Buying Guide for Skis
By Steve Kopitz
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|Best Use||Waist Width|
|Rocker Profile||Tail Profile|
Whether you’re a beginner or expert level skier, skis.com will have some great options for you. At skis.com, we can provide you with the education and guidance necessary in order to find the perfect ski or two to best fit your skill level and style. By utilizing our Ski Wizard, filters, reviews and refinements, you’ll be able to narrow down your options to find the best skis for you.
Mens skis are designed for men of all abilities, shapes, sizes and any type of terrain out there. Mens skis can be designated as unisex skis however women should be skiing on womens skis.
Womens Skis are made just for the ladies. Even the most aggressive women skiers should be on womens skis. They cater to the anatomical shape, weight, and stance that women have. For a detailed buying guide on womens skis please see the buying guide here.
Kids skis are designed to be soft and forgiving to help the young ones grow, improve and love the sport. Most kid’s system skis are perfect for all levels of junior skiers with the exception of the most daring and most aggressive junior rippers who typically ski on wider or freestyle-oriented skis. Kids system skis never need to be re-drilled, only re-adjusted by a certified technician when boots get changed for growing feet. There is no difference in the construction between boys and girls skis.
When you select a ski that is the closest to your skill level you will drastically improve your control and stability on the mountain. The skill level directly corresponds to the flex, waist width and type of terrain that you will be skiing. A softer flexing ski is easier to learn on and more forgiving to technical errors that those beginner or not-as-proficient skiers will make. Advanced or expert skiers should have a stiffer or stronger ski due to the fact that they are putting more pressure or force on their gear by going bigger, faster or stronger. There are of course, a few exceptions to this rule as to the fact that true powder skis are not too stiff (most are medium flex) because skiing on too stiff of a powder ski will tend to torpedo down rather than plane up to the top of the fresh snow. Another exception to moving up or down a skill level would be based on your weight. Skiers that are heavier than 200lbs. should consider jumping up a skill level, and skiers less than 115lbs. should jump down a skill level to make their skis bend, move and react correctly.
Beginner skiers are first timers or someone very new to the sport that is still learning basic control.
An Intermediate skier is someone that has control over their skis, still skis cautious on more challenging terrain and is comfortable at moderate speeds. Athletic or heavier beginners will benefit from skis designed for intermediate skiers.
Advanced Intermediates are more experienced skiers that have good basic technique, will start to explore off trail skiing, make more aggressive carves on groomers and are comfortable skiing at moderate speeds on advanced trails in optimal snow conditions.
Advanced skiers are capable of maintaining solid technique on advanced terrain in most snow conditions and ski in control at higher speeds. However, they may not always ski aggressively.
Expert skiers are capable of skiing safely and in control at high speeds on any terrain regardless of snow conditions. They ski with strong technique, aggressively attacking the mountain.
Frontside Skis have narrower waists that are designed to make skidded or carved turns on the trails and groomers only. They come in a wide range of skill sets from beginner to expert.
All Mountain Skis are designed to do everything on the slopes with the ability to take on just about any condition that the mountain will throw at them. All Mountain skis are popular because they perform equally well in most conditions. With waist widths that range from 85-95mm, they spend most of their time on the trail, but can head just about anywhere on the mountain.
All Mountain Wide Skis are your go everywhere, do anything ski. They can carve, turn, seek out powder and plow through crud and bumps. These types of skis have waist widths that range from 95mm-105mm underfoot and can and will do just about anything.
Freestyle Skis are for high flying skiers that enjoy spending as much time in the air or on park features as they do on the snow. Most have twin tips that can ski forwards and backwards.
Powder Skis have lots of rocker and are over 111mm underfoot for maximum flotation and stability in the deep stuff.
Race Skis are designed to be going as fast as you can at all times from the start house to the finish line.
Alpine Touring Skis can have a range of waist widths but are designed with equal abilities for going up by either hiking or skinning and skiing down through fresh snow. They usually are extremely lightweight.
Skis with Bindings are called system skis. System skis have a plate that the binding is affixed to that improves the flex of the ski by eliminating dead spots underneath the mounting platform. System skis are typically groomer and on trial skis due to their more narrow waists.
Skis without Bindings are called flat skis. Flat skis are typically all mountain, all mountain wide, freestyle or powder skis. Wider bindings improve the torsional strength of the ski. Bindings now have a wider mounting platform that decreases the amount of leverage it takes to tip the ski on edge.
A ski’s waist width directly correlates to the condition that you will mostly be skiing in. Skis with skinnier waists are quicker edge to edge, better for on trail carving and easier to maneuver for a new or beginner skier. The wider the ski is underfoot, the more float you get in the powder and the more stability you get in the crud and broken snow. The more time you spend off-trail, the wider your skis should be.
Skis under 85mm are best suited for skiers that will be spending just about all of their time on the groomed trails. This waist width can range from beginner all the way up to expert and everything in-between. High-powered carving skis for experts usually have a waist width around 80-85mm which makes the ski very agile, yet wide enough to go through the crud that pops up on the groomers. Skis for beginners are in this waist width that will make them lighter and easier to control while learning.
Skis 85-95mm are primarily used for on-trail skiing but have the ability to spend some time off the groomers in the right snow conditions. They have maneuverability on and off the trail and versatility so you can spend time in the powder.
Skis 96-110mm are the ideal all mountain waist width for skiers seeking true versatility. They make medium to long radius turns on the groomers with ease and have the ability to float in all but the absolute deepest of powder (and we hope you get those days).
111+mm waist widths are best for spending as much of your time as possible in the ungroomed terrain. Ultra wide waist widths provide you with the most floatation in the deep powder and the most stability when things get cruddy or bumpy. They are not the most agile ski for making short quick turns on the groomers but are easily manageable for making your way back to the lifts for another lap.
FIS Legal refers to that the particular race ski complies with the FIS regulations for that year.
Rocker is the slightly bent up or reverse camber shape that lifts off of the ground when the ski is laying flat on the ground.
Rocker makes the ski more maneuverable by engaging the tip of the ski into a turn quicker and easier. It also helps you float to the top of the ski just like a water ski does. Snow is a three dimensional medium, just like water. Having your skis on top of the snow makes it much easier for you to keep up speed, suffer less fatigue, turn and enjoy the powder.
Rocker also absorbs negative vibrations that can be caused by bumps or crud. Think of a traditionally cambered ski as a loaded spring - when you hit the variations in the snow, the cambered tip will send those vibrations through the ski, back through the binding, past the boots and to your body. A rockered ski will absorb those vibrations rather than sending them to your body.
Rocker is here to stay. Just a few years ago ski designers that were late to the table were saying that “rocker is just a fad”. Now some form of rocker exists in almost every type of ski, no matter what the intended use is.
It is recommend when sizing your ski that you increase 5-7cm for a ski that has tip rocker/camber and up to 10cm for skis that have rocker/camber/rocker or fully rockered skis.
Rocker gives you more maneuverability and the extra length improves your stability.
Cambered skis have the most traditional shape with the center of the ski raised when the ski is laying flat on the ground un-weighted. They provide the most edge hold, stability and rebound for on-trail skiing.
Tip Rocker/Camber skis have rockered tip with camber on the rest of the ski. Rocker initiates a turn quickly while the camber provides stability. Most all mountain skis have this type of rocker profile.
Rocker/Camber/Rocker skis have rocker in the tips and tails. Rockered tips initiate turns quicker and float better in soft snow. Camber underfoot provides stability and edge grip. Rocker in the tail releases the ski from turns easier for developing skiers and provides better maneuverability off the trail. This combination is the most versatile for on and off trail skiing.
Full Rocker skis have a U shape to them with the base of the ski flat on the ground while the tips and tails rise up, usually pretty dramatically. Fully rockered skis are most used in the deep powder for the best floatation and have a surfy, playful feel. An increasing number of all mountain skis are starting to use this shape for versatility.
The tail profile can have a large impact as to how that ski reacts; mostly it changes how the ski exits a turn.
Twin Tip tail shapes are where the tail of the ski is turned up as much as the shovel is. A twin tip allows you to ski and land backwards. There are many all mountain options that are twins so they are not only reserved for freestyle skis. A twin tip will help your ski exit a turn very quickly especially when you are in bumps or moguls.
Flared tail shapes are moderately turned up and tapered slightly. This is the most common and most versatile tail shape that still has grip at the end of your turn for strong carves and will release the ski with little effort.
Flat tail skis are most common in aggressive carving skis or race skis. Flat tails give you grip and power until you decide to exit the turn; they then require a little extra effort to exit. Flat tail skis perform best at high speeds.
Turn Radius is measured in meters and refers to the size of an arc that a ski will make when it is tipped on edge. Skis with a shorter turn radius have a smaller number, skis with higher numbers will make longer turns. The greater the difference of the tip and tail measurements compared to the waist of the ski, the tighter the radius will be. It is much easier to make a ski with a shorter radius make longer turns than it is to have a ski with a long radius make short turns.
• Skis with a radius less than 12 meters will be very short turning skis.
• Skis with a radius between 13-21 meters are considered medium turning skis and offer the most versatility in turn shape.
• Skis that are greater than 22 meters are long turning skis.
The flex of your ski is best determined by your weight, how aggressive you ski and in what conditions you ski. If you are more aggressive, or heavier, you should be on a stiffer ski because you are putting more pressure on your skis. If your ski is too soft for you, you will notice a lack of responsiveness.
Very Soft skis are best for true beginner skier or children. They are forgiving and easy to learn on.
Soft skis work best for beginners and mellow intermediates that want a ski that is very easy to control at slow to medium speeds and that will require less energy or technique to make the ski react when and how it should.
Medium flex skis work best for skiers that will be skiing at a variety of speeds, offer some stability at speed and will be easy to control at slower speeds. Most powder skis are medium flex. Powder skis that are excessively stiff will torpedo down underneath the snow instead of planing up on top of it.
Stiff skis are the most responsive at higher speeds which need speed and technique to react when and how they should.
Very Stiff skis are for hard chargers or the heaviest or most aggressive skiers.
Now that you are knowledgeable on skis it’s time for you to shop!