Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Gear talk: What you'll need to contend in the Town Challenge ski racing series

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Slalom in the soul

Even though turnout isn't what it once was, the Town Challenge ski racing series still is a vital part of what makes Steamboat Springs a special place. Ask any of the series regulars and they'll tell you, the annual races are about a lot more than competition.

The men and women who participate in the Town Challenge ski races would be happy to have you when the next season kicks off in December. They’ll take you as is, meaning puffy jackets, big pants, old boots and fat skis are acceptable.

But if being fast is more your thing, here’s what a burgeoning speed demon might want for a solid Town Challenge setup.

Skis: $1,100 or more

The Town Challenge consists of three types of races: slalom, giant slalom and super giant slalom. Companies make skis for each type of racing, but most skiers can get away with two pairs.

Slalom skis are shorter than a typical ski. The longest allowed in FIS races is 165 centimeters. The length you need depends on your weight, height and ability.

GS and super-G skis are longer than slalom skis to allow more speed.

Sticker price for both is about $1,100 new.

Bindings: $325-$450

The most notable feature of a race binding is the DIN setting, which is higher than a typical all-mountain binding, helping to ensure a ski doesn’t fall off at the worst possible time. Steamboat Ski & Bike Kare’s Bill Kipper said a typical all-mountain binding might have a DIN range of three to 12, and a race binding might be six to 18.

Boots: $750-$900

Racing boots fit snug and tight to allow precise control over a ski at high speeds and are stiffer than most all-mountain boots.

Suits and protection: $500-$1,500

Few serious racers hit the course without a speed suit, and those Lycra wonders vary a great deal in price. Slalom and GS suits often come with armor and padding built in to help those cutting tightly around gates. Downhill suits, meanwhile, leave little between the skin and snow during a potential crash.

Other padding and armor also is available, including a back protector, $90, and shin and forearm armor, $60 to $110 each. A helmet also is a must. Race helmets cover the ears with hard plastic and start at about $100. A $60 face guard often is added for slalom racing.

Gloves and poles: $100-$150

Good GS and slalom gloves come with built-in metal knuckles to save the day when making contact with a gate at top speed.

Poles, meanwhile, vary. Slalom poles, $120, look traditional, but are thicker than usual to stand up to the beating. GS poles, $125, have a slight curve built into them to save milliseconds on aerodynamics. Downhill poles have an even larger curve.

Lessons: $30 per class

Many racers say there’s no better way for a skier to improve all-mountain skiing than by racing because it exposes weaknesses quickly and efficiently. And there’s no better way to get fast at racing than to hang out with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Masters Program, which meets several times each week during the winter. Package deals often are available, dropping the price of an individual class to a little less than $30.

Race entry fee: $15-$20

Races at Steamboat Ski Area cost $20, and Howelsen Hill events cost $15. Neither price includes a lift ticket, which is required to participate.

Pro tip: Buy used

Whether it’s equipment from current racers who are looking for something newer or from others who moved on to different hobbies, there is a healthy market for used ski racing gear. Check local secondhand shops and don’t miss the Winter Sports Club’s annual Ski Swap in the fall. Both are great ways to save big bucks and get gear that often looks like it barely has been used.

Prices from Steamboat Ski & Bike Kare

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