Ski racing is an international, Olympic-recognized sport with a number of different iterations. Alpine skiing, freestyle skiing and nordic skiing all use different types of skis and equipment, with different types of clothing to suit the specific needs of each variation of the sport. Skiers also vary the equipment they wear based on the weather conditions they expect to face, because skiing takes place in uniquely harsh winter conditions with varying temperatures and precipitation. Ski clothing for races is all designed to fit closely, decreasing wind drag as you fly down the side of a ski slope.
Tight Fit is Not a Drag
Ski clothing is highly specialized, especially at the level of professional competition. Clothing companies often compete to develop speed suits that reduce wind drag by greater and greater coefficients. During the 2010 Winter Olympics, companies such as Spyder used wind tunnels to model the conditions of downhill skiing in order to develop smoother fabrics that shaved seconds off of skier's times through wind drag reduction. Ski clothing is usually made of a synthetic fabric such as Lycra and often has zippers that allow quick ventilation of excess heat. All skiing disciplines use ski goggles, which feature anti-fog lenses and straps that fit over ski helmets
Safe at Any Speed
Alpine skiing equipment retains the aerodynamic qualities of most ski outfits, but utilizes additional padding to protect the skier in the event of a crash. Alpine skiers wear helmets in practice and competition and use padded gloves and shin guards to prevent injury. Because skiers can regularly reach speeds of up to 80 mph, the protective equipment is essential. Alpine ski boots have a fixed heel, which is attached to the binding of the ski, a feature not found on Nordic skis.
Nordic skiers dress for cross-country travel, and have ski boots that don't have a fixed heel. This allows the skier to move uphill more efficiently, since the terrain in Nordic skiing isn't always predictably downhill. Nordic skiers utilize compression to encourage circulation to key muscle groups, and their uniforms often feature more weather resistance and insulation than an alpine skier. Nordic skiers don't always use helmets and padding, although skiers who practice jumping will almost always wear a helmet as crash protection.
Feel Free to Show Off Your Style
Freestyle skiing is focused primarily on skill and precision on jumps, half-pipes and obstacles, rather than on speed and endurance. The clothing worn is substantially looser, although fabrics will still be made from high-tech moisture and temperature regulating fabrics. Loose fitting insulated jackets and pants are often used, and padding on the shins, knees, elbows and hands as well as a helmet are a standard for competition. Freestyle skiers are most similar to snowboarders in their clothing choices.
Max Roman Dilthey is a science, health and culture writer currently pursuing a master's of sustainability science. Based in Massachusetts, he blogs about cycling at MaxTheCyclist.com.