4 inches).[6]

Official world records

The following records were set under FSV (France Ski de Vitesse) rules at Vars, France:

See also: Speed skiing world records

See also


  1. ^ "A roundup of the week's news: record breakers". Sports Illustrated. September 5, 1955. p. 4.
  2. ^ a b Miller, Peter (September 1999). "How fast can I go?". Skiing Heritage. p. 11.
  3. ^ Masia, Seth (June 2009). "Ralph Miller: from wax room to classroom". Skiing Heritage. p. 12.
  4. ^ "Speed Champion Steve Mc Kinney's 120-Mph Runs Make Downhill Racers Seem Snowbound :". Archived from the original on 2009-09-24.
  5. ^ "Video". CNN. February 7, 1983.
  6. ^ a b c d Lipsyte, Robert (2009). Vizard, Frank (ed.). Why a Curveball Curves: The Incredible Science of Sports. Popular mechanics. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. p. 224. ISBN 9781588167941.
  7. ^ Usborne, Simon (2018-02-09). "Speed skiing: too fast for the Olympics". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 2022-12-10. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  8. ^ Munroe, Randall (2019). how to: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems. New York: Penguin. p. 150. ISBN 9780525537090.
  9. ^ "Ski de vitesse : à 255,5 km/h, le Français Simon Billy bat le record du monde". Le Monde (in French). Paris. March 22, 2023. Retrieved 2023-03-24.