Buying Guide for Skis
By Steve Kopitz
There is a common misconception in the marketplace that there is a best brand or model skis that will work for everyone. This isn't true, but every major brand has a make or model that can be the right ski for the right person. There are a few simple steps to follow when selecting the right skis. These will help narrow down your choices, provided that you work through each step honestly.
To start selecting the best skis for you, it is important to look at the skis designed for your specific gender. Womens skis are desgined to function more effeciently for a woman than mens skis are, therefore as a general rule of thumb women should always ski on womens skis and men should always ski on mens skis. After eliminating a bunch of possibilities based on gender, you should begin to determine which type of skis will work best for you based on your answeres to a few simple questions: “At what skill level do you typically ski?” and “Where and in what conditions to you most often ski?”. While shopping on Skis.com you can select gender, ability level, and intended use to narrow the selection down to the skis which are appropriate for you and your skiing. From there, you may still have plenty of options. The information below outlines turn radius and skis with integrated bindings and how they benefit certain skiers. Based on your decisions regarding integrated bindings and turn radius, you can really start to narrow down the options for a great set of skis for your needs. Keep these questions in mind as you use the filtering options on the left hand side of the webpage to help you choose the right skis.
After determining the right style of skis, the next important step is determining which one is right for your skill level. A ski built for all skill levels simply does not exist, so it’s vital that you buy a ski matching your ability. Picking a ski that’s either above or below your level can seriously impede your ability to get better. Advanced level skis are stiffer and require more technique, but they respond quicker. Conversely, beginner to intermediate skis are softer and more forgiving, making them easier to initiate a turn at slower speeds with less technique; at high speeds, however, they can create a lot of chatter, making them hard to control. There are six different levels of skiing ability that you may be classified under. From lowest to highest, the levels are Beginner, Advanced Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert. The key is to pick a range that you are comfortable with, but one that you can also improve with.
Beginner: This is level for skiers who are just beginning their skiing career. The skier has either never skied before or has skied only a few times. Beginner skiers are characterized as making wedge turns (pizza) on groomed, mellow terrain.
Advanced Beginner: When a skier is comfortable on the green runs (beginner runs) and is beginning to ski on some blue runs (intermediate runs). Advanced Beginners are starting to incorporate parallel positioning into the completion phase of their turns. The Advanced Beginner may make wedge turns and traverse the fall line with their skis parallel.
Intermediate: The comfort level is on groomed blue runs that can be skied with relative ease. The intermediate skier is working toward making completely parallel turns. The Intermediate skier may use a small wedge before the turn to control their speed, while the completion of the turn and traverse to the next turn is made in a parallel position. The Intermediate skier often retreats to the wedge position when they are uncomfortable on steeper or variable terrain.
Advanced Intermediate: The skier is comfortable on all blues and is capable of skiing some black diamonds and varied terrain. The Advanced Intermediate skier is capable of making skidded parallel turns on most terrain at moderate to higher speeds. Advanced Intermediate skiers are also using pole plants to help maintain proper timing and body positioning.
Advanced: Advanced skiers are comfortable skiing black diamonds and varied terrain. Advanced skiers are capable of making large and small radius carved turns at higher speeds on advanced terrain. Advanced skiers also use pole plants to help maintain proper timing and body positioning.
Expert: Expert skiers are comfortable skiing at high speeds on all terrain including groomers, tracked powder, powder, moguls, etc. Expert skiers are capable of making large and small radius carved turns at high speeds on advanced terrain in any snow conditions. Expert skiers also use pole plants to help maintain proper timing and body positioning.
The key is to pick a range that you are comfortable with, but one you can also improve with, unless of course you are an expert. If you are most comfortable skiing groomed, blue runs, then classify yourself as an Intermediate. That doesn’t mean, however, that a ski rated Beginner to Intermediate is a good fit. Instead, look for a pair with your level at the lowest part of the range – an Intermediate to Advanced, in this case – this way you can improve with your ski. There is no advantage to buying a ski that is significantly better than you. More advanced skis must be “loaded up,” meaning you really need to get some speed and weight into them to get them to carve. But if you can’t get the right speed and pressure, the skis will be difficult to control.
After selecting gender, Step one is picking the type of skis you want. There are many different divisions that are used to describe skis. Many can be very confusing but there are only a few categories you really need to understand. First off, downhill skis are known as Alpine skis – they consist of a fixed boot, binding and the ski itself. Nordic skis, where the heel releases from the ski binding, make up the other class of skis and include both cross-country and telemark skis. The following categories divide up the Alpine ski family. All can be further divided into men’s, women’s and junior groupings.
All-Mountain Skis: Most Alpine skis fall into this category. Because the majority of skiers don’t have the luxury of lugging around several sets of skis to match that day’s conditions, All-Mountain skis are designed to perform in all types of snow conditions and at most speeds. Narrower All-Mountain skis are better for groomed runs, while wider styles handle better in powder and cruddy conditions. Other names for this style of ski include Mid-Fat skis, All-Purpose skis, and the One-ski Quiver. On Skis.com we divide All Mountain Skis into two categories, All Mountian and All Mountian Wide Skis to give customers a better selection for the conditions they typically ski in. Skiers who will be skiing groomers and some light powder would probably be better suited with All Mountian Skis which is classified as 75-90mm wide under the foot. Skiers who will be spending more time searching for deeper snow, but still need to be able to ski well on the front side of the mountain too should consider All Mountain Wide Skis.
Powder Skis: Designed to float atop powder, these are a popular back up pair of skis for those lucky enough to live in or visit places like Utah that receive frequent major storms. The extra wide waist widths – ranging from 105mm to 130mm – keep the skis from sinking deep into fresh snow, but they can be challenging and sluggish to control on groomed runs. Sometimes they are known as Backcountry or Big Mountain skis.
Twin Tip Skis: Twin tip skis have a curved-up tail along with the standard curved-up tip. Originally, Twin Tips were most popular with the freestyle set, and were used to take off or land jumps backward. Nowadays Twin Tips are also available as All-Mountain skis, though most are actually “direction twins” – slightly longer and wider in the front.
Race Skis: Typically stiffer, longer and narrower than the average All Mountain Ski. For more information about Race Skis, please read the Race Skis Buying Guide.
A result of a ski’s sidecut, the turning radius equals the natural circle that a pair of skis makes on edge when your weight is properly applied. It’s the same idea behind the turning radius of a car; a tiny sports car can whip tight donut shapes, while a large truck needs far greater space to turn a full circle. With skis, the turning radius can range from as low as 10m all the way up to 25m or more. This figure is often printed on the skis themselves. If you like quick, snappy turns, look for a turning radius in the 12–16m range. If you prefer making big, wide-open turns, then look for a turning radius of 16–22m. If the turning radius isn’t given, then look at a ski’s dimensions, which measure the sidecut widths at the tip, waist and tail. They’ll look something like 128/86/114. The bigger the difference between the waist of a ski and its tip and tail – i.e., the more dramatic the hourglass shape – the tighter the turning radius will be.
While sorting through skis, you’ll notice many come with bindings attached. These are known as integrated bindings, as they are built into and are a part of the skis themselves. (You might also see these set-ups called system skis.) So, what set-up should you chose? Unless you’re an experienced racer or freestyle skier with specific binding needs, integrated bindings are highly recommended. Before the advent of shaped skis, integrated bindings didn’t exist. But with flex being key to the functionality of shaped skis, they have quickly become an industry standard. Think about it this way: When you drill a regular binding into a ski and drop in the boot, you end up with shaped ski that flexes above and below the binding zone, but not within in. This is a dead zone, like skiing with a metal rod in the middle of your skis. Once manufactures realized that shaped skis weren’t performing to their potential due to this boot/binding combination, they created integrated bindings that “float” on top the ski. The bindings do this by moving back and forth as the ski flexes, keeping constant pressure on your boots to hold you in. The end result is that integrated bindings give skiers the full benefit of a shaped ski’s potential.
With the advent of shaped skis, the typical length of skis has changed. Close to 80 percent of men’s skis fall in the 165–185cm size range and the majority of women’s ski fall into the 140–160cm range. This is because the hourglass shape of the ski allows for a shorter ski with a wider and larger surface area. Although they are shorter, they are just as fast, turn better, and are more stable due to shape, new materials, and better flex patterns. As a general rule, a ski should reach up to the chin for beginners, the nose for intermediates, and the forehead (and above) for advanced skiers. Although this is the general rule, there are some exceptions. Heavier skiers need a longer ski, while lighter skiers can go a bit shorter. And as overall length and speed are compatible, there’s a similar dynamic for skiing style: If you like to ski fast with wide turns, then go longer, but if you’re a mellower skier who enjoys smaller turns, go shorter. Typically you will want to get as much length as you’re comfortable with for your ability, as it gives you more ski on which to learn to carve. For more information about how to size skis check out the Ski Size Chart.
Video Tutorial: How to Select the Correct Size Skis