Buying Guide for Race Accessories
By Steve Kopitz
Race Accessories includes a variety of protective gear for racers including; Chin Guards, Shin Guards, Pole Guards, Spine Protectors and more. Some of this equipment may be required based on the particular race organization, while all of it is recommended for serious racers.
Different Equipment for Different Events:
The different events in ski racing test different techniques. The different techniques typically require different equipment to allow racers the best opportunity to execute each technique in the most efficient manner possible in the race course.
Slalom: Tight turns, Single Poles, Upright Stance
The technique required to effectively ski slalom requires that a racer get their skis close to the gate and angulate to get the upper body “inside the gate” as shown below. When in this positioning the racer will be able to cross block gates with their hands and shin gates off with their lower legs. This posturing opens the athlete up to abuse from the gates if not properly protected. Slalom skiers should have shin guards, pole guards and a chin guard on their helmet (may be required by some training/racing programs). Athletes may also wear a spine protector for additional protection from gates and in the instance of a crash.
Shin Guards: Shin Guards are only used for slalom racing or training. Shin Guards are shaped to protect the knee cap and shin from the gates. Most models have two Velcro straps which will run around the back of the racer’s calves to hold the shin guards in place. Many young athletes and smaller female athletes may find the Velcro straps to be too long to provide secure closure; the straps can usually be crisscrossed to provide a tighter fit.
Shin Guards are available in two sizes: adult and junior. It is important to make sure that the shin guard is long enough to effectively cover the knee cap and the top of the boot so that the shin bones aren’t exposed. For athletes approximately 5 foot or taller it is best to choose the adult version.
Shin Guards are typically made from plastic, although some brands do make carbon fiber versions. The plastic shin guards are all very similar and are typically priced competitively. Carbon Fiber Shin Guards are lighter weight and stronger, but generally about 2 to 3 times the cost. Plastic Shin Guards do break from time to time, but occurrences are extremely rare.
Pole Guards: Pole Guards are only used for slalom racing or training. Pole Guards are made from plastic and are used to protect a racer’s hands while they cross block slalom gates. Pole Guards fit around the shaft of the poles and use a few small nuts and bolts to hold them in place.
There are two styles of pole guards. Full pole guards wrap completely up and over the racer’s hands as shown above. Half style pole guards cover all of the fingers but do not wrap all the way up to the top of the grip. The decision for full or half guards is really personal preference; however athletes with large hands may find the half guards to be too low profile.
Additionally there are two sizes of poles guards: adult and junior. There is some difference in physical size of the guards, but the major difference is the diameter of the portion of the guard which fits around the shaft. Kids race poles typically have 16mm shafts while adult race poles have 18mm shafts. It is important to check the diameter of the ski poles the Pole Guards will be going on to make sure these measurements match up.
Since the cross blocking technique is only used in slalom pole guards aren’t needed for the other disciplines. Most commonly a racer will have Pole Guards on their slalom poles (straight poles) and have another set of poles for Giant Slalom (the bent poles). To save money some racers will put pole guards on Giant Slalom poles to give them the best of both worlds. This isn’t typically the best solution, the point of the bent poles is to provide better ergonomic positioning in a tuck and pole guards tend to prohibit the positioning of the wrists in the tucked position. Additionally many racers will size their Giant Slalom Poles a bit longer to help with their start.
Chin Guards: Chin Guards are typically made of metal and attach to the helmet to protect a racer’s face from gates in the event that a cross block is missed or a gate wraps around the cross block and hits the racer. Most racing organizations require Chin Guards be worn in order to ski slalom. Some athletes take the Chin Guard off for skiing Giant Slalom while others have two helmets so they can change quickly between events with out risking loosing screws or the chin guard. Chin Guards should be removed for speed events such as Super G and Downhill.
Giant Slalom: Longer Turns, Paneled Gates, Lower Stance
The technique required to effectively ski Giant Slalom requires that a racer has their skis relatively close to the gates and angulate to weight the skis properly and allow the upper body to brush the turning gate. The racers will often clear the gates with their arms to create a clear path for their head. This posturing often opens racers up to abuse from the gates. Many racers wear padded race suits, spine protectors and other protective gear such as fore arm guards, padded shorts and knee pads to protect their bodies.
Spine Protectors: Spine Protectors are great pieces of equipment for racers at every level. Spine Protects adapt to the anatomical bend of a racer’s back to protect it from external forces. There are several different styles of spine protectors available. Some minimalistic designs just protect a racer’s back, while other designs offer additional protection for a skier’s arms, shoulders, chest and back. Some designs may not be FIS legal do to “wind resistance” and other specifications. It is important to check with your coaching staff and the FIS or USSA equipment regulations for your respective age group if you are considering a Spine Protector which doesn’t specifically mention being FIS legal in the product description.
Fore Arm Protectors: Fore Arm Protectors are very similar to Shin Guards used in Slalom, but are for your fore arms. They are smaller and ergonomically shaped to protect a racer’s fore arms from bruising while racing or training Giant Slalom.
Padded Shorts: Many racers might experience bruising on their outer thighs and hips in addition to their arms from racing and training giant slalom. Padded Shorts are simply spandex shorts with padding placed in appropriate areas to protect a racers thighs and hips. Padded Shorts go under a racer’s GS Suit or Training Apparel to offer additional padding.
Knee Pads: While knee pads aren’t really necessary pieces of equipment for racing, some racers abide by the better safe than sorry principle. Knee Pads help protect a racer’s knees from impact with the gates or in the event of a fall. While they aren’t really designed to provide much if any ligament support, they do help keep your knees warm.
Speed Events: Long Turns, High Speeds
Speed Events include Super G and Downhill. Athletes typically only compete or train for Speed Events though USSA or FIS at the high levels. Spine Protectors are highly recommended for these events. For specific rules on protective equipment regulations for speed events please talk to your coaching staff and consult the FIS or USSA equipment regulations for your respective age group.