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WHAT IT TAKES: Here’s the simplest way to put it: If you were actually good enough to handle true race skis, you’d be getting them for free.Most companies have two or three levels of race boards. At the high end, “race room products are custom-designed and hand-built for the company’s World Cup athletes, who might have several pairs, tailored to their technique and to different courses. Each year, designers agree on a sidecut and construction that best suits most racers and courses. This prototype is more widely produced and is distributed to the company’s second-tier racers.
Yes, you can buy these beasts, as more manufacturers are making them available in key shops. But why wouldyou? “They’re made for high-level racers, says Nordica’s Andy Hare, a former U.S. Ski Team development racer and race-service rep. And no offense, but he doesn’t mean NASTAR and night-league champs. He means elite-level young adults racing at the FIS or perhaps NCAA level.
True GS race skis are made to work best at high speeds. They’re stiff and only moderately shaped, so if you’re not hitting 40 mph, they’ll feel like logs and you’ll need a football field to make a turn. That’s why most companies offer “citizen racer or “race carve models. They’re designed to perform at racecourse speeds on hard snow, but you don’t have to be Stephan Eberharter to bend one.
Nevertheless, Hare hears from skiers who insist on the big sticks. “You can talk to him till you’re blue in the face about how great the carving ski is, but he wants to beat his buddies, so he’s not leaving till he gets his race ski, even though he’d be faster on the carving ski.
Slalom race skis are slightly more versatile, thanks to deeper sidecuts. But because of their rugged constructions, mistakes are amplified. Get back at the end of a turn, and you’ll get tossed before you even know you’re in trouble. Again, the better choice is the defanged version most companies offer.
Finally, consider this: Even if you could handle a GS race ski, the speeds at which they’re meant to be skied will get you kicked off any mountain (except perhaps Sun Valley) faster than you can say “Picabo Street. And rightly so.
HOW TO GET THERE: First, have good genes. Only the preternaturally gifted can make a GS race ski work well. Next, hit the gym. Once you’ve got thighs like fire hydrants, ski early on weekday mornings, when the light’s good, the snow’s flat and the trails are empty. Enroll in a race clinic, such as Rowmark’s Masters Summer Ski Camp (rowmark.org) or the Billy Kidd Performance Center (steamboat.com). Learn about the different turns that result from different edge angles: The higher you tip a ski on edge, the tighter the arc—if you can hold it. Understand that what you’re doing is risky. One minor bobble and you’ll be scudding toward the hardwoods at spine-shattering speeds, with no B-netting to save you. Clear your head, keep your hip into the hill, watch out for patrollers—and hang on.