Watching a professional downhill race live on the slope is an exceptional experience. Even in front of the tv, you can see the speed and extreme danger racers are willing to undergo in pursuit of fame, points, and medals. But seeing it live will take your breath away.
There are several questions that immediately came to my mind.
The first one was easy. Would I be able to ski so fast?
The answer to this one is simply obvious. Of course not, the only feeling at such a speed I would have would be fear, which would freeze me immediately.
What is the difference in the equipment between professionals and recreational skiers? Are their alpine skis so much different? And what ski boots? I was so intrigued by those questions that I had to find out. Here are all the answers I was able to get about the differences. If you found the answers insufficient, do not hesitate to add your comments below in the comments section.
The difference in alpine ski equipment
[recreational skiers versus professional downhill racers]
Professional Downhill Alpine Skis
The skis for recreational skiers like me are usually the length of your height, plus or minus a few centimetres. Professional downhill skis are much longer. You can hardly find a skier who will use skis shorter than 220 centimetres.
Professional downhill skis are narrower. The width of the skis gives you stability and comfort. Nothing of those is important if you would like to win at Kitzbuehel downhill. All you need is speed.
Stiffness is another point when you need to have a material that will respond quickly and be able to withstand high speed. So professional downhill skis are much stiffer than usual performance skis.
Professional skis are heavier which is implied by their bigger length but also by the materials used.
Turn on radius
Performance skis have a turn-on radius of 12 to 19 meters. The slalom skis have smaller ones (12 to 15 meters), and super g skis have larger turn-on radius (17 to 20 meters). On the contrary, professional downhill skis have a turn-on radius of around 60 meters.
It is clear that riding professional downhill skis would be rather uncomfortable. The skis are made with the aim to be as fastest as possible. You would need excellent technique, increased fear tolerance and extreme physical condition.
Professional Alpine Ski Boots
The biggest difference is the stiffness of the boot. Professional ski boots are much harder than recreational ones. The cuff is higher to better protect the foot and also improve your ability to transfer energy to your skis.
Also putting up the ski boots is slightly different. First of all, you put on the inner „slipper“ and then you put on the hard shell of your ski boot. Of course, you need to fasten buckles as much as possible.
Professional Alpine Ski Bindings
The bindings are similar to the recreational ones, but the difference lies in the settings.
First of all, you will use a higher binding mat. The extra height gives you additional tilt in turns.
Secondly, the DIN setting, the force you need to release your boot in case of fall, has to be much higher than recreational skiers will need. You have your binding set probably somewhere between 5 and 8 depending on your ski skills, weight, and height. Professional skiers would set the DIN at 20+.
Professional Ski Poles
The difference in poles is clearly visible. Professional ski poles are bent to better cling to the body. It helps aerodynamics to get you better speed and time in the finish.
Professional Ski Overall
Competition overalls must fit very tightly due to the aerodynamic requirements. Some of the skiers put the ski overall to the naked body, other uses a thin thermo-layer beneath.
There is a special polyester-based material used for professional ski overalls that fulfils the permeability standard set by FIS.
I did not switch to the cars and still am on the downhill slope. Ski Airbags are now the common standard among professional downhill racers. It protects your Spine, Thorax, Abdomen, and Hips and is approved by FIS. Any fall at high speed can be fatal, so extra protection always helps.
Professional Ski Helmets
The difference between a usual ski helmet and a professional is in ear protection. Downhill racers have hard shells to cover their ears, and the normal ski helmets have soft ones.
Professional Ski Gloves
Professional ski gloves are improved by additional protection of the back of your hands. Gloves have implanted light metal plants in the back to cover the racer in case he hit the gate.
Professional Ski Goggles
In the end, I left something that is finally similar to the equipment you use. Ski Googles are the same, if you are using something better, it is probable that pro skiers have similar ones. They just play more with the lenses for different weather. Choosing the lenses with the right VLT (find out what is VLT here) has an impact on how they see the slope and that could add a bit to your decisions at high speed.