Why do world cup skiers need so many pairs of skis?

On February 21st, 2018, the New York Times published an article by Bill Pennington titled “Why Mikaela Shiffrin Brought 35 Pairs of Skis to the Olympics”. The article describes the difficulties and reasons surrounding professional skiers and their quivers. Sparked by the interest in this seemingly over-preparedness, Green Ice Wax interviewed Olympic athlete Cristian Javier Simari Birkner of Argentina. The top 6 reasons are outlined in this article:

  1. Wax Preparation – Technicians prepare skis for race day with their own special recipes. They prep each base with various layers of wax based on expected snow temperature, humidity, snow type, etc. This process requires time. In order to prepare for sudden changes, technicians will prepare identical skis with different recipes and make the final call before the start.
  2. Base Structure – With recent advancements in equipment, technicians can apply various structures to the base of the ski in addition to wax. Similar to a car tire, different structures will perform better under certain conditions. Wet snow melts faster under a ski than dry, icy snow. A deep base structure will allow the snow to flow more easily (less friction) as the water passes. Keep in mind, the ski does not ride on snow. Instead, the friction between the base and the ground melts the snow into water. The water droplets then travel through the grooves set up by the technician in an effort to reduce drag.
  3. Dimensions – This might be the most obvious for those of us who have competed in the past. Each event requires a different ski to best execute the turns. That automatically means at least 4 sets of skis are required even before considering preparation and preference. On the short side you have slalom skis and on the longer side is downhill. Giant Slalom and Super-G fall in the middle. Below is a chart of the length and radius (turn diameter) of skis as established by FIS, the regulating body of all things ski racing.


    Men’s Length (cm) Men’s Radius (m) Women’s Length (cm)

    Women’s Radius (m)




    Giant Slalom

    195 35 188


    Super G 210 45 205


    Downhill 218 50 210


  4. Stiffness – Again it comes back to the snow conditions. With aggressive snow (think Vail or Aspen), a softer ski would be more preferable. This is relative of course, as most skis on the circuit would be stiff compared to the average skier. When the snow is less aggressive, skiers prefer a stiffer ride (think Alta Badea, Italy)
  5. Edge Preparation – That thin sheet of metal along the side of the ski is essential to performance. At 90 degrees, the base edge would blend in with the base of the ski. Because steel does not glide as easily as the plastic base, this would hinder performance (besides the fact you’d constantly catch an edge). The side angle is a whole story in itself. Most of it comes down to preference. Angles change based on the consistency and grip of the snow. The trick comes down to tuning the proper setting for race day and deciding how aggressive an angle is required. Skiers typically have different setting for each event.
  6. Binding Placement – The position of the boot on the ski can aid the athlete when it comes to initiating turns. The further forward (to a certain point) will give the the athlete an advantage when it comes to initiating turns. This proves advantageous in older, less aggressive snow conditions.

By looking at just these 6 reasons, it becomes obvious why world cup athletes come prepared with over 30 pairs to the Olympics. After years of hard work, the athletes expect their equipment to be flawless (or close to it). With all the responsibility, it seems like the technicians might have the hardest job of any ski racer!!


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