Para Alpine skiing has been a part of the Winter Paralympics since the very first edition of the Games in 1976. It comprises five disciplines: downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-G and super combined.
The disciplines are split between men’s and women’s events, and athletes are divided into three categories based on their functional abilities or impairments. In total, 30 medal events are scheduled to be held at the Yanqing Alpine Skiing Center spread across nine days of competition.
The three Para Alpine skiing event categories cover more than a dozen classifications of impairments. The first category is standing skiers. It includes athletes with leg and/or arm impairments who ski upright. The second category comprises athletes who, for various reasons, compete as sit-skiers. The third category is for skiers with visual impairments. Athletes in this category ski with a guide who gives verbal instructions.
In order to allow multiple classifications of athletes to compete against each other fairly, calculations are applied to each skier’s results based on their classification to determine ranking.
Americans to watch
Danelle Umstead (with guide Rob Umstead)
A three-time Paralympian, Umstead has captured three bronze medals at past Games in both the downhill and super-combined events. She’s won four world championship medals, her most recent being a bronze in super-G in 2017. The Park City, Utah, native was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration, which affects her central vision and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis after Vancouver 2010. She’s battled various injuries in recent years, including a broken leg in 2020 that required three surgeries. But Umstead, at age 50, is back to full strength. She and her husband Rob Umstead, who is also her guide, compete as Team Vision4Gold.
The 37-year-old Wenham, Massachusetts native has the most experience of anyone on U.S. Para Alpine roster, with four Paralympic Games appearances and seven Paralympic medals to her credit. She’s also collected 15 world championship medals during her career, including gold in giant slalom and bronze in slalom at this year’s championships in Lillehammer. A 2006 ESPY Award nominee for Best Female Athlete with a Disability, Stephens was born with spina bifida and took up skiing at age 12. She also previously held two U.S. records for Para swimming in the 100m and 200m backstroke.
As a cancer survivor, Walsh competes in every race as a tribute to those who can’t. He was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma as a teenager but finished his final chemotherapy treatment a year later. Walsh, of Vail, Colorado, had two top-10 finishes at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, taking fifth in slalom and seventh in giant slalom. At this year’s world championships, the 27-year-old just missed the podium in the men’s standing super-combined event, finishing fourth. After battling injuries before the start of the 2021-22 World Cup season, he took bronze in slalom in St. Moritz and finished fifth in super-G in Are. Walsh is childhood friends with Olympian Mikaela Shiffrin.
A former six-time state wrestling champion from Palmer, Alaska, Kurka once had visions of becoming an Olympic wrestler. After an ATV accident that severely damaged three vertebrae in his spinal cord, he turned to the slopes. At Sochi 2014, Kurka crashed during his first downhill training run and broke his back. During the long recovery from that injury, Kurka renewed his focus on showcasing the Paralympics and helping others. Kurka had his breakthrough on the world stage in 2017, when he won a world title in the downhill. Often referred to as a speed specialist, one year later he won the same event at the Paralympics in PyeongChang. More recently, he added two world championships bronze medals (downhill, giant slalom) in Lillehammer, to bring his career total to five.
NBC Olympics Research contributed to this story.