Finding the correct race ski is easy when you have the proper knowledge. When it comes time to choosing a race ski there are two questions that you need to ask yourself.
What event(s) will you be racing in?
Different Race Skis are designed to make different turn shapes that the different disciplines require. The four major events are: Slalom, Giant Slalom, Super G and Downhill.
Are you competing in FIS or USSA Events?
Certain race leagues or competitions require that your skis conform to FIS Regulations.
Race Ski Construction
Race skis are designed to be skied as fast as they can go at all times and their construction makes them very demanding to ski even for aggressive skiers. That construction also gives them the power, stability, edge hold and rebound needed for fast speeds, firm courses and setting record times. Most Race skis have Vertical Sidewalls that provide better edge grip on firm snow and improve the torsional strength for ripping down a course. Metal Laminates are also typically found in race skis that improve the power, stability and rebound to give the skier more control. Most Race skis include a Race Plate that is already installed on top of the ski that provides leverage for rolling the skis through the gates. This race plate may be pre-drilled to only accept a specific binding so be sure to check what model plate accommodates what binding.
Slalom Skis have wider shovels, narrower waists and wider tails that allow them to make short and tight turns through a Slalom course which are designed with many short turns and close gates. Sizes for adults can range from 150cm-165cm.
For Junior Racers they can start around 120cm and go as long as 150cm. The smaller sizes have a softer construction that allow lighter weight skiers to be able to bend and flex them. The largest size typically has a stronger construction and may include a layer of titanium for extra stability and rebound. The large-sized Junior Slalom ski is optimal for high school racers that weigh less than 150lbs. If you have a junior racer that is going to be competing in both events but only want one ski to do both GS and Slalom events, it is much easier to make a Slalom Ski make longer turns through a GS course than it is to make a GS ski make Slalom turns.
Most Slalom Skis have a race plate that is already installed on top of the ski that provides leverage for rolling the skis through a Slalom Course. This race plate may be pre-drilled to only accept a specific binding so be sure to check what model plate accommodates what binding. If you or your junior racer is competing in FIS, USSA, U14 or U16 events please make sure that their ski complies with official FIS Regulations.
GS (Giant Slalom) Skis are considerably different than Slalom Skis. There are less gates and wider turns on a GS course. The tips and tails are narrower and the turning radius is much longer. Sizes for adults start around 175cm and can go as large as 196cm. For junior racers GS skis can start around the 150cm size and go as large as 175cm. For the typical junior racers that weigh less than 150lbs, it is beneficial for them to remain in a junior ski unless they are aggressively competing for the top of their age group in GS events. The largest size junior GS ski typically has a layer or two of titanium with a slightly thinner core than adult GS skis that will provide more stability and rebound. Most NASTAR and recreational races are modified GS Courses. If you or your junior racer is competing in FIS or USSA races please make sure that their equipment follows those regulations.
Super G Skis are at least 200cm long with a minimum turning radius of 40 meters for women and 45 meters for men. The Super G is a shortened downhill course but there is no pre-race inspection. Speeds in a Super G race can reach upwards of 80mph. Super G skis are required to be very long and stiff to react to the high level of speeds that racers will reach. Super G courses are considered a speed event.
Downhill Skis are the longest and stiffest skis made. The minimum ski length for women is 210cm for women and 218cm for men. They are also very stiff with a very long turning radius. Speeds at World Cup Downhill races easily reach over 80mph.
World Cup Skis meet that current season FIS Regulations. They are much stiffer than traditional skis. They usually only come in two sizes: the shorter being for women and the longer length being for men. World Cup Race skis are very demanding and aggressive, and are designed for advanced racers or those who are required to have FIS Legal skis.
You may have heard the term “Cheater Skis” being used before when describing Race Skis. “Cheater Skis” are non-FIS Legal race skis. “Cheater Skis” are softer flexing and have a shorter turning radius that makes them more forgiving and easier to ski. They are extremely beneficial for smaller and lighter weight skiers who race in high school or adult league racers at smaller resorts where FIS Regulations are not followed. “Cheater Skis” are generally recommended for anyone who does not have to follow FIS regulations including high school racers and beer leaguers and typically include bindings that fit on to their Race Plates.
There are “Cheater Skis” for both Slalom and GS Races that are designed for those particular disciplines that just have a smaller radius and softer construction. They are easier to ski for lighter weight skiers or at smaller resorts.
There are also Hybrid “Cheater Skis” that blend some of the characteristics of slalom skis and GS skis. Hybrid “Cheater Skis” can use a softer species of wood in the core or thinner sheets of metal that will make the skis lighter and easier to flex. The sidecut is more pronounced like a Slalom Ski but is manufactured in longer lengths to be more stable at speed in a GS course that can be used for non-FIS sanctioned events like recreational leagues or high school racing.