Ski Racing Essentials

Coach Chris Shepard’s favorite gear for Southern Appalachian slopes.

Chris Shepard grew up in the mountains of Western North Carolina, but didn’t start skiing until he was on the other side of the world, in Germany. Fresh out of high school, and a young Army soldier in a foreign country, Shepard was game for picking up a new skill. Little did he know that the diversion he picked up at the Armed Forces Recreation Center in Germany would become a life-long passion. Fast forward two decades, and Shepard is now the head coach of Wintergreen’s Freeride and Ski Race Team, where he gets to help guide 150 different kids through the nuances of ski racing in the Southern Appalachians.

“If you can learn to set an edge and carve on our icy conditions, you’ll be well on your way to being an expert skier,” Shepard says. “We obviously don’t get a lot of deep snow, but you do get a lot of varied conditions here. Ice, slush, powder…you have to know how to ski all of it. Those sort of conditions help you become a great skier, fast.”

We asked Shepard to detail the pieces of gear he relies on to ski the challenging conditions in the Southern Appalachians. He took it a step further and tells us exactly which pieces of gear are worth the splurge, and which pieces of gear offer an opportunity to save some money. What he says might surprise you.

Splurge: Rossignol Hero Athlete SL $1,180

This is my racing ski, and any one of the top ski brands makes a good slalom race ski right now. This one has 13-meter radius side cut with a full flex. I can put this ski on the edge and it will support everything I want to do. It’s my go-to ski in the Southeast. The trails in the Southeast are narrow, so I can’t run a full Giant Slalom ski, because the turn radius would be too great. This ski keeps me in the middle of the slope and safe.

Save: Cheap Goggles—Smith Cascade Classic $30

You should have two pairs of goggles: one tinted for the sun and one clear for gray days. Forget interchangeable lenses. That’s too difficult. And it doesn’t matter how much you pay for the goggles. Some of the best goggles I’ve had over the last 10 years have been $25 cheapies. They’re gonna get scratched if you use them a lot, so it’s not worth dropping lots of money.

Splurge: Rossignol AllSpeed Pro $600

The boot might be the most important upgrade you can make. You have to have boots that fit or you’ll suffer. There have been huge leaps in design recently, and the newest boots are made with lighter plastic and they’re just amazing. The insulation in these is top notch too. They’re so light, and so flexible, but my feet never got cold once last season.

Save: Leather Work Gloves—Flylow Ridge Glove $39

I got tired of paying big bucks for gloves a long time ago. Instead, I buy an insulated leather glove with Thinsulate insulation in them. You can often find two pairs for $25 around town. They’re great for warmer conditions. And I’m working in the snow all day, drilling holes and sticking gates. You have to have a tough glove with lots of dexterity. Work gloves are the best. And take two pairs of gloves with you when you ski. Your gloves are gonna get wet from snow and sweat. Have an extra dry pair to put on after lunch. You’ll enjoy yourself more.

Splurge: Helly Hansen Sogn Shell $375

You’ve gotta have a technical shell. It’s so important. You see so many people buy thick, insulated jackets that they can wear to school and skiing, but you have varying temperatures and you don’t know what it will be on any given day. I like a stiff technical shell that is waterproof and windproof, and then I’ll layer underneath based on the conditions. Make sure the collar and hood fit you right; they need to seal up around your face and below your nose to give you proper protection.


Patagonia Woolyester Fleece Jacket & Pullover $139

Striving for a zero-waste apparel industry, Patagonia took a classic style and modernized it by changing the fabric content. This Fair Trade Certified fleece is made with 46% recycled wool/46% polyester/4% nylon/4% other fiber patterned fleece. It’s your go-to, everyday, all-around layer that feels good to wear inside and out.

Volt Avalanche X Heated Gloves $269

The Avalanche X has a built-in electrical heating system with three power settings. Soothing heat radiates all around each finger and across the hands. The battery-powered electric heat lasts from 3 to 8 hours. The gloves are waterproof, breathable, super-insulated, and
function superbly on winter adventures even without the electric heat.

Motorola Talkabout T800

If you’re venturing off the cellular grid, the Talkabout T800 can help you share and track your location and even send messages. Users download an app to their smartphone, and then connect their smartphones to the T800 radios over Bluetooth. The app uses the T800 as a modem to send messages and locations over radio frequencies. It’s ideal for communicating with fellow adventurers in the backcountry or alerting others about safety concerns or potential meet-up spots.

Dakota Grizzly Quinn $84

An ideal belay pullover, the Quinn wears well, can take a beating, and doubles as a bivouac in the truck bed under the stars. This comfortable heathered cotton/poly rib knit pullover has a quarter-zip and split side vent for all-weather breathability and versatility.

The Cube $25

Attach the Cube Tracker to your keys, backpack, or any item you tend to misplace. Using your keychain, you can click one button to ping your lost phone, or go through the phone app and ping or map the keychain if you lose your keys. Our publisher used it twice in the first week she tested it.

Places to Go, Things to See: