On ‘race’ skis

All major mainstream ski brands carry ‘race’ skis. I put the word ‘race’ in quotation marks with good reason: that word means many things in the ski world. 

Different norms

As I am writing this piece, I am watching the men’s slalom Worldcup race in Adelboden, Switzerland. Those guys ski down the mountain on skis that comply with the FIS Equipment rules. Slalom (SL), Giant Slalom (GS), Super-G (SG), and Downhill (DH) – each discipline has very specific regulations for men’s and women’s skis. Length, radius, and stand height have been defined to ensure fair competition. Skis that comply with these rules are the Worldcup Competition skis.

There are different rules for youth and master competitions (Under 16, Under 14, Under 12, etc.). The skis in these classes are regulated by FIS as well, be it different norms. Skis are generally shorter, have a shorter radius, and are slightly softer in flex (although this aspect is not governed by FIS rules). In short: these U16, U14, and youth competition skis are very much that: FIS competition skis (just for a different competition).

Consumer race skis

Most brands carry skis that are called ‘race’ skis as well, but don’t comply with any specific rule. They are made for any one of us that wants to pretend to be Alexis Pinturault or Mikaela Shiffrin without having their technique or a closed-down empty run to ski on. You will notice those consumer race skis are also called Head Worldcup Rebel, Atomic Redster, Fischer RC4 Worldcup, Völkl Racetiger, or Rossignol Hero as well. They even look the same. 

But other than that, these consumer skis are much softer in flex, torsional stiffness, are much more friendly, and don’t return just as much energy (rebound). For mere mortals like most of us are – recreational skiers – they are plenty direct and energetic, though. Most brands offer them with or without a race plate. With a plate, a ‘pro’ version of the consumer ski is created: a bit more damping and rebound compared to the lightest consumer version, but not nearly as heavy a the competition skis.

The Atomic 2020-2021 FIS GS line-up

This all goes to the construction of the ski. In geometry, there are huge differences as well. In the slalom category not so much: both competition and consumer versions have roughly the same ski lengths and sidecut radius (165 cm for men’s skis and a 12 to 13 m radius at that length). GS skis differ much more in both length and radius. The men’s Worldcup GS ski is >193 cm in length and has a radius of at least 30 meters. The ‘consumer GS’ skis – even the pro version with race plate – are between 170 and 185 cm in length and typically have an 18 to 21-meter radius at ~180 cm. So even if such a consumer ski would be just as heavy and stiff as the Worldcup competition skis, they would ski the same carved turn on the snow with much less energy and less extreme edge angles. 

Know thyself

Here on Gigiski, we try to avoid the phrase ‘race ski’, because it means so many and sometimes very different things. The category that we place these consumer skis in is called ‘high performance’. The reason for this is simple: they display higher performance than most other groomer skis. And to be fair: for most recreational skiers they offer plenty of performance. In most cases perhaps even too much. And they shine in a very specific set of conditions, too. So before you consider yourself a Rebel, Racetiger, or Hero – make sure you know which one exactly.

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