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While much of the world turns on the Winter Olympics this season, very few will understand why Mikaela Shiffrin’s skis need to be so much stiffer than your relatively floppy noodles, or why Ted Ligety’s boots don’t have more than five degrees of flex. (Walk mode? Forget about it.) Luckily, as brands invest in the technology their athletes use to win, a lot of the fancy stuff trickles down into consumer products.
While you probably won’t stand on top of an Olympic race course any time soon, you can still get an edge with some of the fastest technology available. The products on the next page feature the same guts as their off-the-market Olympic versions, but come in much more manageable packages than an impossibly stiff 220cm downhill ski.
Through several years of development on the race course, Austrian World Cup phenom Marcel Hirscher devised Servotec, a named derived from “Servolenkung,” which translates to “power steering.” Servotec is a pre-tensioned rod connected to compressed elastomer that sits on the top of a ski. When the ski flexes entering a turn, the compressed elastomer relaxes, and then rebounds like a spring returning to tension, which engages and smooths the ski’s flex throughout the arc of the turn. With a drastically smoother flex, you can go faster into and out of every turn, no race course required. Skis you can buy: Atomic Redster X9 ($1,200 with binding), Cloud 12 ($950 with binding), atomic.com.
Olympians using this technology: Mikaela Shiffrin (USA), Marcel Hirscher (AUT).
Marker X-Cell Pistons
While a lot of binding innovation has been happening in backcountry and freestyle products, Marker’s X-Cell bindings have been keeping things fresh in the race world. The X-Cell Piston in the toe piece and the Twin Cam heel piece are engineered to absorb micro-shocks, keeping the ski boot centered no matter how chattery the terrain. The magnesium lugs in the toe are extended to create the most amount of boot contact possible, which dramatically improves power transmission. And with an 8-18 release setting, these bindings are more than most recreational skiers need, but that doesn’t mean you can’t want them. Binding you can buy: Marker X-Cell 18 ($400), marker.net.
Olympians using this technology: Emelie Wikström (SWE), Felix Neureuther (GER).
Lange Boots DualCore
By injecting two different plastics (one very hard and one not-quite-as-hard) into the boot mold at the same time, Lange has devised a method of creating a shell that allows parts of the boot to have a dynamic shell wrapping, and in turn, a more efficient power transmission from muscle to ski. This sandwich construction makes the boot livelier and fun throughout the turn while allowing for better control and responsiveness in all conditions. Boots you can buy: Lange RS and RX Collections (RS 130: $850), lange-boots.com.
Olympians using this technology: Jean Frédéric Chapuis (FRA), Nina Haver-Løseth (NOR).
SHRED Optics Contrast Boosting Lens
Ted Ligety’s goggle company, Shred, injects its Contrast Boosting Lens (CBL) technology into all of their consumer optics products. The tech reduces glare in high-sun and low-light situations, and because CBL is in the lens and not a film applied with adhesive, it works more clearly than technologies with similar contrast enhancements. CBL works so well that FIS has not yet allowed it to be used in World Cup races, meaning the consumer products are better than what the racers get to use. Just don’t tell your friends when you beat them to the bottom of the run. Goggle you can buy: Shred Simplify Natural ($220), shredoptics.com.
Olympians using this technology: Ted Ligety (USA), Lara Gut (SUI).
Slytech NoShock Body Armor
A hard fall can crush Olympic dreams like a soda can, so it’s common to see skiers in all disciplines wearing back protectors and more. Slytech’s body armor is as comfortable as it is protective, and its honeycombed NoShock technology hits the mark for being easy to wear and bombproof. Lab tests show its patented materials absorb energy better than other foam-based products on the market, and after a few hard falls, we believe it. Want something easier to wear all the time? Try Slytech’s lighter and more flexible safety-certified Flexi protection instead. Protection you can buy: Slytech Back Protector NoShock Naked ($160), shredoptics.com.
Olympians using this technology: Resi Stiegler (USA), Tommy Ford (USA).