Each discipline of ski racing has equipment with different characteristics. Equipment includes boots, skis, bindings, poles, and body protection. Most of the equipment used by youth racers is designated as “junior race”. This separates the equipment from youth recreational ski equipment in terms of design, performance, and durabilty. Junior race equipment is typically available from major name-brand manufacturers and is usually available through specialty ski shops rather than large chains that offer recreational gear.
The following guideline will get you started in gear selection. The race team coaches are the best authority if you have questions about equipment.
Ski Boots- It is important that racers have ski boots that are of the proper design and fit for racing. Ski boots should be 4 buckle boots. Ski boots should be sized so that the fit is snug. In addition to length, ski boots tend to be designed to be low, medium, or high volume fit. This designation is aimed at accommodating the width and mass of the skier’s foot. Certain manufacturers have certain fit characteristics. For example, Lange boots traditionally have been recognized as a low to medium volume boot. Most junior skiers usually fit best in low to medium volume boots. Junior race boots also come in a variety of “flex indexes” which relates to the stiffness of the boot. Most junior boots have flex indices between 60 and 100. In general, U8/U10/12/U14 racers will want to have boots in the 60-80 range of flex index with the stronger, heavier U16s in stiffer boots of 90-100. Manufacturers of junior race boots include Fischer, Lange, Nordica, Salomon, Tecnica, Rossignol, and Atomic.
It is recommended that boots be purchased at a location that stocks junior race equipment and has staff qualified as “boot fitters”. In addition to the size, proper boot fitting may also include checking the skier’s stance in the boot to see if “canting” is called for. This is to ensure that the boot and therefore the ski is absolutely flat when the skier is standing. If a racer is slightly “knock-kneed” or “bow-legged” this will need to be compensated for through canting to ensure the racer properly controls the ski. The boot fitter may also recommend custom footbeds for the boots which have the effect of greatly improving the fit in many cases.
Skis-Typically racers have a pair of skis for Slalom and a pair for Giant Slalom. Older racers, U16 and beyond may also have Super G and downhill skis. For entry-level racers ages 7-9, there are dual event skis that will perform well for both Slalom and Giant Slalom.
Racers should have skis that are specifically designated as Junior race skis. These skis are specifically designed to be of the correct flex and torsional rigidity which are appropriate for alpine racing. These skis will perform much better than a youth recreational ski.
Slalom skis are relatively short skis with a fairly big “side cut”. The side cut refers to how much difference there is when comparing the width of the tip to the waist (section under the foot) and tail. Skis with a big side cut tend to have a shorter turn radius meaning the ski can make sharper turns. In the SL discipline, gates are closer together necessitating tighter turns. The typical turn radius of a junior SL ski would be around 9-12 meters, with shorter skis having a smaller turn radius. The easiest way to determine the length of SL skis is to stand the skis on their tails. As a general rule appropriately sized SL skis will be of a length that is between the chin and eyes of the racer.
Giant Slalom, or GS skis, are skied longer than SL skis. As a guideline, GS skis should be of a length that is from mid-forehead to 2-3 inches above the racer’s head. The better the skier, the longer ski he/she can handle. These skis typically have less side-cut than SL skis, but their shape is still fairly pronounced. The typical turn radius of a junior GS ski would be from 14-18 meters, again depending on the length of the ski.
Dual event skis fall between SL and GS in terms of sidecut. These skis should be skied at a length that is eye level.
Manufacturers that make junior race skis include Atomic, Blizzard, Elan, Fischer, Dynastar, Head, Nordica, Rossignol, and Volkl.
At the higher levels, some racers have 2 pairs of identical skis, one for training and one for competition. This ensures that race skis are maintained in pristine condition. However, this is completely optional and not necessary for racers to be competitive.
While U14 and older racers may have a separate pair of skis for course inspection, preserving the tune on their race skis for competition, U12 and younger competitors must use only one pair of skis per race (inspection & competition). Parents, coaches, or technicians are not allowed to furnish additional pairs of skis for use during race day inspections or competition. Non-compliance may result in NPS or depending on circumstances, DSQ (proven violation after start).
Bindings- Most ski manufacturers make their skis to be used with their own brand of bindings, such as Atomic and Fischer, or with specific bindings from partner manufacturers such as Dynastar/Look bindings or Volkl/Marker bindings. Ski shops that sell race skis generally either package skis and bindings together or will recommend the appropriate binding for the ski. As with the other equipment, it is important to use junior race bindings. Not only do these bindings tend to work better with race skis, but they are typically designed to be “free flex” bindings meaning their release properties are not changed by a fully bent ski. As kids learn how to edge skis well, they will bend or arc the ski significantly. It is important that the binding’s ability to release is not impaired when this occurs.
Look for binding DIN ranges that are appropriate for your racer’s size and ability. DIN ranges of 3-10 for most racers in the U8/U10/U12/U14 classifications with heavier, stronger U16s using bindings with DIN ranges up to 14. Here again, ski shops that specialize in race gear and/or coaches are the best resource to ensure the appropriate bindings are used.
Poles- For most beginning racers, standard ski poles of the appropriate length are all that is required. For SL races, pole guards must be used to protect the hands if the skier “cross-blocks” the gates. Pole guards should be of the full guard type that clamp to the shaft of the pole and are anchored by a screw at the top of the grip. “Half” guards can catch a gate which could be a safety issue. These pole guards must be removed for GS and other events, again this is for safety. Please note that Coaches will often have young, entry-level racers refrain from cross-blocking gates. In fact, U8/U10/U12 racers actually use short “stubby” gates for their competition. Please consult with your child’s coach regarding the need for pole guards
Many racers use a separate set of poles for GS and other speed events. These poles are contoured to fit around the profile of the racer’s body when in a tuck position and are meant to reduce drag. Entry-level skiers need not work about this, but it is convenient not to have to remove pole guards from poles when switching disciplines. In addition, GS poles are generally used in a longer length to help with a better push out of the start gate.
Helmet – Probably the most important piece of body protection equipment is the helmet. Helmets are required for all Bear Valley team participation, but there are a few requirements for helmets used by the race team. Race helmets must be full coverage helmets with rigid, not soft, sides. Helmets must bear a CE mark and conform to recognized and appropriate standards such as CEH.Din1077, ASTM F2040, SNELL S98 or RS98 and be marked as such. Helmet face guards are required for SL races, so make sure your racers can accommodate the optional face guard.
Goggles- Goggles should be a good fit with the helmet and have a good-quality lens.
Shin Guards- The technique used to run a slalom course quickly requires the racer’s skis to go around the gate, but his/her body to go “at” the gate which can be knocked out of the way due to its spring-loaded base. One of the ways the racer knocks the gate out of the way is by “shinning” by hitting the gate with the shin. It is for this reason, that shin guards are required for the slalom discipline. Shin guards are available in a variety of sizes and should cover the leg from the knee and extend down to cover the top part of the boot.
As with cross-blocking, often coaches will want young, entry-level racers to refrain from “shinning” gates. Please consult with your child’s coach regarding the need for shin guards.
Speed Suit- The purpose of the speed suit is to aid the racer in being as aerodynamic as possible by reducing drag. Although entry-level racers are not required to wear a speed suit, your young racer will undoubtedly want to have a speed suit. There are general types of speed suits; a GS suit which typically has padding sewn in the arms and shoulders and a downhill suit which does not have padding. Because of the padding, GS suits tend to cost a bit more, but the protection they afford is probably worth it.
Speed suits are expensive, usually costing around $200 and up when new. However, used speed suits can usually be located from other team members who may have outgrown them or through sources like eBay. If you do find a downhill suit that lacks padding, padded tops can be purchased to be worn under the suit for protection.
Body Armor – More advanced racers may want to consider using some sort of body armor for SL events. This body armor is an added layer of protection for the torso when hitting gates. Some body armor consists of rigid panels sewn into a top while others consist of additional padding. Coaches should be contacted for suggestions if you are considering this type of gear.
Spine Protectors – Spine protectors are designed to protect the back against impact in the case of a high-speed fall. Spine protectors are recommended to be used by all racers, especially for GS, Super G, and Downhill competitions and training.
Mouthguards – Mouthguards are highly recommended for all racers engaging in gate training and competition activities. Not only have they been shown to minimize injury to teeth and mouth tissues during any kind of impact, but also relate to concussion issues from the sudden acceleration of the lower jaw in the event of head trauma.
Backpack– A good ski backpack is essential to carry water, snacks, and gear during training sessions and at races. The best type of pack has padded shoulder straps and a waist strap.
Equipment Sources – Ski racing equipment is typically of top quality and can be quite expensive. BVSF works with the Ski Coaches to find the best prices through negotiated discounts and manufacturer discounts known as “pro-form” pricing. Very good deals on used ski race equipment can also be found through the BVSF community and its website. Also, check Appendix III of this publication for online sources offering good prices. In order to get the best prices, call the online retailers and tell them the purchase is for a USSA racer and have your USSA number ready.