Ski Buying Guide – Size, Ability, Style, Shape
Ski Buying Guide
When buying a new ski there are many things to consider. Although it’s not always an exact science, below is what we consider to be the most important criteria when choosing a new ski. Our buying guide provides a detailed look into sizing, skier ability level, skier style, and ski shape. We feel that the more knowledge you have about these specifics, the easier it will be to find the right gear for you. Of course we are always happy to answer questions and give suggestions if you are still unsure about choosing a new ski. Please go to the contact page for more information.
Ski Sizing Guide
How to choose the right length?
There is no exact way of knowing the perfect length ski for every person, but there are several guidelines you can follow to make that decision easier. When choosing a ski size, it is important to remember that there are many factors in play. Skis will perform differently at varying lengths and your height, weight, ability level, and preferred terrain will all play factors in determining which length is right for you. Remember that this is not an exact science, but rather a general guideline that is meant to help guide you in making this decision.
The generally accepted rule when picking out a new ski is that the ski height should reach between your chin and top of head. Many beginner skiers will want a ski that is closer to the chin, while more advanced skiers will want a ski that is near the top of the head or longer. For most children, skis should be near chin level. Below is a very general size guideline, and should only be used as a starting reference, remembering that there are several other factors to consider.
|Skier Height (ft and in)||Suggested Ski Length (cm)|
Weight also plays a role in choosing the right ski length for you. Lighter people will prefer a ski that is on the shorter side. These skis are easier to maneuver and don’t take as much effort to turn. Heavier people will prefer a longer ski since the extra surface area will provide more floatation, although ski width should also be taken into consideration.
In general, shorter skis will be easier to turn and are often preferred by beginners. Some experienced skiers will also prefer short skis because the shorter turning radius means quicker turns. Other experienced skiers may prefer longer skis since they tend to have a longer turning radius and are more stable at high speeds.
The type of terrain that you prefer to ski will also play an important role in choosing a ski length. Shorter skis are generally more maneuverable and me be better suited to trees and moguls. Longer skis will be more stable at high speeds, and may be preferred by those who prefer to ski faster. Longer skis will also have a bit more surface area which can help incre
Skier Ability Levels
These are the categories we use to determine ability level as a skier. Not everyone will fit perfectly into each category, but this guide should give you a general idea of what ability level you are as a skier. Remember that ability level will be taken into consideration when buying new ski gear, and it’s important to be honest with yourself so you can find the right gear for you. It’s also important to take into consideration what level you want to be in a year or two. Most people I know don’t want to have to buy new gear every year, so consider buying gear that will work for you even as you become a better skier.
Skier Style/Ski Types
What type of riding style do you prefer?
Most skis are designed to perform best in one or two categories. Below are the categories that we see most often from ski manufacturers. This is meant to be a general guide, and you need to remember that not every ski will fit perfectly into one of these categories. Sometimes the lines are blurred for a ski, and other times they are category all to themselves. You will find more details about the category each ski fits into in each ski review that we do.
Frontside (carving) Skis
Frontside skis are designed to carve turns on groomed trails. They are generally slimmer at the waist and have a short turning radius, making for responsive turn initiation and edge to edge transitions. They are usually directional, with a flat tail, and have a significant amount of camber creating a ski that has a lot of contact with the snow both on and off the edge. They perform best when on groomed or hardpack snow. Beginner skis in this category will be more forgiving, and are easy to turn, while advanced frontside skis will be more responsive and have more powerful edge to edge transitions. Race skis also fall into this category, but are usually more specific in design, shape, and performance.
All Mountain Skis
All mountain skis are made to handle just about any type of terrain you find on the mountain, although we have yet to find a ski in this category that truly does everything well. Making a ski that can go anywhere often means sacrificing performance for versatility, so these skis are more for those who want to do it all, but only want one pair of skis to do it. They are generally a bit wider than frontside skis, but still perform better on groomers, and pack powder than in soft or deep snow. These are great skis for those who spend their days exploring the entire mountain, but still prefer groomers to powder. They are suitable for all ages and ability levels. High end models will often have better overall performance that may suit the needs of more advanced skiers.
All Mountain Wide
Just like all mountain skis these are made for exploring the entire mountain, but as the name suggests they are generally a bit wider, usually 90mm -100mm wide at the waste, although some may be wider. They are usually twin-tip or directional twin, and have a mix of rocker and camber, making these skis a little bit more capable in crud and powder without sacrificing a ton on hard pack. They can still handle the groomers, but will have a larger turning radius, and won’t be as responsive as narrow all mountain or frontside skis. This type of ski is a great option for those who want to ride the whole mountain, but spend more time in the soft snow or powder.
Powder skis are for those days that big storm hits your favorite resort, and dumps a ton of new snow. Skis in this category are wide (usually 110mm or more), and will have more rocker and an early rise tip and tail to keep you afloat in the deep stuff. They are often soft flexing, and a light. They are made for powder, and don’t ride well on other parts of the mountain. While these skis can perform well enough on groomers to get you back to the lift after finding that secret powder stash in the trees, skis in this category are meant to be on the mountain when the snow is deep and in the garage when it’s not.
Big Mountain (freeride) skis
Big mountain skis are meant for big lines and high speeds. These feel at home on those mountains with huge vertical. These are the skis you see guys riding in Alaska on the newest Warren Miller films or in the heli on the way to backcountry stashes in BC. These skis can vary in width from narrow to wide, although you probably see the latter most often. These skis are usually heavier and stiff. They have large sidecuts and a huge turning radius. They often have rockered tips, but are more directional in the tail. They can float the powder with the best of them, but usually plow through it at much higher speeds. These are meant for advanced and expert riders, and don’t often find their way to groomers or hard pack.
Park & Pipe (Freestlye)
Park and Pipe skis are for those who spend most of their time riding in the terrain park or half pipe. They are almost always full twin tip and have a mix of camber and rocker. They are usually in the narrow to mid-fat range and a bit shorter than other skis. Some have a thicker base and more durable edges to hold up to the abuse of rails. They generally have a lot of pop and can take off and land jumps with ease. These skis usually don’t ski well on other parts of the mountain.
The term freestyle is sometimes associated with moguls and aerials, but are different skis from freestyle park and pipe skis.
Alpine Touring (Backcountry)
Alpine touring are designed for backcountry travel. They are generally lighter to reduce fatigue while going uphill, yet still have solid performance on the way down. They vary in width from narrow to wide to account for changing snow conditions throughout the seasons. Many have features to accommodate backcountry accessories such as climbing skins and backcountry bindings. You will sometimes see these skis at the resorts, but they feel more at home in the backcountry.
What are the different ski shapes?
Skiing has come a long ways since your grandfather’s time, and so has ski technology. Skis used to be really long and have straight edges. Then came the parabolic or shaped ski. Now you’re at your local ski shop and you see skis of every shape and size. Why are there so many shapes? In short, ski shape will determine how a ski performs on the snow. When we review a skis shape we look at several categories, tip and tail, rocker/camber profile, width, and construction type. Below we go into more detail explaining the different shapes and why they are important.
Tip and Tail Rise
Fifteen years ago most of the skis we saw on the mountain had noses that were slightly raised and tails that were flat on the ground. The “twin-tip” ski was a rare sight, and it wasn’t until freestyle skiing became more popular that people started seeing more twin-tip skis on the mountain. Now these are the norm, and when walking through a ski shop you will notice a large variety of twin-tips from many of the manufacturers, each with their own unique names and styles. It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but although there may be many differences in style, we can break most of them down into two basic categories. We can classify twin-tips as either Full (true) Twins, or Partial (Directional) twins.
Full (True) Twin
Full twins are made to allow the skier to ride both forward and backwards. As such they often have the same rise, flex, and rocker profile. Many riders will mount the bindings near or at center to make riding switch just as easy are riding forward. These are most often seen in park skis, although they are starting to make their way onto other areas of the mountain as well.
Partial (Directional) Twin
Partial twins allow a skier to ride backwards, but have a few key differences. Partial twins will often have slightly more rise in the tip than in the tail. In addition, these skis will usually have a different flex, and rocker profile in the tip than they do in the tail. These differences will allow the rider to ride switch in some situations, but are made primarily for riding forward.
It’s important to note, that not all skis have a raised tail. Some models still have tails that are flat. These are more traditional directional skis, and are found more often on carving skis.
It’s impossible to buy a ski these days without hearing something about the Rocker or Camber profile. But what do these terms mean, and why do you care? As you learned above, tip and tail shape can play an important role in the performance of a ski, but it’s also important to understand the shape of the ski that is under foot, not just at the ends. The shape of this portion of the ski will fall into one of several categories, or Rocker/Camber profiles. Below is a detailed description of the most popular shapes on the market today, many skis will come in a variation of one of these profiles.
Camber is the traditional shape of skis. In this profile, skis are curved slightly upward under foot. This creates a contact point on either end of the ski that is just slightly behind the tip and tail. When a skier steps into the ski, the riders weight will force the ski downward to contact the snow, creating equal pressure across the entire length of the ski. Although this ski is less forgiving than others, it does have more stability at high speeds, increased edge hold, and increased “pop”. A traditional camber ski is often preferred by those who prefer to ride groomers, as well as by park skiers looking for that extra “pop”.
Rocker is the opposite of Camber. A full rocker ski will have a downward bend underfoot creating an almost u shape. The contact point in a rocker ski is directly under the skier, and the rest of the ski is tapered upward. This will make this ski a lot more “playful” and forgiving than a camber ski. However, with less contact with the snow, the ski will be more unstable at high speeds and won’t hold an edge as well. These skis are preferred by skiers who ride in deep powder, as the ski offers more float and maneuverability.
This profile has rocker in the front of the ski, and camber throughout the rest of the ski. The “early rise” tip provides floatation and maneuverability in powder, while the camber provides stability and edge hold on groomed runs. Many all-mountain or big mountain skis have this profile to allow the skier to ski on almost any terrain. These skis are often directional twins to allow for switch riding, but they won’t perform as well backwards as they do forwards.
This profile has rocker in the tip and tail, and camber underfoot. Again the “early rise” tip provides better floatation in powder, while the camber underfoot provides stability and increased edge hold. An “early rise” tail allows for better switch riding in powder, as well as better release at the end of turns. This ski will be maneuverable and “playful” in the powder, while still maintaining some stability and edge hold on hard pack snow. Again many all-mountain skis have this profile, and are preferred by those who ski powder and want to ride switch, by those who ride park and want a “playful” ski, or by beginners who want a ski that won’t catch an edge.
A flat ski is just like it sounds. A flat ski will be in contact with the snow from tip to tail. There are several variations of the flat ski including, rocker/flat and rocker/flat/rocker. Each of these has the same benefits as above, but are now flat underfoot instead of camber. These skis will have good edge hold and stability, but won’t be as good as skis that are cambered.
Ski Width and Turning Radius
The width of a ski will play an important role in where that ski performs best. Generally speaking, the wider the ski, the better the floatation is. These skis are often preferred by those who ski powder more often than groomers. On the other hand a ski that isn’t as wide will have quicker and smoother edge to edge transitions, and are preferred by those who ski more groomers and hard pack snow.
Width is often given as three measurements, tip/waist/tail, and are measured in mm. When reviewing a ski, we use the waist width to determine what category that ski falls into. Below is basic guideline for width.
Carving Ski – <80mm
All-Mountain – 80mm-90mm
All-mountain wide (Mid fat) – 90mm-100mm
Powder – 100mm-120mm
Fats – >120mm
The turning radius of a ski will tell how quickly a ski can make a turn. The radius is always given in meters, and the smaller the number, the shorter the turn. This number is directly related to how wide a ski is. The deeper the sidecut, the shorter the turning radius is. A ski with a tip and tail width of 100, and waist width of 90 has a deeper sidecut, than a ski with a tip and tail width of 100, and a waist width of 95. The ski with the deeper sidecut will turn quicker than the ski with the shallow sidecut. A ski that is relatively straight from tip all the way through tail will have a very large turning radius. When reviewing a ski it will generally fall into one of the following categories.
Short Radius – <15m
Medium Radius – 15m-20m
Long Radius – >20m
When buying a ski, it’s important to take all aspects of shape into consideration. Just because a ski is wide, doesn’t mean it will be a great powder ski. Nor will a ski that has a rocker tip, mean it will always float great in powder. The best skis in their respective categories will have the best features from all aspects. Our reviews will help piece all of these together in order to help you in your decision.
This page is only meant to be a general guide. For more specific information on each ski, check out our reviews. Of course we are always happy to answer any questions, or elaborate more on any of these topics. Please use our contact page for any questions, or comments.