An Expert Guide to Race Skis

Published on 03/12/2024 · 9 min readSpeed down the slopes with confidence: Our expert guide to race skis covers the latest technology, design features, and tips for choosing the right pair for competitive edge!
Reilly Fitzgerald, Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Reilly Fitzgerald

Photo By Colomba Nicola

Tl;dr: Racing skis can be tricky to purchase as there are different events, such as slalom, giant slalom, Super-G, and downhill. Depending on whether you are racing locally, regionally, or nationally, you may have to ensure that your skis are race-legal either with the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) or the International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS).

Ski racing has been a constant in my life. Growing up, I followed my brother around to ski areas far and wide as he began ski racing; then, in middle school, I began racing myself. I raced until college, and then I made the transition to becoming an alpine ski racing coach. I worked for various racing programs throughout Maine and worked with high school ski racers from across New England. I’ve worked very closely with athletes who have gone on to ski competitively at the college level, and I’ve coached alongside coaches who were on the US Ski Team (both as coaches and as athletes themselves). I’ve been fortunate to have had such a wonderful time as a ski racing coach over the last twelve years or so.

Aside from coaching, I am also an avid fan of the World Cup and religiously watch both the men’s and women’s circuits. My hope is that this article serves as a guide for people looking to purchase racing skis and want specifics about the events, rules and regulations, ski lengths, and other technologies that are involved in racing skis!

What are Race Skis?

Photo by Aerial Vision It

Race skis are skis that are designed to be skied aggressively and in competitive environments. These are similar to a frontside ski that is designed for carving; however, race skis are often designed to be much stiffer than recreational frontside/carving skis. These are meant to be skied by athletic skiers who are very confident in skiing aggressively.

Each of these events calls for specific skis and other gear that are unique to those events. Each event has specific criteria for skis (specific lengths, turn radius, etc) that are dictated by either USSA or FIS. If you are a skier who is looking to race for fun or recreation, then you may be able to ignore some of these rules and regulations, but do check with any race organizers before showing up on race day!

Racing skis are meant to be used on-piste, though some skiers may be able to use a pair of slalom skis pretty diversely - in trees, on moguls, in a park; however, this is not the intention of these skis (though ski racers do love to test the boundaries of what these skis can do)!

What to Consider When Buying Race Skis

Some important questions to ask yourself when buying race skis are:

How and where do you plan to use these?

Generally speaking, race skis should be skied by advanced/expert skiers who are capable of maintaining proper ski technique and are able to carve consistently. Some racing skis are quite hard to ski due to their stiffness and can be hard to control (or can launch you into the air). Typically, these skis are designed to be skied on groomed runs (on the World Cup, they are skiing race courses injected with water to create a hockey rink-like surface). A race ski can be used recreationally, especially on the East Coast, where I live, since we get lots of hard snow conditions through the season; it may not make tons of sense if you live in a place that routinely is getting hit with powder, though!

What is your price range?

Race skis can be some of the most expensive pieces of equipment online or in your local ski store. Many new models of racing skis each season can run easily upwards of $1,000 or more. However, you may be able to find some great deals online this time of year (spring) as places are looking to get rid of the current season products before the next ski season; also, many, many skiers (especially recreational skiers, lower-level ski racers, masters ski racers, etc.) purchase gear that is a season or two old for pretty steep discounts.

Are you a junior ski racer or buying gear for one?

If you are purchasing skis for your kids or if you are a young ski racer and reading this, then there are some considerations for junior ski racers, as well. First and foremost, if you are racing FIS or USSA, then there may be specific rules about the lengths (and more) related to your race skis (be sure to check this out before race day)!

Junior-Level Ski Racers

Junior racers, kids, have slightly different gear than adult, or even late teenage, racers. Obviously, the flex of the skis is different due to junior racers weighing a lot less and are not as strong as adult ski racers; the lengths are different to account for the differences in height between these two groups of ski racers, too! So, there are some slightly different recommendations and rules for junior skiers looking to race! That being said, junior race skis are a lot less stiff than adult models as they seek to benefit from the weight, height, skills, etc., of a much younger skier!

Ski Lengths for Junior Skiers

For junior skiers looking to race, there are no minimum ski lengths for downhill, Super-G, or giant slalom (though GS does have a 188 cm maximum for U14 racers doing FIS events). Slalom is a bit different; there is a minimum ski length of 130cm for men and women racing U14 FIS and USSA races. Oftentimes, junior skiers that try out racing early on use one pair of skis - usually slalom - as you could race slalom and giant slalom on the same pair early on.

Different Types of Race Skis

There are some different types of race skis as well, depending on the type of racing one is looking to do. The different types of race skis are:

Slalom and Giant Slalom Skis

A young skier in action in slalom ski competition slalom downhill. Photo by Dan Baciu

Slalom is one of the most technical events in ski racing. If you have ever watched ski racing and have seen the skiers wearing lots of shin guards, chin bars on their helmets, and skiing while cross-blocking gates, then you have seen slalom!

Typically, the minimum length for a men’s ski is 165 cm; and the women’s skis are 155 cm (as dictated by FIS). In slalom, a skier is looking to make turns that are between 13-15 meters in distance (high-level racers are making turns about every second while on a race course). These are the shortest of the racing skis, and they maneuver quickly and sharply.

These skis are meant to make turns that are a bit longer than slalom skis but not as high speed as the Super-G or downhill skis. These skis like to be precisely carved at fast speeds, compared to slalom and provide extra stability at higher speeds than slalom skis.

Benefits:

  • Short turn radius for creating quick, snappy, and short turns
  • It can be skied in a variety of places or contexts, such as free skiing, groomers, ice, etc.

Be Aware:

  • Race skis are unforgiving and are meant for aggressive skiers
  • The “pop” or “snap” some of these skis give can be quite surprising

Super-G and Downhill Skis

Athlete engaged in Super G. Photo by Aerial Vision It

These skis are the two longest skis used in ski racing; they are also the stiffest skis. Downhill and Super-G skis come in sizes of about 200 cm in length or greater. Their stiffness and unforgiving flex are needed due to the speeds at which skiers travel while racing these two disciplines; if they were short and flexible, they would be very unsafe to ski at 60+ miles per hour!

Benefits:

  • Great for skiers looking to engage in competitive speed races
  • Provide improved stability at high speeds

Be Aware:

  • It should be used on a racecourse or prepared hill with limited people around
  • Need to be going quite fast before they ski comfortably and precisely

Other Features to Look for When Buying Race Skis

Ski selection is an important piece of ski racing. However, there are some interesting and sometimes unique features that can help a skier determine which ski to select.

Race Plates and Bindings

Most adult or non-junior race skis come with race plates that have been mounted to the ski. This is to do a couple of things: the first is to provide some lift so that the skier is a bit further off the snow; secondly, they can help to dampen the ski (less vibrations while skiing fast). Race plates are pretty heavy and can increase the weight of the ski setup by quite a bit. A ski technician at your local ski store will mount your bindings directly to these plates.

Now, bindings for racing can be a bit different than other types of skis. The DIN settings are typically higher on race-specific bindings to keep the skis from falling off at high speeds in competition (remember, downhill racers on the World Cup can reach speeds of up to 100mph!). Some brands, like Rossignol, historically have tried to make their skis compatible with only LOOK bindings (Rossignol owns this company); however, there are some ways to get around that. In the new era of GripWalk-compatible bindings, almost all race bindings are ISO 5355 compatible.

Other Technologies

Each ski company has added their own touch and technologies to their skis. For example, Volkl, for years, has incorporated its own ski-dampening technologies into its Race Tiger series. These were very noticeable for years when their skis had a little dampener on the top sheet of the ski right below the tip of the ski (right under the brand name). The goal of this was to create a ski that skied without much chatter or vibration so ski racers could keep the skis grounded to the racing surface and link turns more effectively.

Fischer, years ago, started to create skis with holes in the tip of the ski. The thought behind this was to act as a dampener, decrease ski vibrations for better grip on race surfaces, and also to allow for faster turn initiation. Most companies have a dedicated series of World Cup-style racing skis, but they also have racing-inspired Masters skis. These skis are very similar to the World Cup racing skis but are designed intentionally for an older skier who is still seeking the carving performance of a World Cup ski or an older skier looking to engage in Master’s racing.

Find the Best Race Skis for You

Photo by Roberto Caucino

Finding the right race ski for you is easier than it may seem. Many ski company websites have online questionnaires that can help identify the right skis for you, whether you want racing skis or not. A local ski store will always have some variety of race skis in stock; potentially, a demo day at your local mountain could help get you on the snow with a pair of race skis.

However, if you still have questions after reading through this article, then feel free to reach out to one of our Curated Ski Experts to help answer more questions, provide free recommendations, and more!

PROGRESS

How experienced are you as a skier?

Answer questions to receive a personalized product recommendation from an expert.

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Shop Skis on Curated

Head WCR E.SL Rebel Team SW RP WCR T Race Skis · 2024
$700.00
Atomic Redster S9 FIS J-RP² Skis · Kids' · 2024
$399.95

Browse more Skis

Rossignol Hero Athlete GS R22 Skis · 2024
$599.99
Rossignol Hero Master ST R22 Skis · 2024
$719.99
Head WCR E-SL Rebel FIS Skis · 2024
$1,199.99
Atomic Redster SG FIS Revoshock M I Skis · 2024
$899.95
Head WCR E-SL Rebel Skis · 2024
$1,199.99
Völkl Racetiger SL R FIS Skis + Plate · 2024
$799.99

Browse more Skis

Read next

New and Noteworthy