Snow Ski Buying Guide
You would think buying skis would be reasonably straightforward, but it can get a little complicated, so we’re here to help find the right set for you. The basics are all here. Remember that it’s not only the ski that’s important but also the binding — for instance, you can turn a downhill ski into a backcountry/touring ski simply by changing the binding. So, let’s get started.
First, we'll break down the skis into their most technical aspects. We'll take a look at their sidecuts, width, length, profile, and flex, and how each aspects affects performance.
All modern skis have a sidecut so they can turn. Without it, your skis would want to go straight when you decided to cut left or right. "Carving" skis have a pronounced sidecut so they can cut back and forth on the slopes with ease.
Technically speaking,"sidecut" refers to the long, inward curves on both sides of a ski. The sidecut is designated by three numbers- the widths (in millimeters) of the tip, waist, and tail. A narrow waist in relation to the tip and tail of a ski will have a shorter sidecut, allowing the ski to make short and tight turns. Skis that have wider waist widths in relation to the tip and tail will have a longer sidecut, enabling it to make long arching turns better.
Ski width typically measures three areas: the width at the tip, at the waist, and at the tail (for example, 122/90/115). These measurements help give you an accurate idea of the benefits of different skis. Generally, skinnier skis will be easier to put on edge and control on groomed runs, while wider skis will provide a more stable platform in deeper snow but take more effort to put on edge.
Basically, short is easier and longer is harder/faster. Because of the sidecut, skis no longer need to be excessively long to give you plenty of stability at high speeds. As a general rule, most beginner and intermediate ski tips should come between your nose and forehead when held vertically in front of you. You’ll also need to consider the type of skiing you’ll be doing, your skill level, and your weight. All these things impact how long a ski should be.
Generally, beginners and intermediates should stick with shorter skis for ease of turning and better control. Once you move up to higher speed and different kinds of conditions, you can begin to play around with your ski length — longer might be better for you eventually. Below is a very rough guide for beginning alpine (downhill) skiers:
|Weight (lbs)||Ski Length (cm)|
A ski’s profile is the shape of the ski as seen from the side when laying on a flat surface. The profile can be a combination of different profile types — rocker and camber.
- Camber is a continuous bow (or arc) that runs from just below the tip to just before the tail of the ski. This camber pushes the tip and tail edges into the snow, providing grip as a skier puts the ski on its side when going into turns. The bowed shape also generates energy as you come out of one turn and into the next.
- Rocker is almost the opposite of the camber profile. This shape lifts the tip and tail off the ground. The rocker profile allows a ski to maneuver easier and float better in deeper snow conditions.
Every ski that you encounter will have different combinations of rocker and camber profiles. Carving skis will tend to have much more camber,giving them edge control and power out of turns, while powder skis will have significantly more rocker to provide float and maneuverability in the deep stuff.
There isn’t a standard flex rating, but just a few pointers here. Your skis’ flex, or stiffness, is directly related to its performance. Beginners generally want skis that bend more easily, because they are a little easier to control. Powder skis also benefit from a softer flex, as it aids in keeping the skis afloat. Stiffer skis are better for performance in crud and varied snow conditions, but they require more energy and skill to turn and move, so there’s always a trade-off.
Your next pair of skis should match your skill level. We'll go through the skier types to help you determine what level you are. These skier types are simply a guideline to help determine your skill level. By overrating or even under-rating your skier type/ level, you can open yourself up to injury.
If you’ve only been skiing for weeks or a few years, you’re probably here. Green and blue runs don’t bother you, but black and above make your heart race and your legs ache. Moguls and ice are definitely not for you. You probably can’t tell the difference between a tuned ski and a non-tuned one. The vast majority of us fall into one of these categories. It’s okay — embrace it and buy the right ski.
Advanced skiers can ski the entire mountain — front, back, piste, powder. Off-piste and bumps might still rattle you now and again, but you’re pretty solid everywhere you choose to ski. You can tell when your skis need to be tuned.
You seek and thrive on challenging runs and can ski in any condition exceptionally well. You like skis that are stable at very high speeds and can handle the terrain no matter how dicey it gets.
Types of Downhill Skis
Finally, we'll go through the different types of downhill skis. Each type of ski has its own unique traits. If you need assistance on which type of ski is right for you, come in to your local Sun & Ski Sports, or visit us online to ask an expert for help.
Frontside/ Carving skis are designed for people who enjoy riding groomed runs and linking their turns as they arc long carves down the mountain. These skis have a narrower waist (< 90cm), a more pronounced sidecut that allows the skis to start a turn easily, and a camber profile that provides excellent edge control.
All-Mountain/ All-Mountain Wide
All-Mountain/ All-Mountain Wide skis are wider waisted ski’s (>85cm and <96cm) that can handle both powder and piste runs (the groomed surface of most ski resorts). This type of ski suits the skier who needs a one ski quiver that can handle most situations they are put in. All-Mountain Wide skis have an even wider waist (>96cm and <108). While they still perform well on piste, they do take a bit more control to put on edge. Where they shine is off-piste runs and on those days with deeper snow.
Freestyle skis are for the rider who spends his time in the park jibing features, sending jumps, and airing out the halfpipe. These skis tend to have narrow waists of less than 90mm and rockered tails to make skiing switch (backwards) easier. Freestyle skis are typically more symmetrical and bindings are more centered, allowing for better balance and weight distribution.
A more situational ski option is the Powder ski. With significantly wider widths and exaggerated nose rockers, these skis are made to float in the deepest of snow conditions. A powder-specific ski will usually have very minimal camber to allow the tips of the skis to stay on top and help save your legs during a long day out in the fluff.
Backcountry/ Alpine Touring (AT)
These types of skis allow your adventure to reach out beyond the restraints (and relative safety) of the ski resort. Although almost any ski can become a backcountry ski with the right binding, these skis are typically significantly lighter in weight than the average All-Mountain ski. When equipped with climbing skins, they also allow you to traverse uphill. The waist widths for these skis range from 85mm-125mm, and a skier's preference will vary with the snow conditions. Always ensure that you plan properly and use the correct safety equipment when venturing out of bounds.