Ski Guide: How to choose the right pair of skis

Ski Guide

They don't make skis like they used to. Thank goodness! Skis today come in more shapes and sizes and configurations, so you can have a great day on the slopes no matter your ability level, the terrain, or the snow conditions. We've thrown together this little ski guide to help you know what to look for when shopping for new skis. Whether you're new to the sport or just want to broaden your horizons, this will help you find the perfect pair of skis.

 
 

Alpine & Carving Skis

Carving skis

Carving skis are designed to excel on groomed runs. They are easy to turn, with wide tips and tails and a narrow mid-section. This allows the skier to rely on the skis to do most of the work. Proper turning technique is easily learned on these skis, so you can ski faster and maintain greater control.

Apline ski racers go really fast on groomed runs and use advanced race skis. Race skis are built purely for speed and should only be used by experienced skiers.

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All-mountain/Freeride

All-mountain skis

If you need a ski to do everything, from groomed runs to steeps and powder, this is your ski. These skis are especially good for people who only want to purchase one pair of skis to get them through a season. However, skiers with gear closets full of skis also like to have a couple sets of all-mountain skis on hand because of their versatility.

Freeride skis are wider versions of all-mountain skis. They hold an edge well on steep, icy slopes, but still offer great flotation for powder skiing. Their ability to ski groomed runs usually suffers, but most freeride skiers are good enough to overlook that.

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Park Skis

Park skis

"Park Skis" is short for "Terrain Park Skis." These have tips on both ends (twin tip) to allow skiing backwards, or switch. These skis are usually found strapped to teenagers that enjoy jumping, sliding rails, and skiing all sorts of terrain designed to destroy skis.

A lot of these skis can be used as a versatile all-mountain ski, with the added benefit of being able to shoot rooster tails at your slow friends.

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Powder Skis

Powder skis

When the snow is deep and soft, these skis really shine. These skis are wide and quite flexible. They are the perfect skis to make skiing in the powder incredibly easy because of the added surface area. Their downfall is their sluggish feel on groomed runs and mogul fields (but why would you ski on groomed runs on a powder day anyway?).

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Alpine touring skis

Alpine Touring Skis

For advanced skiers who want to escape the resort crowds, touring skis allow them to climb up the mountain with skins on the skis. At the top, the skins are removed for skiing down the backcountry. Touring skis also come in a variety of shapes and sizes for snow conditions and terrain. To learn more about touring, visit our Backcountry Essentials guide.

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Featured Skis

Ski design and construction terms you should know

Now that you know the different types of skis that are available, here are all the terms that help describe their characteristics:

Sidecut

This term refers to the dimensions of the ski, which is a measurement of the widest point at the tip, the narrowest point in the mid section, and the widest point at the tail. For example, the Head i.Peak 74 in the 170cm length has a sidecut of 121mm-74mm-107mm, in the Tip-Waist-Tail sequence. A ski that is better for groomed runs is generally 60-80mm at the waist measurement. In contrast, a good powder ski has a waist measurement of over 100mm.

Turn Radius

If you were to make a perfect turn, then stop to look at the tracks you left, it would look like part of a circle. Just imagine that your tracks kept on that path and made a complete circle. When you take the radius of that circle, you end up with a Turn Radius. A short turn radius means the skis will make a quick and short turn. A longer turn radius means the skis will take longer to make a turn. Shorter turn radius skis are easier to turn, but are a little unstable if you like to ski at above average speeds. A long radius ski requires more work to turn, but is more stable at higher speeds.

Flex or Stiffness

This is the measure of how much a ski will bend under a given force. A soft flexing ski is better for beginners and intermediates. It makes a ski easier to maneuver. Advanced Intermediates up to Expert skiers prefer stiffer skis that can handle higher speeds without being deflected by bumps in the snow.

Sandwich

No matter what it means, it sounds delicious! This actually refers to the process in which the ski was made. This construction method is just like a sandwich with many different layers squished and bonded together. The excess is cut away, and you can see the different layers if you look at the side of the ski. Sandwich construction skis generally offer better performance than other construction methods.

Cap

This is another construction method. All of the components of the ski are pressed together, like a sandwich construction ski, but the cap style has a layer of plastic that drapes over the entire ski. This makes a smooth transition from the top of the ski to the side. Cap skis are lighter in weight and generally more durable than Sandwich skis, but don't offer the same performance level.

Twin Tip

Just as it sounds, Twin Tip skis have upwardly rounded ends to make skiing backwards easy. The tails don't dig into the snow, so some skiers can go off jumps and land backwards with these skis. All park skis have twin tips, as well as some all mountain, freeride, and powder skis.

Turned-up Tail

Between a twin tip and a flat-tailed ski is the turned-up tail. All-mountain, freeride, and powder skis often feature this tail. It helps the skis from getting stuck in tight chutes and for the occasional urge to ski backwards.

Topsheet

This is just the top of the ski that has all the fancy graphics. It can be made of many different materials such as plastics, fiberglass, and metal alloys. The plastic topsheets just keep the water out and have colorful graphics. The metal alloy topsheets offer structural strength and stiffness.

Anti-vibration

A problem that plagues many skis is the vibration that makes skiing uncomfortable and a little rough. Many ski manufacturers curb this problem by adding anti-vibrational systems that make the ski feel smoother and safer. It is not mandatory that your skis have this feature, but it does help you ski at higher speeds with greater confidence and comfort.

Camber

The raise or bowing in the center of ski is called its "camber." It puts the middle of the ski higher than the tip and gives the ski a bit of "pop" when turning.

Rocker

Rocker is the opposite of camber. For example, a "full rocker" ski will be flat in the middle, while a "reverse camber" will actually continue with a slight dip down from the tip and tail through the middle of the ski. Rocker is popular in powder skis.

Effective Edge

The amount of edge that will come in contact with the snow during turn initiation is called its "effective edge." A longer effective edge is ideal for high speeds and groomed or variable snow conditions. A shorter effective edge is better for soft snow and tight terrain where quick pivots are neccessary.