What Is Ski Cross? | Winter Olympic Event Guide For Beijing 2022

Here's what you need to know about one of the most exciting, chaotic, and entertaining ski events. From the history and rules of Ski Cross to the medal favourites at the 2022 Winter Olympics, this guide has it all covered

Ski cross is a downhill race event where four skiers compete simultaneously to reach the end of a course first. Heavily inspired by the courses and obstacles seen in motocross, competitors navigate sharp turns, big jumps, and each other at high speeds in a race to the finish line. The intense demands of the jumps and drops on the course, combined with the nature of racing against three other skiers, results in an event sure to keep you on the edge of your seat (and the skiers on the brink of a crash).

  • Context
  • Rules
  • 2022 Winter Olympics Location
  • What Separates The Best From The Rest?
  • Who To Look Out For At The Olympics?

Ski cross at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games starts on Thursday February 17th and ends the next day with the Men’s finals on Friday February 18th.


The event was birthed unofficially in the 1970s in Alaska, and then officially in 1997 (at the first Winter X Games in Big Bear Lake, California). Ski cross was first introduced as an Olympic sport at Vancouver 2010. It was an event listed under Freestyle Skiing, where it has remained since.

Despite intentional contact with other racers being illegal in the sport, and something that results in immediate disqualification, cross-competitor crashes in races are common. These crashes (as well as the general nature of skiing down a steep mountain) mean that ski cross is one of the most dangerous sports at the Winter Olympic Games.

Ski cross underdogs have wiped out entire races, world champions have been airlifted to hospital, and skiers in the clear have seen gold medals slip through their gloves as they try to flex but end up breaking bones at the last jump. The thing with ski crossers is that they simply don’t fear any of this. Athletes regularly return from injuries / comas to the slopes, often performing even better than they did pre-crash.


The most important rule of ski cross is that deliberate contact with another skier results in immediate grounds for disqualification. Whether the contact is a push on the back, a prod with a pole, or a ski to the ski, intentional connection is out of the question.

Like all winter sports, regulations also apply to the kit worn by each competitor. In the case of ski cross, suits must be two separate pieces; simply pants and a top. Wondering why their outfits are so baggy? Downhill and aerodynamic suits are not permitted, with a rule in place requiring a 60mm gap between the material and skin at any point on the leg. Tape, straps, and fastening devices to bring material closer to the body are not permitted in ski cross; the athletes are sent down the slopes with nothing but gravity, skis, and poles on their side.

These kit limitations in ski cross reduce the event to its simplest form, which makes the race itself one of the most complex events for skiers to navigate. Without high-tech design, the event is left almost entirely to the athletic ability and critical thinking of the athletes, making for an admirable and exciting racing event.

Ski cross events are typically competed in a knockout-style format, with races being between four athletes at a time; the top two qualifying for the next round, the bottom two being knocked out (or, in the semi-final, progressing to the small final, in a battle for the 5th-8th places). To determine who races who, seeding takes place before any race in the form of time trials. Those who record the fastest times are placed in races with slower athletes, giving them an earnt advantage.

Fastest athletes are also given the benefit of choosing which gate to begin the race from, which can make all the difference to the result of a race – especially at the Winter Olympics. Finals are competed in exactly the same way; first to cross the finish line, wins. When it’s too close to call, judges refer to a photo finish, making for some historical victories at previous Winter Olympic Games.

Racing down a mountain. How dangerous can it be? Screenshot via YouTube (Olympics)

2022 Winter Olympics Location 

Ski cross at the 2022 Winter Olympics will take place at the Genting Ski Park, which is around 100 miles northwest of Beijing. Although an existing snow resort, the tracks for the Olympic events, including ski cross, were built for the purpose of the upcoming games. Despite the majority of athletes at this year’s Winter Olympics having little time to practice on the new tracks, the FIS Ski Cross World Cup was held here late last year, meaning competing ski crossers will be somewhat familiar with the course already.

What Separates the Best from the Rest?

Without the chance to wear high-tech suits due to kit restrictions, the athletes who best navigate each race as they come are destined for medals. Planning multiple corners, jumps and rollers ahead during the race is key to winning. Knowing which corner to overtake most efficiently, where to land each jump, and how to avoid the other athletes are all race-defining choices to which answers can change on in the blink of an eye.

Combine good decision making with peak fitness, as well as incredible skiing ability and ice-cold fearlessness, and you’ve pretty much got yourself the ultimate ski cross racer . Think of what it would take to compete in an event that requires a Formula One / Mario Kart standard of racing mindset. Swap the cars for skis, gravity, and a mountain and you’re really starting to understand what the best in this event are all about.

Who to Look Out for at The Olympics?

A good way of gauging the current ski cross scene can be to look to the FIS (International Ski Federation) Ski Cross World Cup standings. Being an annual World Cup, won on points collected across multiple events through the year, it’s a great way of seeing who’s performing best (and most consistently) in the run up to the Winter Olympics.

Going into the Winter Olympics, the favourite in the women’s event couldn’t be clearer. Sweden’s Sandra Naeslund is leading the table with 950 points, which might not mean much to those unfamiliar, but when you hear that she’s just 5 points short of the combined tally of 2nd and 3rd, her place as Olympic favourite might make sense. 2nd placed Fanny Smith of Switzerland sits at a still-impressive 566 points, whilst Canada’s Marielle Thompson is 3rd on 389 points. If her abilities were at all in doubt, Naeslund’s performance in late January at the Idre Fjall World Cup meeting cemented her position in the scene. She found herself finishing well clear of the pack once again.

In the men’s ski cross FIS World Cup standings, the story is a lot more balanced. Switzerland’s Ryan Regez and France’s Terence Tchiknavorian find themselves tied on 477 points, with the latter storming ahead of his teammate Bastien Midol (441 points) after a season-long battle. It’s very much all to play for in the men’s event later this month.

Will an underdog steal Naeslund’s gold medal? Who’ll take gold in the men’s event? Just how many crashes will there be? With an event as exciting as ski cross, we’re always in for a treat. Follow ski cross later this month at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

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