Alpine skiing is performed in the Alpine environment or mountains. Alpine, a derivation of the European mountain range, refers to the downhill variation of skiing and is often called downhill skiing. It can be thought of as the adrenaline activity. While cross-country gets your heart rate up with physical exertion, Alpine skiing accelerates your heart with the excitement of going downhill. Although that is an oversimplification, as we will see in chapter 2 on getting fit for skiing, the point is that the adrenaline-ridden exhilaration of going downhill is its major draw.
Originally all skiing had some component of cross-country skiing. If you wanted to go down the hill, you first had to climb up the hill. As the downhill component of skiing became more popular, skiers figured out alternative methods to ascend the mountain. Since 1870, a train in Switzerland has been ascending the slope above Lake Lucerne to the town of Rigi for views from 1,800 meters. Before 1930, trains were the only choice for those skiers solely interested in the downhill portion of the ski adventure. Trains were also used in Zermatt and Davos, Switzerland. The Jungfrauhochbahn took aspiring skiers from Wengen and Grindelwald up to Kleine Scheidegg and beyond.
In the late 1920s, engineering student Gerhard Mueller used a 2.5-centimeter hemp rope and some old motorcycle parts to create the first rope tow. This rope tow was not unlike an old-fashioned laundry line that wraps around two wheels. Mueller had created a way to keep this contraption moving while skiers grabbed on and were pulled uphill on their skis. With skiers complaining of sore hands from his rope tow, Mueller later constructed the first T-bar lift. The T-bar was designed as an upside down T. Two skiers would each place their rear ends on their respective half of the T, which would then pull them up the hill by an overhead rope-tow device.
Today, skiers have the luxury of sitting on a chairlift or even inside a gondola or tram to accelerate up the slope. Surface lifts that pull the skier up the hill, such as rope tows and T-bars, are still prevalent in Europe but rare in the United States and Canada. However Alpine skiers get up the hill, it is going downhill that strikes their fancy. With gravity as the propellant, the skier makes turns back and forth across the hill. This is the primary goal of recreational skiers. Skiers often talk about moguls and deep powder. These types of terrains and conditions add spice to skiing.