What gear do I need? As with our other Ski Racing 101 information pages, the quality and quantity of gear bought to ski race is largely up to you. However, there is definitely a bare minimum. As athletes age and engage in a higher level of racing, they will encounter regulations and rules on gear that will require additional purchases.
Where can I buy it? If you are looking for the best quality, brand new, and, frankly, most expensive gear, the best place to buy is your local ski shop or online through a vendor. Another great option is local ski swaps, which tend to happen before the season begins in October or November. Ski swaps are usually run by a local ski club, college ski team, or as a community. They can offer both brand new and used gear. Along the same lines, an online site like Craigslist, Ebay, or SidelineSwap often offers cheap gear options, but likely not much of it compared to a ski shop or online retailer.
**IMPORTANT** Any gear (especially skis) bought secondhand should be carefully analyzed for damage before purchase. Skis should be taken into a shop and inspected before use.
Bare Minimum Gear:
These pieces of equipment are essential, but also have the most rules associated with them. Before purchasing, make sure to visit this page for compliance and regulation guides for USSA and FIS.
Skis: Simply put, the most essential piece of equipment for recreational or competitive skiing (duh). At the junior and recreational ski racing level, one pair of skis will do. There is a “mixed-model” radius of skis offered by many manufacturers for juniors in youth racing or NASTAR, and an all-mountain ski will suffice for adults. Make sure to get sized up by an expert/ski shop before purchase. A brand new pair of race skis can be as much as $1000 (usually around $400 for new junior skis), however a good pair of used skis will usually fall between the $200-$500 range.
As an athlete progresses in their career, skis specific for each discipline will become necessary.
For a better idea of what different brands offer, visit our gear guide.
Boots: Needed in order to use the skis (duh). Ski boots can be uncomfortable, no way around it. But given that they are the second most essential element to skiing, they have to be done right. Get sized up at a local ski shop to ensure a comfortable (but not too comfortable) fit and the correct “flex” to complement your body and level of competition. Expect to pay upwards of $1,000 for a new pair of top of the line boots and anywhere from $150-500 for a good pair of used.
Again, visit our gear guide for a better idea of what brands to look at.
Bindings: You have to secure those boots with something! If not already included with the purchase of skis, bindings are another very essential piece of gear. You can get them mounted on your skis at any local ski shop. It is very important to ensure that the bindings purchased are right for your age, size, weight and level of competition as serious injury can result from improper binding use. A brand new set of race bindings can cost as much as $500, but expect to pay around $150-250 for a good set of used.
Poles: You’ll probably tip over in the course without them. Poles are another essential purchase for ski racing and also need to be sized to fit an individual’s height and level of competition. If you choose the high-end carbon fiber poles, they can cost as much as $350 a pair. For a much more reasonable option for recreational and junior ski racing, $75-$150 is much better.
Helmet and Goggles: Safety first! Using bike helmets or wearing your helmet backwards are a major no. For recreational racing (NASTAR and youth skiing), a ski-specific helmet is definitely needed, however not necessarily a racing helmet. As the level of competition rises to U.S. Ski & Snowboard and FIS racing, helmets must meet certain safety requirements and be certified with a FIS sticker. Goggles are also essential pieces of safety equipment, protecting your eyes not only from the sun but also any gear or debris that may fly up into your face during training or competition. The higher end race-specific helmets tend to fall within the $250-$400 range. Due to safety concerns, it is not advised by any manufacturer to purchase a used helmet. Goggle prices run between $50-300 new.
Winter Clothing: Major key to bearing the cold! A good jacket, snow pants, gloves or mittens, long underwear, and ski socks are all a must. DO NOT ski in jeans, we beg you.
HIGHER LEVELS OF RACING
Race Suit: Aerodynamics, #hundiesmatter, ’nuff said. Racers who start to take things more seriously will need a race suit. Made from tight-fitting elastic fabrics, race suits greatly increase your aerodynamics and speed on course. They can be pricey (sometimes over $1,000 for a top-of-the-line model) but used ones do the trick just fine for someone starting out. Many older racers will have old suits they are happy to sell for a good price.
Skis & Poles for Multiple Disciplines: Once an athlete begins competing in U.S. Ski & Snowboard or FIS races, strict equipment guidelines apply and event-specific skis become necessary. Slalom poles are straight and have guards protecting your hands. GS poles do not have guards and can be straight or have a slight bend for aerodynamics. Speed poles for downhill and super-G are strategically bent to conform around your body when you’re in a tuck.
Protective Wear: Shin guards, pole guards, and a chin bar are highly recommended for slalom racing. Arm guards and possibly a padded top to wear under race suit, also called a “stealth,” can be worn for GS. A back protector is also a good idea and might even be required depending on your club’s rules.
Ski Tuning Equipment: There are literally books we could write on the amount of gear you could have for ski tuning, but we’re not going to. At a bare minimum for tuning on your own, you should have a file guide, file, diamond stone, file clamp, waxing iron, wax, a brush or two, and a wax scraper. However, you can have countless more files, stones, and wax or just decide to take it in to the shop for tune ups. Our point is: analyze your needs and desires to maintain your skis and buy the appropriate amount of equipment. For greater advice, visit a ski shop or check out our Backshop section.
IF YOU’RE FEELING A LITTLE EXTRA
Neckie: Quickly becoming a staple of individual expression! Much thinner than a bulky traditional neck gator and perfect for racing in cold temperatures. Get one. Or even make one. Keep the neck warm!
Zip-off Snow Pants: For easy pre-race. Pants which zip off at the side to take off before a race run.
Multiple Goggle Lenses for Variable Weather: Snow, sun, and flat light often require a different tint of goggle lens for optimum visual clarity.
Training Shorts: Shorts for training, just like it sounds. Allows for your coaches to better see what your legs are doing while you ski in order to give you proper feedback. Also great for not destroying your ski pants during slalom training; mom and dad will thank you for that. Added bonus: they keep your butt warm on the chairlift!