I have to disagree with BWPA's statement that a level 9 skier will always beat a level 8 skier in a race course givien similar equipment.
Anyone who has skied with me will agree that I am at least a hi level 8 to low level 9, yet I only started racing 5 seasons ago. When I started racing I had never raced before or trained in gates. Some in my ski club were surprised that I only qualified into the B vet class and not A or AA. I wasn't surprised as I did not know how tor race. There were guys in my class who could not come close to hanging with me while free skiing, who whooped my ass in the race course. I am talking by 5-6 seconds or more. Of course they had been racing for 10 or more years, even though overall they were a lower level skier than myself.
Now as soon as I started recieving some coaching and attended a few race clinics, things began to change. It took me 1 1/2 seasons to win the B division and get bumped to BB Vet and another 1 1/2 seasons to get bumped to A Vet, passing by skiers who have spent the better part of their adult lives working their way up the classes. I did in 4-5 years what they still haven't been able to do in 10, 15 or more years? It was my very solid skiing skils that enabled me to progress quickly while in the other cases, they were learning to ski and race at the same time. I already knew how to ski and only had to adapt my skills to something new.
BWPA was correct. The issue is that this grading is subjective, most often used as a self descriptive term. There are few objective benchmarks for determining your skiing ability; PSIA exams and race courses being two of those.
As a self descriptive term, the grading sucks because few people other than trained instructors can look at someone's skiing with a knowledgeable, critical eye. Fewer still can look at their own skiing critically enough to judge where they stack up. I'm not sure who the "anyone who has skied with you" is, but unless they are at least a PSIA full cert, they are very unlikely to be able to discern the difference between a hack who can get down anything and a fluid, truly competent all mountain skier.
You point out that you could free ski better than your racer friends, but they beat you in a course. That is enough to classify neither of you as a level 9 skier. You may be a very good skier, and perhaps with the race coaching you have progressed; but getting your ass handed to you in a race course definitively described as less than a level 9 at that time.