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Buying Guide for Race Skis


When it comes to selecting a race ski the most important question to ask 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. These regulations may change from year to year, so make sure you’re looking for the most current set of regulations.



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For those racers who will not be participating in USSA or FIS competitions this year, they have the freedom to choose which skis they compete on.


Different Skis for Different Events:


There are technically four different disciplines of ski racing: Slalom, Giant Slalom (GS), Super G and Downhill. Most racers only compete in Super G and Downhill through FIS or other elite level racing, so most retailers do not stock Super G or Downhill skis.


Slalom Skis Slalom skis are generally shorter with more side cut than any other type of race ski; this allows racers to make the quick turns that are necessary to make each gate in a Slalom course. Slalom skis are constructed with the most pronounced hour-glass shape of any type of race ski, and are typically not available in sizes longer than 165cm.



slalom skier



Giant Slalom Skis Giant Slalom skis typically range from 170cm-185cm long for young adults and adults. GS skis do not feature as much side cut as a Slalom ski, making them better designed for medium to long radius turns. Giant Slalom gates are supposed to be set at a 27-meter radius according to FIS regulations, but many NASTAR and non-FIS races may have tighter turns that are closer to 20-meters in radius.



gs skier



Super G Skis Super G skis are also incredibly long (over 200cm) and don’t feature as much side cut to mesh with the long radius turns of a Super G course. Racers will reach high speeds, and the additional length of Super G skis allows for better stability on the slopes.



super g skier



Downhill Skis Downhill skis are designed with all the length, and not much side cut. They feature a long tail turn radii for large, sweeping turns that you make in a downhill course. Racers can reach speeds up to 70-80mph on a downhill course and the additional length (210cm or longer)of downhill skis provides better stability that is needed at higher speeds.



downhill skier


All Race Skis aren’t the Same; There are Cheaters


You will hear the term “cheater ski” get tossed around a lot in the world of ski racing. There are two different types of cheater skis. There are cheater skis for each discipline and a hybrid cheater ski.


FIS regulation skis are generally much stiffer than a traditional ski, and typically only come in two sizes; the shorter being for women, the longer for men – although many young male athletes ski the women’s length for easier turn initiation (as with most USSA J2 Slalom Racers). These skis are usually only skied by advanced racers, and can be difficult to ski.


Cheater skis for Slalom or Giant Slalom are called SL R or GS R. These skis are softer flexing and often feature a slightly shorter turn radius than FIS regulation skis for the respective discipline. For easy shopping cheater skis usually come equipped with integrated bindings. Cheater skis are extremely beneficial for smaller athletes who may be too aggressive, or accelerated for junior equipment – but aren’t quite strong enough to flex World Cup Skis correctly. Cheater GS skis are commonly used for high school athletes and adult league racers at smaller resorts where FIS regulations typically aren’t followed.


The hybrid cheater ski usually has the designation of RC in the model name and typically features a side cut and turning radius that closely mimics that of a slalom ski, with a length that is closer to that of a GS ski. This gives the racer the best of both worlds, increased stability at speed and easy turn initiation. Hybrid cheater skis are great for racers looking for one pair of race skis suited for either event, or a GS ski for NSASTAR or adult league racing.


Ski Construction


Most traditional type race skis are made with vertical sidewalls and feature a wood core with metal laminates. This construction provides racers with torsional rigidity, stiffer flex, quick energy transfer and the enhanced edge grip required to race. Check out this video from Atomic on the process of building race skis.


Atomic Ski Race Factory



Cheater skis are designed using a different construction methods and cores than World Cup Race Skis, making them easier for racers to ski. Cheater skis might also use softer pieces of wood and thinner sheets of metal for the laminates, or no metal laminates to make the skis lighter and easier to flex. These skis are still made using top quality 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 two options to choose from. You can purchase “cheater skis”, or slalom skis and use them for both events.


A “cheater ski” shares some of the same characteristics as slalom skis and GS skis, to make a hybrid ski. These skis are typically softer than traditional race skis and feature a more pronounced side cut like a slalom ski, with longer lengths that are more stable at higher speeds obtained in GS courses. These skis may be called Race RC, Race Carve, RC, etc.


If your time will be split fairly evenly between slalom and giant slalom, it’s best to purchase slalom skis and use them for both events. This will allow you a better advantage in slalom. If you’re able to purchase another pair of skis the following year, it’s a good idea to purchase GS skis and use each ski for its respective discipline.


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Sizing a Race Ski


Please use the following guidelines and charts to determine which size race skis will best suit you.


Junior Race Skis - Up to 140 lbs. To make sure you’re purchasing the correct size race ski for your junior racer, take a look at our Race Ski Size Chart. If your junior racer has a coach it’s best to consult them to determine the best size for the athlete.


Adult Race Skis - Over 130 lbs. If you’re NOT following FIS regulations, use the following guidelines to help select the correct size ski for you. If you are working with a coach it’s best to consult them to determine which size ski is best for you as an athlete, as they know your skills, style and which terrain you’re most familiar with, best.


Women - All aggressive, confident, experienced female racers that weigh more than 135lbs, can use the women’s length of FIS approved race skis.


Slalom: 165cm

Giant Slalom (GS): 180cm


Men - All aggressive, confident, experienced male racers weighing more than 165lbs, can use the men’s length of FIS approved race skis.


Slalom: 165cm

Giant Slalom: 175cm


woman ski racer


Women – Less experienced and less aggressive female racers, lighter weight athletes, or those skiing at small resorts with flatter terrain should consider “cheater skis”. These skis are often easier to flex and initiate the turn.


Slalom: 150-155cm

Giant Slalom: 170-175cm


Men - Less experienced and less aggressive male racers, lighter weight athletes (120-150lbs), or those skiing at small resorts with flatter terrain should consider “cheater skis”. These skis are often easier to flex and initiate the turn.


Slalom: 155-165cm

Giant Slalom: 170-180cm


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’re racing FIS or USSA please consult the following link.


ted ligety




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