Why do they do this in slalum skiing?

Watching the Olympics, why do they hit the poles (flags?) in slalum skiing? Doesn’t that hurt? …esp after the first two or three?

Skiing as close to the gates as possible shortens the course and keeps the turns shallower. They wear shin guards to prevent (too much) bruising.

If you look closely, their ski poles also have guards on them that allow them to knock the poles out of the way without much consequence or pain.

a) it is slalom, b) no, they have guards on their shins, pole guards, and (usually) chin.

As for why, take a look at this picture which shows how much wider the skier would have to go to avoid knocking the pole down. Note that he is knocking the pole down with his (protected) right hand. Wider turns mean not only that the skier has to go further, but wide turns are slower as the skier has to dig the edges in more to get around in time to make the next gate.

In slalom racing, unlike the other disciplines, the most direct line takes your center of mass pretty much right over the top of the gate. To allow for this, racers wear shin guards and have pole guards on their poles. Ideally, you hit the gate with your shin first. The cross block (blocking the gate with your right hand in a left turn, and vice versa) is as more to keep the gate from hitting your face/upper body than anything else. If you hit with your hand first, it tends to pull your upper body out of alignment.

Oh, and shinning or blocking a gate without padding hurts like a bitch!
St. Urho
Ski racer & coach

Once upon a time, skiers had to go around the poles, which didn’t bend. I’d like to see them add a “classic slalom” event, where you lose points for touching the poles, thereby returning a certain amount of skill.

Why do you think that would involve more skill? Also, if you’ve seen video of an older race where they used bamboo gates, the skiers still brushed them with their shoulders.

The winner in a slalom race is the one who gets to the bottom in the shortest time, not the one who gets there with the fewest bruises. I rather suspect that at the highest levels the slalom racers would knock over marker poles made of concrete if that’s what they had to do to win.

You both may be right.