A visually impaired ski racers’ kit list
James and Alice Luetchford ski race for Great Britain. James is severely sight impaired, and Alice is his ski guide (and wife). Together they train and race in Europe and are working towards the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games.
As newer ski racers, we understand how daunting the ski racing world can be. There are so many options for racing equipment and everyone has an opinion about what to use. The following is a list of the kit we currently use because, well, we just think it’s the best! Do let us know if you have any more ideas or other pieces to try.
Skis Head World Cup Rebels* Having tried a couple of other ski manufacturers, we currently ski on Head Rebels. We love them. Stiff without being too stiff; conforming to all FIS regulations and having carried numerous athletes to glory, we love using Head Rebels for both Slalom and Giant Slalom. Oh and we’ve podiumed using them too. That’s good enough for us!
Poles Leki’s clip in and out range* I have to admit that I haven’t managed to save up enough dosh to get a pair for myself yet, BUT James swears these poles are amazing. And to be fair, I agree with him. The poles are not only long lasting and do their job well, but Leki’s clip in and out functionality is a game changer for visually impaired athletes in particular. No longer is James taking forever to take his poles on and off; no longer am I having to tell James where the pole loop is; no longer is he falling off t-bar lifts because he’s got his pole caught around his glove; no longer am I getting annoyed at how long he (always) takes… now he takes mere seconds to clip his poles to and from his gloves. Leki, thank you for saving my marriage.
Boots Head Raptors* We started using Head Raptor Boots when skiing with the British Parasnowsport Development Team. Our coach organised for us to have a boot fitting with the brilliant Alain Baxter, and we were both put on Head Raptors. They feel like slippers. I’ve been told horrific stories about racers’ boots being uncomfortable, too stiff to work the ski properly or freezing skiers’ feet, but we have none of those problems. Ever. Super comfy and giving us a solid base on which to race, we even sometimes forget to take them off. Seriously.
Helmets Uvex race helmet in black*. Helmets are critical for safety and we must wear helmets that conform to FIS regulations when ski racing. Fortunately Uvex do a stylish and simple model that’s comfy, warm and has enough space for our intercoms in the ear piece. Winner.
Protective gear Leki’s shin guards and arm guards are brilliant. Easy to use, bright for James to find in his bag (with his poor eyesight) and super safe, these shin and arm guards are simply really good kit. A must have for Slalom and Giant Slalom racing.
Visually Impaired Specific Equipment
Radio headsets Freedconn Bluetooth Radio Headsets Oh headsets, how annoying you are. Specialist ski radios can be extremely expensive, so instead we use motorcycle headsets which are hardy enough to survive the cold, wind, snow, rain and ice. Oh and James’ clumsiness too. These are beauties. Very reasonably priced, good at up to about 400m (we’ve found), brilliant in cold conditions and with its two-way speaking option, James and I can speak to each other to our hearts’ content. And the biggest benefit? James never has to go without my singing on a poma lift ever again. Bonus.
Jackets Head Race Dynamic Jacket* Jackets are an often overlooked piece of kit but for a visually impaired racer and their guide, jackets are crucial. We have to let other skiers know we are skiing together so I’ll wear something that says ‘guide’ and James will wear something with ‘blind’ written on the back and front. Why do we need the writing on the front too? So lift attendants know we need to remain together and don’t try to split us up. Why does James wear ‘blind’? Because ‘severely sight impaired’ is too long to print and read when on the mountain! Plus ‘blind’ is identical to the German and as we train and race a lot in Austria, it just made more sense than the French translation. Having tested various colours, we’ve found that James sees me more clearly if I wear yellow. So I wear a yellow jacket. It also helps fellow skiers know we’re together if we wear the same colour, so James does too. Fortunately Head’s colours are black, grey and yellow so we’ve just invested in some new race jackets which will keep us both visible and warm. And look far less weird… Try as hard as we might, we just can’t make our bibs look attractive!!! And it’s annoying to have to wear a separate piece of kit (our bibs) when our jacket could do the job for us. We’ll order iron-on lettering for our new jackets — and can’t wait to try them out!
Neck warmer Buff This season I finally bit the bullet and bought a Buff. I’d previously used a fleece neck warmer but it was often too hot when I was training hard. Buff has the answer. Keeping me warm-enough-but-not-too-warm, these are perfect for ski training and freeskiing, plus fold up super small for easy packing and carrying in jacket pockets. Oh and did I mention that they come in a range of colours? Can’t get better than that!
Thermals Dare2Be Zonal III range. When we first started skiing together we used Dare2Be’s ski clothing A LOT. Very reasonably priced — especially in the sales; good quality which has lasted us for ages and a lovely fit, we were head-to-toe Dare2Be-ers. While we’ve graduated to more bespoke and specialist race equipment and clothing for other items, we still use their Zonal III range when in the mountains. Super warm, comfy, small to pack and long-lasting, we just haven’t had any reason to stop using them. Every single day.
Gloves Level’s Ski Racing gloves are James’ favourite — by quite some way. He uses their mittens with protective padding on the outside of the glove. Very comfortable, toasty warm and protecting his digits from any run-ins with the gates, James now won’t use anything else.
Goggles Smith Squad and I/OS Oh goggles. You annoying, underestimated but critical piece of equipment. What problems we’ve had… until now!! We’ve tried a range of brands but none come close to Smith Optics. I changed over to their Squad range this season as I was looking for goggles that gave me better peripheral vision so I could see James behind me more easily. James switched to the IOS range after trying out my Squad ones — and refusing to give them back ’cause they were that good! They cut out the glare (critical for James); reduce any fog (great for us both but particularly James) and allow me to see peripherally much better than most other goggles. Having tried these, there’s no way we could use anything else. Oh and they look darn good too.
Watch Polar M600* This watch is a thing of beauty. The Rolls Royce of wearables. With a ‘downhill skiing’ mode, this watch accurately monitors and logs our heart rates, our location (through GPS) and even our maximum speed, elevation and descent. Basically it’s a watch that does it all. Tracks our activity, measures our sleep, comfortable to wear and easy to use. Being able to accurately measure our workout rate helps us to better monitor our recovery and to tailor accordingly — meaning we perform better the next day. And being able to measure the quantity and quality of sleep also helps us to perform to our max. Bloody love mine.
Boot heaters Hotronics S Series I first bought these when we were skint, and it was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. Alain Baxter kindly fitted these to my Head Raptor boots, and they’ve made a huge difference. I have never, EVER had cold feed when wearing these. I think they’ve saved my marriage.
Knee brace Donjoy and FirstAid4Sport* I wouldn’t have skied so happily, so safely or so quickly after my accident if I didn’t have this knee brace. In September 2017, I snapped my ACL and tore my MCL. A horrible injury which put me out of action for aaaaaages. However, fortunately I bumped into FirstAid4Sport at the Ski and Snowboard Show a couple of months later, and they measured me up for a Donjoy knee brace. The brace is incredible. It allows me full range of movement without restricting me or bearing any of my weight. Wearing this for the past year has given me the piece of mind to continue training and racing — better than ever.
Ski boot and helmet bag Fischer boot and helmet bag A helpful piece of equipment for every ski racer, my Fischer boot and helmet bag has helped me carry everything I need for a day training in the mountain. Plus I’ve managed to use it as carry on hand luggage on flights too (although god knows how; it is on the larger side!) An older model of this one, the one I use is large, sturdy and has lasted well. When it wears out I’ll replace it with a Head one (to be on brand) but that doesn’t look like it’s happening any time soon!
One Final Note
Bibs for both athlete and guide I haven’t hyperlinked to any manufacturer because, well, we just haven’t yet found ones we like. We use yellow bibs on race days or when it’s too hot to wear a jacket, and they have to be large enough to go over a ski jacket but not so sail like that they slow us down. We have bright yellow bibs with ‘Guide’ and ‘Blind’ printed on the front and back. Although still looking for that elusive, reasonably priced, perfect bib. Please let us know if you find one…!
*Denotes where we have received a product for a discounted rate or for free. However, as we love every single one of these items, I would recommend them even if we were not supported.
If you want to find out more about James and Alice, you can visit http://www.luetchfordskiracers.com or at @Luetchfordskiracers on Instagram. Alice has also written more stories about ski racing with James on Medium.