Buying Guide for Race Skis
By Steve Kopitz
When it comes to selecting a race ski the most important questions to ask your self is:
Will I be racing FIS or USSA this year?
USSA (United States Ski Association) is the feeder program for the US Ski Team. When a young athlete is ready for more serious competition they compete in FIS (International Ski Federation) races. Colleges, Universities, and the US Ski Team look at a racer’s FIS points when determining if they will be allowed to try out for the college or US Ski Team programs. There are very specific equipment regulations (based on age group) when it comes to racing in FIS and USSA competitions. If you will be racing USSA or FIS please click the link to view the FIS and USSA Alpine Equipment Regulations 2011-2012. These regulations may change from year to year, please make sure you are looking at the most current set of regulations.
For those racers who will not be participating in USSA or FIS competitions this year, you have freedom to choose which skis you compete on, besides just selecting brand.
Different Skis for Different Events:
There are technically four different disciplines of ski racing; Slalom, Giant Slalom (GS), Super G and Downhill. Most racers will only compete in Super G or Downhill though FIS or other elite level racing, therefore most retailers will not stock Super G or Downhill skis.
Slalom Skis – Slalom skis are shorter with more side cut than any of the other types of race skis. This allows a racer to make the quick turns necessary to make each gate in slalom course. Slalom skis have the most pronounced hour glass shape of any of the types of race skis. Slalom skis are typically not available in sizes longer than 165cm.
Giant Slalom Skis – Giant Slalom Skis are typically between 170cm and 185cm long for older teenagers or adults. Giant Slalom skis do not have as much side cut as Slalom Skis and therefore are better designed for making medium to long radius turns. Giant Slalom gates are supposed to be set at about a 27 meter radius (for teenagers and adults) according to FIS regulations, but many NASTAR and other non-FIS races may have tighter turns which are closer to about 20 meters in radius.
Super G Skis – Super G skis are also very long (over 200cm) and don’t have much side cut to mesh with the long radius turns of the Super G course. Racers will reach high speeds and the additional length of the skis allow for better stability.
Downhill Skis – Downhill skis are very long with out much side cut. They have very long turn radii for the large sweeping turns made in a downhill course. Racers may reach speeds of 70 to 80 mph in a Downhill course so the additional length (210cm or longer) of the skis provides better stability at those higher speeds.
All Race Skis aren’t the same, there are cheaters.
The term “cheater ski” gets tossed around a lot in ski racing. There are really two kinds of cheater skis. There are cheater skis for each discipline and more of a hybrid cheater ski.
World Cup Skis meet FIS regulations. FIS regulation skis are generally much stiffer than traditional skis. They typically only come in two sizes, the shorter being for women and the longer for men. Although many younger male athletes ski the women’s length for easier turn initiation, as is the case with most USSA J2 Slalom Racers. These skis are typically only skied by advanced racers as they can be difficult to ski.
Cheater Skis for Slalom or Giant Slalom are typically called SL R or GS R. They are softer flexing and often have a slightly shorter turn radius than a FIS regulation ski for the respective discipline. For easy shopping the cheater skis often come with integrated bindings. Cheater skis are extremely beneficial for smaller athletes who are perhaps too aggressive or accelerated for junior equipment but aren’t quite strong enough to flex World Cup Skis appropriately. Cheater GS skis are very common for high school athletes and adult league racers at smaller resorts, where FIS regulations aren’t typically followed.
The hybrid cheater ski, usually has a designation of RC in the model name, is a hybrid style ski which typically features the side cut or turning radius close to that of a slalom ski with a length closer to that of a GS ski. This gives you the best of both worlds, better stability at speeds and easier turning initiation. These cheater skis are great for skiers who want one pair of race skis for both events or a GS ski for NASTAR or adult league racing which is easy to initiate each turn.
Most traditional race skis are made with vertical sidewalls and a wood core with metal laminates. This style of construction provides racers with the torsional rigidity, stiffer flex, quick energy transfer and enhanced edge grip they need to race. Watch this video from Atomic which shows the process of building Race Skis.
Atomic Race Ski Factory
The cheater skis are made using different construction methods or cores than the World Cup Race Skis, in order to be easier for racers to ski. Cheater Skis might use a softer species of wood, thinner sheets of metal for the laminates, perhaps no metal laminates to make the skis lighter and easier for skiers to flex. The Cheater Skis are still made using top quality construction materials and practices.
I have to race Slalom and Giant Slalom, but I can only afford one pair of skis; what do I do?
There are really two options. You can get “cheater skis” or slalom skis and use them for both events.
A “cheater ski” uses some of the same characteristics as slalom skis and GS skis to make a ski which is more of a hybrid. This ski is typically softer than a traditional race ski and has a side cut which is more pronounced like a slalom ski, but is available in longer lengths which are more stable at higher speeds experienced in GS courses. These skis may be called Race RC, Race Carve, RC, or something to that effect.
If your time will be split fairly evenly between Slalom and Giant Slalom, it is best to get Slalom Skis and use them for both events. This will give you a better advantage in slalom. If you can get another pair of skis the next year it is a good idea to then get GS skis and use each ski for its respective discipline.
Sizing a Race Ski
Please use the following charts to determine which size Race Skis will suit you best.
Junior Race Skis – (Up to 140 lbs.) See the size chart at the bottom of the Kids Skis Size Chart to make sure you are getting the correct size Race Skis for your kids. If you have a coach you can consult to help you determine which size is best for you as an athlete that is always best.
Adult Race Skis – (Over 130 lbs.) If you are NOT following FIS regulations please use the following guidelines to help you select the correct size skis. If you have a coach you can consult to help you determine which size is best for you as an athlete that is always best; as they know your racing skills, style, and terrain best.
Women - All aggressive, confident, experienced female racers weighing more than 135 pounds can use the Women’s Length of the FIS Approved Race Skis.
155cm - Slalom
175cm - Giant Slalom
Women - Less experienced / aggressive female racers, lighter weight athletes, or those skiing at small resorts with flat terrain should consider cheater skis which will be easier to flex and initiate turns.
150 – 155 cm Slalom
170 – 175 cm Giant Slalom
Men – All aggressive, confident, experienced male racers weighing more than 165 pounds can use the Men’s Length of the FIS Approved Race Skis.
165cm - Slalom
180cm - Giant Slalom
Men - Aggressive, confident, and experienced male racers who are lighter weight (130-155 lbs.) , still developing to physical maturity, or skiing smaller resorts with flatter terrain should consider using the women’s length of the FIS Approved Race Skis.
155cm - Slalom
175cm - Giant Slalom
Men - Less experienced / aggressive male racers, lighter weight athletes (120-150 lbs.) , or those skiing at small resorts with flat terrain should consider cheater skis which will be easier to flex and initiate turns.
155-165cm - Slalom
170-180cm - Giant Slalom
FIS / USSA Race Skis – If you are racing FIS or USSA please consult the following link.