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snow buying guide
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.

Ski Shape

Sidecut/Turning Radius

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.

Width

Width 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.

Length

Basically: shorter = easier and longer = 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:

Styling Tables

Weight Ski Length
(lbs) (cm)
< 100 101-115
116-130 131-150
151-175 176-200
200+ 140
145 150
155 160
165 170+

Profile

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.

Flex

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.

Skier Types

Beginner/Intermediate

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.

Advance

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.

Expert

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

Frontside/Carving

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 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.

Freestyles

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.

Powder

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.

Backfountry/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.