There are many variables in ski racing but none more complex and nuanced than the equipment. Next year’s gear is always exciting. New colors, designs, and gizmos are always exciting. The whispers and rumors about what equipment, tunes, and adjustments the athletes on the World Cup are using tend to complicate the equipment part of the racing equation further. They sound something like this
● “The new red hot skis that Marcel are much faster than this years’”.
● “Ted is on a 170 flex boot. Shouldn't I be in 140 flex?”
● “If Lindsey runs .25 base bevel, why shouldn't I?”
● “Mike’s got some skis right out of the race room at "XYZ" Company. Real Race stock”.
The only way to approach equipment to break through the opinions and old wives’ tales is to build out your quiver with a KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) approach your gear on your common sense and some tips from people that have been in your position.
Here are a few.
● A smooth, clean edge is more important than the sharpness. Too often skis have a hook/ burr that make you think that they are sharp. Think of a sprained edge like a saw or a bread knife. Sharp for sure, but you do not want to ski on a saw. The ski’s edges need to be smooth, clear of dings and rock damage.
● The bases need to be flat. Base bevel should be .75 to 1.0 degree. Side angles 2 to 3 degrees in general, unless your FIS points are below 50. Edge angles higher than 3 are very unforgiving and dramatically shorten the life of the ski.
● Use low fluorinated (base prep) or bio waxes on your skis when you train. High fluorinated waxes dry out your bases and cause them to oxidize (The white, milky look on black bases). Plus, it saves money.
● Boots need to flexible, responsive, and comfortable. You should be able to “crush” the boots at room temperature. Flex the boot so that the knee is in front of the toe and the sides of the boot actually bulge out.
● Bindings must be tested once a year at properly calculated DIN settings. Shops will not test them at your preferred setting because of insurance.
● Don’t crank your bindings. Knee and joint injuries are life altering. Be smart.
● If you take a bad crash with your helmet, buy a new one. It worked, now get a new one! Nothing is worth the risk of semi-damaged helmet.
● Find a ski shop around you that has someone who has a racing background. They deal with all manners and issues of equipment and can cut through all of the confusion
Goggles and Your VISION
Goggles! We are starting the equipment section with GOGGLES, because they are typically the most under-appreciated and ill maintained piece of equipment. If your vision is impaired by fog or has scratches, it will affect the way you see the snow and the course. An athlete’s eyes will naturally try to focus on these scratches at the same time they are scanning the slope in front of them. Your eyes will focus and refocus on objects thousands of times every second a second. Imagine the strain that your eyes are under trying to refocus on that scratch. Athletes must take care of their optics. Athletes should take the time to have the correct type of lenses for the conditions. Goggle lenses are designed to filter and enhance the athlete's vision. The variety of conditions on the slopes is complicated by the variety of lens coating and tints available. At every race, you will see an athlete with dark or mirrored lenses that inhibits the racer from reading the terrain because the lenses are not letting enough light through. Some of these lenses reduce the light that is received by 55%. Some athletes use a bright night skiing lens on a beautiful sunny day, and that causes them to squint.
Take extra care of your goggles. If you cannot see clearly and be free of visual distractions, it will affect your skiing
● Goggles must be free of scratches and smudges on the lenses.
● Lens coatings and tints must be appropriate for the weather conditions.
● Make sure that your anti-fog system, treatment is dry and ready for the day ahead (Store them in a dry place).
Fit is the most important part of your boot selection. More often than not we see athletes getting into boots because their hero skis on them. Remember those heroes have technicians that follow them around the world dialing in the fit. In all likelihood you do not have a personal technician, so for the sake of your feet get the one that fits. Boot fitters have opinions about what works for you, but you are the only one with your foot in the boot. You know how it actually feels. You should be looking for a solid heel and ankle pockets. Feel for hard spots (pressure that is coming from the shell). Your toes should be touching the front of the boot when standing upright and pull away when you flex into the boot. If you are in the middle of a growth spurt give yourself a little room. Growth spurts for feet will start at 11 for girls and 12 for boys. The feet will generally start six months before the rest of the body.
There is a tendency for all racers to be in overly stiff boots. Boot flex is not like adding horsepower to a race car—more is not better. An athlete should be able to crush the boot at normal room temperature (flex hard enough that the side begin to bulge out). If they can't drive the boot like this at room temperature, there is little chance that they will be able to do it on the slopes at 20 degrees. No athlete under 100 pounds should be in a 90 flex boot.
Canting is considered to be the dark arts to a lot of coaches. Sometimes it can be seen as a magic pill to fix anything and everything wrong with your skiing. The natural tendency here when dealing with canting your ski boots should be caution. Too often the boot whispers, and whispers too much. This is what so and so is doing on the World Cup. Quite honestly, that is rarely the case. Consider the following before you start the process of grinding your ski boots and canting. Then and only then should you start with canting.
● We suggest that you should ski in the new boots for a week, allowing the boot liners to settle in and let you muscle and tendons get back into skiing mode.
● Start with a footbed that centers the ankle position and cups the heel. The fore body of the foot bed must allow for flexibility and proprioception and not be too stiff in the arch (Your feeling of balance).
● Canting is not recommended unless the athlete is competent and consistent enough with their ski tuning. Throughout a season athletes and some well meaning parents can tune and over tune the skis so much that the base bevel can vary up to one whole degree on the same pair of skis.
● The other main factor that affects the canting process that must be considered is that athletes are experiencing major growth spurts during 10 and 18. Most of the size is added between 11 and 13 for girls and 12 to 14 for boys. The rest of the body, tendons, muscles, and brains take a lot longer. All of these affect what an athlete's need for canting.
● Canting is only a micro adjustment and it is permanent. It’s like someone putting a race engine in a car but have never fixed the tires.
Pull the liners and let them dry out. The foam in your boots is like a sponge. The liners will hold water if you do get them out of the shell so they can breathe.
Don't be so quick to replace your gear from last year. Slalom and GS Skis can retain 95 percent of their spring up to 140 days. Some World Cup skiers have been known to keep the same race skis until they could not be tuned anymore (3 years racing only).
Smooth is the most important and overlooked part of tuning a ski. The number one thing a racer does when they go to tune their skis is the fingernail test to check for sharpness. Everyone scrapes the fingernail against the edge and amount of nail shaved is an indicator of the sharpness. Sharpness is only one reference point. A bread knife can be as sharp as a chef’s knife but they do not cut the same. The bread knife cleaves and rips while the chef’s knife will slice. We want our ski’s to slice. To check for smoothness, place the tip of your fingernail on the edge and with light pressure run it up or down the length of the ski. You will feel a hooks and rough spots of the edge, then these must be smoothed out.
There are hundreds of exotic patterns out there, but in all reality the grind is not as important as the flatness of the ski. Many World Cup skiers are running a liner grind. Re-grind only when necessary. Skis will tend to get faster through multiple waxing and brushing. Re-grind the ski in the middle of the season. Skis usually need it because of rock damage, over-tuning, or because the bases getting dried out from base burn or leaving the high fluoro waxes on the skis. If the type of grind is confusing, go to the shop and speak to the technician that runs the machine (stone grinder). They know what is the best for the conditions in your area.
Keep it simple and consistent. Waxing has evolved over the years to the point that you need a chemical engineering degree to understand it all. Go with a simple 1,2,3 layering system of good, better, best for the waxing. Keeping the skis impregnated with wax is very important to inhibit oxidation of the base (when the base gets a dry milky look to it).
1. A soft base prep can be used for all training and as a base layer for the race days. Swix Race Biowax, Baseprep 88, SVST Base Prep.
2. We add a Moly fluoro layer for the race day. Moly fluoro is a wide spectrum fluro with graphite that repels dirt and grime. Races are conducted more often on man-made snow which always has some dirt or oil from the snowmaking conditions.
Swix MolyFluro, SVST Moly.
3. Depending on your budget and the event, you can layer an overlay on your skis five minutes at the top of the hill.
You need to get the high Fluoro waxes off the ski as fast as you can. They will dry out and damage the bases. This means waxing and scraping right after the race.
Remember to brush before applying any wax to clean out debris and after applying the wax. Use two separate brushes if possible. Tip: Currently World Cup techs are using much stiffer brushes than were used in the past; steel for the cleaning and brass for the wax brush.
Bevel and Angle
If sharp is good, sharper must be great. Increasing your side angle to increase sharpness has been tried by the very best. World Cup skiers have experimented many times with side angles up to 9 degrees and the result has always come back the same—they are incredibly hard to maintain and very finicky to ski. Almost all World Cup athletes have come back to a clean 3 degree angle, and some Slalom skiers have skied up to a 5 degrees.
Base Bevel. There is less variety in the base bevel. Generally it varies from .75 to 1.5 degrees. There is a famous World Cup skier that runs her DH skis at .25, but the edges are so thin that the bevel has little effect on the ski.
You should get your bindings tested at a retail ski shop once a year. Too often I have seen athletes or parents adjusting the bindings on the hill with little knowledge of how a binding works. The springs in the bindings are made of metal and like all metal, it ages. A retail binding test will give the binding a torque test to ensure that it is releasing at din of 6 when the scale says that it is at a 6 (your din setting may be different but you get the point). You may feel confident enough to increase your din setting.