Welcome to the wonderful world of ski racing. Flying as fast as you can through some bamboo gates can be quite the thrill, but it requires a fair amount of gear to be properly protected on the slopes. In this buying guide we are going to break down for you all of the recommended equipment you will need for the recreational and competitive racer.
Race Helmets are the first piece of equipment that we are going to discuss. This is a mandatory piece of equipment that is required for any time you are going to be skiing through a course. Race helmets are a little different than your recreational ski helmet. They typically will have a slightly thicker shell for added protection. Most race helmets are considered full-shell helmets meaning that they have hard sides that cover the ears.
Starting in 2013, sanctioned races by the FIS (Federation Internationale de Ski, the governing body of ski racing) required competing racers to wear FIS Approved Helmets. Each of these helmets will have this logo stickered on the back. Always consult with your league official or your coach to see if you require an FIS Approved Helmet. Some high school divisions are requiring all racers to wear FIS Approved Helmets.
It is also requirement for any racer who is practicing or training for a slalom race to wear a chin or jaw guard. This piece of equipment is attached to the hard shell sides of a race helmet to protect your face from being whipped by the gates. In nearly all cases, the brand of the helmet and the brand of the chin guard must match for compatibility. Most high school leagues require all racers to wear a chin guard.
Race Ski Poles
Race Ski Poles are another important accessory that every racer should possess. Race poles are usually made from high-grade aluminum or carbon to provide extra strength in the lightest weight pole possible. Poles used for slalom racing are straight like any standard all-mountain pole. Racing poles used for GS, Super G and Downhill have a bend to them in the shaft that makes them more aerodynamic, so when the skier is tucking the shaft of the pole can wrap around the skiers body.
Pole Guards are a required piece of equipment for slalom racers. Pole guards attach to the shaft of the pole and cover the hand. Racers use pole guards to punch the gates to move through them as fast and as tight as possible.
Race Gloves are another important accessory for racers to consider. Race glove are typically made with a leather exterior and additional padding across the knuckles, wrist and fingers. This protection can be made from foam, ceramic, composite materials or even titanium. Reinforcements in these areas protect your from bruised wrists and broken knuckles when you bash through those gates.
Back and Spine Protection
Back and Spine Protection is typically worn in speed events like the Downhill and Super G. These low-profile vests are easily worn under your race suit. Padding on the back provides extra protection should you take a high speed crash.
Race Suits are designed to make you more aerodynamic and deliver less wind resistance as you fly through the course. Most race suits are made from a polyester blend and fit very close to the skin. Race suits can be specific to the discipline you are competing or training in. GS and Speed event suits can offer extra padding in the shoulders, forearms and chest to keep you protected from the gates.
Some racing organizations and leagues require you to wear an FIS-approved race suit. These suits have an FIS Certified Plomb or FIS label. Again, if you have questions about the conformity of your race suit, please consult a race official or your coach to see if you are required to wear an approved suit.
Shin Guards are another required piece of equipment for slalom racing. Shin guards are made from hard plastic or composite materials that allow you to clip the gates at a high rate of speed with your shins. These are typically available in an adult and junior size, each one-size-fits-all for their respective designation. Most junior shin guards fit skiers up to 5’5”. Adult shin guards fit skiers taller than that.
Forearm Protection uses the same principles as shin guards. They are not required, but do provide extra protection when it comes to getting through the gates on a slalom course as fast as possible.
While not all of this equipment may be necessary for all level of racers, we prefer to arm you with all the knowledge possible for you to be fully equipped each time you step up into the start house and push through the wand.