Choosing the best gear for you this season, tips and insight from one of our tristate coaches.
It is time to start thinking about the upcoming season. Soon you will start hearing about the swaps and race days organized at either the Tri-State mountains or near-by ski shops.
There is a logic for the existence of both. Below are some pointers as to what to look for and what to concentrate on when choosing the used and new ski racing gear.
Swaps vs Race Days:
Swaps are usually organized by race programs to help the parents or racers sell used gear that is no longer needed.
You can find anything and everything at a swap.
The main question that you should ask yourself when going to a swap is:
is there an advantage of buying new versus used gear?
Race days are usually organized by ski shops and/or race mountain programs. They are serviced by ski manufacturers’ reps and sell ski racing equipment — mostly ski boots, skis and ski bindings — at racer (discounted) prices. In order to take advantage of the lower pricing one needs to have the racer’s USSA number. All of the ski racing gear sold at a Race Day is new. The boots will not be fitted during that time but the advice as to what kind of boots should be chosen and their proper sizing will be given. The reps usually bring all boot sizes with them and try their best to point out which boot will fit the best. They also have tables designed by the ski manufacturers to determine the proper boot size, and boot flex. The same advice is given by the ski reps when it comes to the choice of the proper skis (ski length) for a given ski racer.
there is no harm in buying used parkas, gloves and/or pants.
there is no problem with buying used shin guards, pole guards, back protectors or goggles — as long as they are functional and intact.
the problem is that when buying a used helmet you do not know what that helmet went through before your child puts it on his or her head. Most helmets are designed to withstand one crash (except for the POC more expensive version — Skull Orbic Comp — which is supposedly designed to withstand more than one crash). After a helmet goes through a crash the internal integrity of the helmet is supposed to be compromised. That basically means that the helmet will not protect your child’s head the way it was initially designed to do so any longer. Many times there is no visible damage to the helmet that went through the crash. In my book, buying a used helmet makes only sense if you know the previous owner and when you can be sure that the helmet never went through a crash.
NOTE please: for the Slalom races the helmets may have flexible sides (soft ear protection) and do not need to carry a FIS approved sticker on them.
For ALL other races the helmets MUST have hard sides, be FIS approved and carry an appropriate approval sticker.
If you do not see a FIS approved sticker that is an integral part of the helmet (affixed in a non-removable way), please, do NOT buy the helmet as your child will not be allowed to participate in a race.
All of these rules apply to racers U-14 and older.
as long as the ski poles are straight and are not too beat up there is no problem with buying them at a swap
Ski race suits:
there is nothing wrong with purchasing used ski race suits.
NOTE please: keep in mind that starting from the next season (2018/2019) those racers racing in FIS races (u-19s and up) will need to wear FIS approved race suits. The rules right now are that those who ski in FIS competition are responsible for testing of their race suits and should race in an attested ski race suit (a suit with an attestation plomb). That rule changes beginning from the next season where the suit will need to have a FIS approval sticker integrated into the suit for the athlete to be allowed to ski race in a FIS mandated race. It is still unclear whether this rule is going to be implemented in ALL FIS races or will only apply to the NorAm series. More information on that to follow (this issue only affects U-19 and older racers who choose to ski FIS events).
no problem here, either, as long as you are able to determine two things:
1. The FLEX of the boot.
Ski racing boots come in variety of flexes from 60 to 180, with 60 being the softest and recommended for the youngest athletes and the 180 or above being used by the World Cup ski racers.
The FLEX choice is directly related to the height, weight and skill level of the racer. Junior boots are usually between 60 and 110 Flex. The boot FLEX should be chosen to make the skiing as comfortable and as effective as possible. The rule of thumb is to err on the side of the softer boot, keeping in mind that if the boot is too stiff the child will not be able to turn properly and the season will be full of disappointment and frustration.
Some of the boots when fitted by the boot-fitter will have the internal wall of the boot shaved off to accommodate the foot of the previous owner for a perfect fit. This generally does not affect the functionality of the boot but you need to keep in mind that the used boot may be a bit different in its fit to a boot that was not modified.
2. How much wear is on the outer sole of the boot..
Sometimes the boot was resold so many times or used for a long time that the heel outer sole (more often) or the toe outer sole (less often) is all worn out. If this is the case the boot will not stay in the bindings properly any longer compromising the safety of the skier. Most, if not all, race boots come with a plastic sole that is not interchangeable. When it is worn out, the boot is garbage. While there is a way to protect the boots’ soles by placing lifters on them, that can only be done by a professional boot-fitter. The rule of thumb here should be that if you cannot determine the cross pattern that was initially present on the boots’ sole (particularly the heel and toe part) it does not make sense to purchase the boot, no matter how attractive the price may be.
NOTE please: remember to bring your ski socks every time you try the boots on. This will give you the comfort of your own ski socks when trying the boots. Also, you know what kind of ski sock you feel most comfortable in – warmth-wise. The recommendation is that you ski race in a ski sock that is as thin as possible without the compromise for warmth. The logic behind this idea is that you want to be as close to the shell of the boot as possible.
The other recommendation is to replace the foot-bed (inner sole or insole) of the race boot and put a sturdy, good insole in. This will hold your foot in place better when ski racing.
there is more to buying used skis than meets the eye.
In general there is nothing wrong with buying used skis. But… there are several things and questions that one should ask before the purchase is complete.
1. how old are the skis and how much were they skied on?
a new ski has a different spring to it than an old ski. If a pair of skis were used extensively for a number of seasons that ski’s flexibility or springiness will be compromised to the point where that ski will not be able to give (“rebound”) anything any longer. A pair of skis like that is basically shut. Keeping that in mind you should ask yourself if you want your child to get the most out of the season and out of the skis that he/she has, or have her/him struggle throughout the season because the skis that she/he is skiing on is not responsive to anything any longer. When an athlete reaches a certain stage in her/his skiing development (say skiing on the FIS circuit, or reaching a certain level of FIS or USSA points — below 100) buying used skis does not make sense any longer, mostly because the ski racer will spend so much time practicing and racing that he/she will shut a pair of skis in a season or two.
At a certain stage parents will consider buying two pairs of skis for the same discipline (a so called racer and trainer). It is good to keep in mind that those two pairs should be as close as possible to their performance as compared with one another. In other words, it is not a good idea to have a designated pair of race skis and a designated pair of training skis that are not switched over or are keeping the same designation throughout the season. Similarly, it is not a good idea to buy a new pair of skis and designate them as race skis and buy a used pair of skis (the same specs, of course) and use them as training skis. The logic here is that those two pairs of skis will ski very differently. The end result will be that the child will get used to practicing on one pair of skis and racing on a pair of skis that behave/perform differently on a race day. The adjustment here is impossible to make and the child will feel like skiing on a new unknown equipment during the most important day of the season — the race day.
When you decide to purchase two pairs of skis for the same discipline the key is that those skis be switched around from race skis to practice skis a couple of times during the season. This way you will assure that both pairs of skis will perform almost the same way all the time and will not surprise your child on a race day.
2. How much edge is left on the ski under the boot ore directly under the binding?
it goes without saying that the edge of the skis gets reduced every time the ski is sharpened. When the ski edge gets reduced to less than 0.3 millimeter the ski is garbage no matter how new it is or how pristine it looks.
3. How many times was the ski ground (or grinded)?
the same logic applies to the bases of the skis. The bases can only be shaved a number of times (and even that number is not precisely defined because one grind may take more material off the base of the ski than the other). if the bases were ground too many times and there was too much material taken off the base the skis are garbage no matter how good they look.
4. Are the edges straight and true? Are there any core shots? Are there any deep scratches? How much p-tex work was done on the bases?
all of those questions are important to ask or evaluate. And the answers will give you some idea how much the ski was used.
5. What is the base bevel and side edge bevel? What shape are the bindings in?
if you are buying the skis in a swap those questions, like some others, are impossible to answer.
NOTE please: do remember that after you purchase a pair of skis they need to be serviced (to establish the desirable base bevel, side bevel, and to put the appropriate structure on the ski base). This applies as much to new skis as to the used ones. That service is usually $120 to $200 depending on where you will have the work done. When that work is done the questions about side and base bevel on used skis become irrelevant.
as with the used skis there is more to buying used bindings that meets the eye.
Used skis will usually come with bindings attached to them. What you need is to determine if all the questions that you may have about the bindings are answered.
the DIN is a number that determines the tension that the bindings are set to. That in turn determines how well the binding will hold the boot when the forces are put on the boot (and the binding) while skiing.
Bindings come with different DIN ranges and the range needs to be compatible with the skier that uses the bindings. A pair of skis that are good for a lighter skier may come with the bindings used by a heavier skier and if the DIN range of adjustment on the bindings is not proper, these bindings cannot be used by the skier that wants to use the skis.
2. Boot size:
the same logic that applies to DINs applies to the size of the boot of the skier that used the bindings previously. While there is a small adjustment window on the bindings to correct for a different size of the boots any larger changes will require the binding to be re-drilled and fitted properly for the right boot size. Skis should not be drilled more than three times before they are determined to be unsafe to ski on. How many times the skis were drilled is impossible to know when the bindings are affixed to the skis. That information will be available only when the bindings come off of the skis. When the pair of skis comes with race plates the question of how many times the bindings were switched or adjusted on the skis becomes irrelevant, since the race plates have pre-drilled holes in them that allow a safe way to changer the position of the bindings multiple times on the skis.
NOTE please: bindings are phased out every year by manufacturers who determine that certain bindings are too old or to inferior in their design to function safely. That list of different binding models is available only through a certified technician. While this situation applies to older bindings and rarely affects race bindings, it is something that should always be kept in mind when buying used bindings.
When you are buying used bindings, please remember that you should have them tested and adjusted by a certified technician before your child starts skiing. The testing should be done when the bindings are already on the skis that will be used for the season and with racer’s boots available during the testing. The DIN set up, the lateral release set up and other tests are individualized and are determined by the weight, height, boot size and the ski level of the skier. The bindings are the only thing that protects your child from a possibly serious injury since that is the only place where the boots — and your child’s body– come in direct contact with the skis.
Please keep in mind that if purchasing two pairs of skis for the same discipline (Slalom or Giant Slalom) the two pairs of skis should be exactly the same (the same length, the same turning radius, the same year of production — unless the ski was not changed at all from one production year to another).
There is nothing wrong with using skis from different manufacturers for different disciplines (one company for Slalom and another for Giant Slalom) as long as the skis for the particular discipline stay exactly the same.