Ski Racing 101: An Expert Guide on How to Get into Ski RacingPublished on 06/23/2023 · 8 min readCurious about ski racing? Ski Expert Hailey Gilmore explains how to get involved in ski racing—either for yourself or for your kiddo.
Photo by Victoire Joncheray
We’ve all seen them around the mountain—pole guards, matching gear, and fast skis. You may have wondered how people even got into ski racing. Do they have to join a group or are they out there themselves? Do they have to have all the gear already? Well, it’s not as difficult as it may seem.
These days, most mountains have a club or organization for many age groups (U10-U19) that is a part of a league within your state. These programs organize weekly training and races against other ski clubs at ‘opposing’ mountains. There are also many options for adults who want to try racing—usually referred to as beer leagues. Here is a little more information on how to get into the exciting world of ski racing!
Where to Start
I’m interested in signing my kid up, but don’t know where to start. What are the first steps I should take to enter the racing world? Easy. Start by identifying the mountain you ski at most frequently and can commute to the easiest.
Once beginning ski racing, it’s a fairly large commitment so you want to make sure it is a commute you’re comfortable doing. When you’ve decided on your mountain, the next step is to find out if they have a ski club or organized ski racing. Usually, you can find this information on their website or by calling them directly. This will point you in the direction of someone who is in-charge of organizing members, and you can speak with them on how to sign your child up for their program. They will give you more information on the program, it’s costs, and the schedule they keep. Usually, there is a cost for the program, a season pass (sometimes bundled), other membership fees (USSA—United States Ski and Snowboard Association), and the races are individually priced as well.
This is good information to gather before signing up, as you want to be aware of total costs. Understanding both the commitment level, costs, and all other details that joining a club entails is the first and most important step of entering this world.
Once you’ve decided you’re able to afford the program, maintain its schedule, and level of commitment, the next step is gear!
Ski Racing Gear
As mentioned before, the gear used for ski racing is fairly obvious when out and about on the mountain. It's usually brightly colored, matching, and sometimes kind of odd-looking (why do they have shin guards on?). However, these strange items serve a purpose and it's very important to get the right gear for the corresponding age and ability level. While some of this gear can be more expensive than regular ski gear, there are cheaper ways of accessing ski racing equipment, allowing for an easier transition into the ski racing world!
This process has a few more steps. Given that a large part of what gear they need will depend on the age group and level of ability—you’ll need to do a little more digging. To determine this information, it is ideal to speak with a Ski Expert here on Curated. Many Curated Experts have a background in ski racing and can tell you exactly what gear your child will need. You can also speak with the program director or a coach at your club who will also know exactly what gear will suit your child the best.
Once you’ve determined the amount and type of gear you have to purchase, the next step is finding it! As mentioned before, this stuff adds up and the ski racing world knows this. It’s no secret that skiing, in general, is not cheap, but ski racing requires more specific gear, therefore, leading to higher prices. This unfortunate fact is why so many ski clubs, mountains, or ski shops have ski swaps where people can sell their used gear. If your child is just starting to ski race, buying used gear is the best option, allowing you to buy the gear they need at a fraction of the cost.
If they end up deciding they don’t want to ski race the next season and you bought used gear, you’ll be glad you didn’t spend a fortune. Asking around your club or looking on their social media is a great way to find out if they have a gear swap. If they don’t have one set up, there’s a chance that many other members may be interested in organizing one, or will be able to identify people in your club with used gear ready to sell. The ski racing world is small, so the more contacts you make at your local club, the easier it is to gain your bearings and find the resources you need.
Checking the Club Schedule
Ski racing is a huge commitment, so the last step is looking at your club’s schedule. Determining how much driving and days spent on the hill is right for you is vital in maintaining a sustainable level of commitment for you and your family. You are not required to attend every race—you sign up for those individually—so you can customize your schedule to your needs. The rest will fall into place as you get to know more people within your club. Making friends with other parents who have been at this a while will be a huge help. They know the commitments it takes and will probably offer you tips on making it all work. Once you’re in the community, it stays with you. Take it from someone who started ski racing at the age of five, 22 years later, the connections I’ve made through the ski racing world continue to help me to this day. Your children will thank you!
Getting Involved Yourself
So the kids are off to college or out in the real world, you’ve skied for years and keep seeing ski racing around. You’ve yet to try on a spandex suit but would love to start! You’re just worried that it might be too late to begin your ski racing career. Well, it doesn’t have to be!
This option is a little different from youth ski racing and it requires a little less commitment and less specific gear. Many mountains, especially smaller ones, have an adult “beer” or after-work ski racing league. These usually have a race once or twice a week, followed by hearty ápres beers. Some leagues are affiliated with the resort so more information can be found on the resort’s website as well. Others are more informal and organized by a third party. However, because groups need permission to run such events, the mountain will usually be able to provide more information regardless. You can start by looking on the mountain’s website or social media may actually be more helpful for this type of ski racing.
Finding whom to contact regarding sign-up is the first step. If you think the schedule works for you and are eager to sign up but need more info on what exactly it entails, reach out to the main contact and have a discussion! Some leagues are team-based, while others may be individual—meaning, some you can sign up and race on your own against everyone else, whereas others you need to sign up with a team of a certain amount.
The second piece of these adult leagues is gear! Unlike youth ski racing, the rules around gear requirements are much laxer and/or non-existent. Usually, whatever gear you already own will suffice. And unless you’ve been looking for an excuse to wear a spandex suit, most people do not voluntarily wear them for this level of ski racing. If you’re looking to upgrade your gear but are not sure what would work for running gates, polling other members is a great way to gauge what is commonly used in that league. An even better way to find the best fit is by talking to a Ski Expert here on Curated who can determine the perfect ski based on your location, ability, personal data, and how frequently you plan on racing. Getting started in the ski racing world as an adult is much easier than it is for youth racing—you have much less commitment, less required gear, and more flexibility in the schedule. Once you find a group, you’ll be hooked!
The ski racing world is a unique one with lots of odd lingo, rituals, and well, outfits. It may take some time adjusting to the early mornings, the ski tuning, and the tight spandex, but eventually, you’ll fall into a routine. You’ll better understand the weird terminology and learn to love the early morning drives to the snowy mountains. Or, if you’re an adult looking for an after-work league, you’ll enjoy getting some exercise after a long day at the office. The ski racing community can be intense, but because of its small size, you may find some of your best connections and friends. It may seem like an exclusive club from the outside, but getting your foot in the door is as easy as sending an email or making a phone call to your local mountain.
With more mountains and clubs attempting to make ski racing more affordable and attainable for all socio-economic groups, it may be more affordable than you think. As the ski racing community grows, so does the amount of used ski gear and wealth of knowledge. Finding local groups can help you learn tips and tricks on how to make ski racing cheaper and easier. Don’t let perception fool you—ski racing is for everyone!