The sport is divided between speed and technical disciplines. There are five men's gold medals for downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and the super-combined event.
The men's downhill on Feb. 9 is a highlight of the Games, sometimes compared to the 100 metres in the Summer Olympics, and skiers have been known to reach speeds of up to 130kph.
Racers start at defined intervals and have one timed run down a groomed piste over a mixture of jumps and turns and past sets of marker poles ('gates'). The winner is the fastest to cross the finish line.
Super-G, mixing elements of downhill and giant slalom over a single run, is also a speed discipline.
The slalom and giant slalom are technical and run over two steep legs with different layouts, with the winner being the skier with the best total time. The super-combined event is a shortened downhill and one-leg slalom held on the same day.
Alpine skiing became part of the Winter Olympics with the inclusion of combined events in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, in 1936.
A separate downhill and slalom were added for St Moritz in 1948. The giant slalom followed in Oslo in 1952, replacing the combined, and the Super-G was introduced in Calgary in 1988 along with the return of the combined event.
Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, France, the United States, Norway, Sweden and Spain have all won men's gold medals in the past. No Russian has ever won a men's Alpine medal.
Austrian Franz Klammer's 1976 victory at home in Innsbruck remains an enduring Olympic highlight for the way he flirted with disaster as he hurtled down the icy piste.
The Rosa Khutor resort, once a remote and sleepy mountain village in the Krasnaya Polyana district about 70km from central Sochi, will host all the Alpine events.
The slopes were developed by Switzerland's Bernhard Russi, the 1972 Olympic downhill champion who has designed Olympic pistes since 1988 and is a technical adviser to the International Ski Federation.
Warm weather and rain could be a problem but organisers have stored some 450,000 cubic metres (16 million cubic feet) of snow high up in the mountains to ensure there is no shortage.
The resort held World Cup races in February 2012, with the 3.5km men's downhill piste starting at an altitude of 2,045 metres and finishing at 970m. It has steep sections and challenging jumps and will require good gliding skills.
The men to watch will be those also challenging for the main World Cup honours this season - overall leader Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, Austria's Marcel Hirscher, American Ted Ligety and France's Alexis Pinturealt
Bode Miller, the most successful American male skier of all time, will be back for a fifth Winter Games at the age of 36.
The Olympic downhill has a habit of crowning European skiers, but not always those who would be expected to win the gold. Of the 49 men's downhill medals awarded to date, 44 have gone to Europeans - 16 to Austria and 11 to Switzerland.
- Sports & Recreation
- giant slalom