What’s the Right Ski for Adult Racers?
12.30.2016 | Ski Racing Staff
For years, older racers (masters) had coveted those the super-fast, hand-made, hand-selected skis reserved for the top racers in the world. But now that the International Ski Federation (FIS) rules require longer, straighter skis for elite-level athletes, race-stock boards have lost their charm.
Technically, masters racers can use whatever skis they want. “USSA recommends that competitors in USSA masters races compete on equipment designed for the particular discipline (DH, SG, GS, SL),” state the rules, “but does not make any recommendations in regards to ski length, radius or profile width.” This is the same regulation for NASTAR.
That leaves many of us scratching our heads.
At first, masters racers eked out a couple more seasons on whatever shorter, tighter-radius skis they had. But now, a few winters later, those old skis are showing their age, and many of us are looking for new, “real” race skis — not the detuned beaters, but with tighter sidecuts than those used by Ted Ligety and Lindsey Vonn.
Manufacturers have answered the demand and are now selling a myriad of new race skis with “old” sidecuts, meaning a tighter radii. Picking the right one can greatly influence your performance on the hill and the thickness of your wallet, so it’s not a decision made lightly.
This guide should help you pick the fastest ski out there for your next adult NASTAR race.
The correct ski for you is based on your size, fitness level and ability level. The more you weigh, the stronger you are, and the faster you rip, the longer your ski. Shorten up a little if you are lightweight, if you’re not as fit as you should be or if you are cautious in certain places on a course. For example, if you’re a male masters racer, you work out daily and look for speed every moment of a run but weigh only 150 pounds, a shorter GS ski, around 185 centimeters, is a smarter choice than a 195 cm GS ski.
A standard women’s FIS GS ski is 188 cm long. As another example, if you’re a female masters racer who weighs 150 pounds, rips down the course, but keeps missing your CrossFit class, you’ll like a 180-cm GS ski much better than a 188. Both men and women should adjust the length of ski downward another 5 cm if two or more of the criteria — weight, strength, skill — are not honed to a high-performance level.
Tight, 18-meter sidecut GS skis may be the rage, but perhaps not the fastest choice for everyone. The higher the edge angle you create while turning, the bigger the sidecut you can handle. If you get a lot of angulation, you can actually have too much sidecut, which makes the skis feel hooky. While most masters racers prefer a GS radius under 25 meters, an 18-meter radius may be too tight for you, depending on your line and the amount of edge angle you can create.
Terrain matters, too. If most of your races are on flat terrain, skis with a tighter sidecut tend to turn easier.
There’s one more consideration among masters racers: age. The older the racer, the shorter the length and tighter the radius their skis tend to be.
Here’s a look what the top masters racers in the U.S. are skiing on for slalom and GS to help you make your decisions.
For women, there’s only one choice among adult race skis regarding length: 155 cm (plus or minus 2 cm). Sidecuts are in a very small range, 11 to 12 meters. If you weigh 120 pounds or more, pick a slalom ski with these measurements. If you’re smaller than that, consider a junior ski, which is likely your only choice among smaller slalom skis.
Masters-level men have more options, ranging from a women’s-length 155-cm ski to a World Cup-length 165-cm ski with a radius from 12 to 13 meters. Among the masters national team members, those under age 50 use 165-cm skis. Those aged 50-plus tend to go shorter.
The top masters women under age 55 use GS skis around 180 cm. Older gals go shorter, 175 to 170 cm, as age increases. The radii are tight, primarily under 20 meters for all but a handful of the younger racers.
With the exception of the very oldest age groups, the length of ski for top-level masters men correlates more to their size and ability rather than their age. The longest skis are about 190 cm. The shortest are about 175 cm. The average is 185 cm long with a 25-meter radius.
Here’s what the 2016 U.S. Alpine Master’s Team is saying about their ski length:
"I tend to buy whatever the standard is. For speed, I do go a bit shorter and look at juniors skis because I am not very tall or heavy."
— Lauren Beckos (age 18 to 29)
"I used to ski on a shorter radius ski, but as I got stronger, I was ready for something longer. I can make my Head 178 cm/25-meter radius ski work in most GS courses. For SG, which I’m not racing very often, I use junior Atomic with a 27-meter radius."
— Louise McKee (ages 45 to 49)
"I’m 5 foot 8 inches, 160 pounds and use a 157-cm slalom ski. I tried 165-cm slalom skis. They were great freeskiing, but once I got in a course, it was too much work. There’s no reason at our level to make our life more difficult."
— Pierre Jeangirard (ages 60 to 64)
"I don’t pick skis due to their radius — I pick them based on how they feel when I ski on them. I test as many as I can. That also goes for length. I’ve found I like longer GS skis."
— Ara Papazian (ages 45 to 49)
"It’s really easy to get wrapped up in the hype of ski lengths and longer radius skis, but masters don’t always have the opportunity to ski or train consistently. I think finding a length and sidecut you can ski well is the most important. For some people, that may be a World Cup length/radius, but for others, something less extreme might be the ticket."
— Jennifer Kaufman (ages 40 to 44)
"Most of the skis I’ve got in my race quiver are more a function of right price than anything else. As a Class 3 racer, I never pass up a good deal. Don’t hesitate to talk with the Class 7 and older racers. They buy equipment more often than the young guys who are still paying off college or have kids! For GS, I have three pairs, and for super G, I have two pairs. I pick the length of ski based on the race hill and set."
— John Beckos (ages 35 to 39)
"Consider your ability to tip the ski on edge — how high, what angle and how early can you do it — especially GS and super G. If you do it well, avoid too short a radius. You’ll be too high and early, and slow. A short-radius masters cheater ski may be OK if you do not tip your ski on edge much. They tend to be wider throughout, thus less torsionally stiff and more forgiving. Forgiving can be OK for some, but it’s kinda like a passenger sedan with a nice ride being used on a racetrack."
— Nick Hudson (Class 10, ages 70 to 74)
"I had a 23-meter sidecut GS ski for a while and really liked them, but found them hard to turn on tighter GS courses. Other masters skiers talked about how much easier it was to turn their “cheater” GS skis. When Rossignol came out with a master GS race ski with an 18-meter sidecut, I bought a pair. They are great skis, and seem more suitable for the masters courses that I run."
— Karen Killian (Class 7, ages 55 to 59).
About the author: Lisa Densmore Ballard has garnered close to 100 masters national titles and four world masters titles since 1991. This long-time coach, racer and member of the U.S. Alpine Masters Team also chairs USSA's Masters Committee.