Ski Buyer’s Guide: Choosing the Right Ski for You

October 4, 2019 by Peter

Ski Buyer's GuideSo, you are in the market for a new pair of skis.

The challenge ahead of you can feel like a daunting one: figuring out which ski you will end up purchasing. This Ski Buyer’s Guide will help you to narrow down the ski that’s right for you and hopefully make that process easier.

There are many things about a ski that will determine how it skis and how you ski will determine how those parts of the ski can work for you and your individual situation. These ski factors include:

  • Flex
  • Camber Profile
  • Turn Radius
  • Weight
  • Length
  • Width
  • Ski Tips

There are many variables to consider when deciding which ski you are going to take home with you. The type of skier you are comes into play, as does the typical terrain you are going to confront most often. Another major factor to consider is how much experience you have on the slopes and your ability level. In this ski buyer’s guide, you will see how to make sure you end up choosing the right ski for yourself.

Remember that the right ski for your buddy might not be the right one for you – different specs, skiing styles and abilities all play a part in choosing the best ski for you personally.

This guide will cover:

  • Skier Types
  • Terrain
  • Ability Levels

And which ski factors are the best for those things.


SKIER TYPES

There are many types of skiers out there. Next time you are riding up the chairlift, take a look below and you’ll see. There are aggressive skiers and cautious skiers and those in between. Skiers are looking for jumps and transition airs. You’ll see skiers in the trees, as well as people dropping cliffs or floating through powder. Even others like to carve high-speed turns down the groomed runs. Let’s break down what type of ski works best for each basic type of skier.

The Aggressive Skier

You will notice these people quickly: the aggressive skier. They’re skiing as fast and as hard as they can down the mountain, pushing their skis to the limit of their performance capabilities. If this describes you, you’re going to want a certain type of ski.

FLEX

It should be very stiff in its flex, so it absorbs a lot of the speed chatter you’re going to pick up as you fly down the mountain. It should be designed for great edge control.

>>More on Ski Flex

WIDTH

The waist width should be narrow (from 65mm – 85mm) to improve turning and hold those lines. Potentially wider, if you’re also hitting powder.

>>More on Choosing Width

TURN RADIUS

Often, an aggressive ski will have a large range in turn radii for different types of carves. Some companies engineer their skis for GS-style carving or big-mountain lines, while others go for a tighter turn radius.

>>More on Turn Radius

CAMBER

The camber profile for an aggressive ski is usually a standard camber, meaning a lot of pop and spring to drive through those turns.

>>More on Camber Profiles

LENGTH

The length of the ski should be in the longer range – somewhere between 170-190 cm, depending on your height & weight. This will ensure maintaining speed at all times.

>>More on Choosing Length

WEIGHT

Due to the stability built into these types of skis, there will be more weight to them. That weight will help hold the edge through fast turns, as well as cut through cruddy snow. It also helps reduce vibration and allows the skier to dominate the mountain.

TAIL TYPE

The tail is usually flat: this is not a ski made for tricks in the park or “surfing” down the slopes.

>>More on Tail Types

Summary

FLEX Stiff
WIDTH Narrow – 65-85mm, unless hitting powder, then wider
TURN RADIUS Depending on preference
CAMBER Standard Alpine/Traditional Camber
LENGTH On the longer end of your range – that range will depend on your physical specs (see How to Choose Ski Length to determine)
WEIGHT On the heavier side
TAIL TYPE Flat tail

The Moderate Skier

This class of skier is a very large swath of the skiing population. The skill level can range from intermediate to expert, but the moderate skier is out there to have a good time. The moderate skier is ready to try many different runs, maybe hit some jumps, and go on and off-trail interchangeably.

The moderate skier type will want a ski that offers a variety of performance opportunities. You will want a versatile ski that can pretty much go anywhere and work well.

FLEX

The flex for this type of ski should be around medium. You will want enough stiffness to power through turns, yet soft enough flex to forgive small mistakes.

WIDTH

The waist width for moderate skis should range from 85-110 mm. In general, the higher up in that range you go, the more off-trail skiing you will be doing.

LENGTH

The length of the moderate ski has a large range. In general, if you are looking for speed, go longer.

TAIL TYPE

The tail type also varies. Many moderate skiers prefer twin tips or partial twin tips, not only for freestyle performance but also for exiting turns a bit easier.

TURN RADIUS

The turn radius is usually medium to account for the difference in terrain that skiers will encounter.

CAMBER

The camber profile for a moderate ski is usually either tip rocker (camber/rocker) or tip and tail rocker (rocker/camber/rocker). The tip rocker helps float in powder and initiate turns easily, and the camber adds stability to the ski.

WEIGHT

The weight on moderate skis is usually average – not too light to get bounced around the mountain, but not too heavy as to be hard to turn at slightly slower speeds.

Summary

FLEX Medium
WIDTH 85-110mm depending on how much powder you’ll see
TURN RADIUS Medium
CAMBER Tip Rocker or Tip & Tail Rocker
LENGTH Depends mostly on your physical specs
WEIGHT Average
TIPS Partial Twin Tips or Full Twin Tips

The Cautious Skier

The cautious skier is most likely a beginner skier. However, this could also be an older, experienced skier or someone coming off of an injury. There are different reasons they may be cautious on the slopes, but a certain type of ski fits their style.

FLEX

Cautious skiers will want quite a bit of flex (as in a softer flex). A lot of flex in the ski will be very forgiving for any mistakes made. The tradeoff is that turning performance and speed will suffer, but most skiers in this category aren’t looking for that.

WIDTH

The waist size of this ski should be around 80-85 mm. This will make turning easier.

TURN RADIUS

The turn radius is usually short. But sometimes medium.

LENGTH

The length of the ski will often be shorter than recommended for other skier types. This will cut down on speed but will aid the cautious skier in controlling their skis.

TAIL TYPE

The tail for cautious skiers will often be twin tip or partial twin tip. This helps release turns and adds control.

CAMBER PROFILE

The camber profile for the cautious skier’s ski is usually tip rocker or tip and tail rocker. The latter furthers the ease of turn release that new skiers enjoy.

WEIGHT

Most skis in this category are fairly lightweight. This also helps the skier control their skis down the mountain.

Summary

FLEX Medium to Soft
WIDTH Narrow – 80—85mm
TURN RADIUS Short to Medium
CAMBER Tip Rocker or Tip & Tail Rocker
LENGTH On the shorter end of your range – range determined by your physical specs
WEIGHT Lighter than average
TIPS Partial Twin Tips or Full Twin Tips

Now you might identify with one of these ski types, either:

  • Aggressive
  • Moderate
  • Cautious

But within these types, there are factors that can further narrow down your choices. One of those things is where you like to ski – do you like to ski in the park, hit powder, carve the groomers, venture off the trails or all of the above? The next section should help to further define your ideal ski’s specifications.


TERRAIN TYPES

Different skiers prefer different types of terrain. Some skiers like to stick to front-mountain groomed runs. Others love to hit the powder off-trail. Some skiers prefer to hang out in the park. Some love to go all over the mountain, where they may be experiencing varying terrain constantly. The terrain that you enjoy the most will influence the type of ski that you ultimately purchase.

Of course you might also want to go for a quiver of skis, if you enjoy various disciplines. Then you can go more specialized for each pair of ski. If you like to do a bit of everything but just want one pair, then there are skis for that too.

Groomed Runs/Front Mountain

Many skiers, especially intermediate to advanced skiers who are perfecting their turns, spend a lot of time on groomed runs. If this is you, you’re going to want a ski with certain dimensions. The most likely type of ski you will want if you are on groomed runs is an all-mountain-carving ski – or a specialist carving ski (the latter especially if you are an aggressive skier).

A carving ski will be narrow in the waist, usually with a shorter turn radius. This will help the ski respond quickly in turns, as well as aid the exit of the turning process. The edges will be fine-tuned to carve and hold lines. The length of these skis for groomed runs will run a little longer to maintain the speed that is desired. The flex is often stiff to cut down on vibrations – but this will depend on how aggressive you want to ski. A more moderate skier will look for a more medium or medium-stiff flex. The weight is on the heavier side to stay close to the mountain at speed. But again, if you are a more moderate skier, then going a little lighter is fine too.

Camber is usually traditional for more aggressive skiers. This helps maintain edge control and stability while you’re charging down the hill. For more moderate groomer goers, some tip rocker is a good way to go.

The tail of this ski is often flat or a partial twin tip.

FLEX Medium to Stiff (depending on aggressiveness)
WIDTH Narrow – 65—85mm
TURN RADIUS Varied
CAMBER Traditional Camber or Tip Rocker, depending on aggressiveness
LENGTH Longer end of your range if your aggressive, middle of your range if you’re more moderate
WEIGHT Average to heavy, depending on aggressiveness
TIPS Flat Tail or Partial Twin Tips

Powder

Some skiers live for powder and will search it out all day long. If that is you, your skis are going to look quite different than many other skis.

The first feature that will stand out in a powder ski is the waist width. Powder skis are very wide, usually with a waist of over 110mm. This will help the ski float and remain stable in the fluff.  The ski length depends on individual preference.

Powder skis often have a tip rocker/camber/tail rocker profile. This will help you float through powder and crud, but also pop – and exit turns more easily. Most powder skis offer a softer flex to add to the flotation of the ski. The turn radius is often long on a powder ski.

FLEX Medium-Soft to Medium
WIDTH Wide– 110+mm
TURN RADIUS Medium to Long
CAMBER Tip & Tail Rocker
LENGTH Depends on Physical Specs and Personal Preference
WEIGHT Average
TIPS Partial Twin Tips or Full Twin Tips

All-Mountain

Depending on where you ski, this is probably the most popular ski, and for good reason. These skis are versatile enough to handle anything the slopes have to offer. You can carve with these, hit the deep powder, and drop steep chutes and bowls.

The waist on all-mountain skis has a wide range, usually from 80-110mm. The length also varies depending on the skier. If someone leans more towards speed, they’ll up the length. The flex is usually right in the middle so that it can adapt to changing conditions. Camber on all-mountain skis varies but is often rocker/camber. This will ensure good results in powder as well as on harder snow. The tail is usually either twin tip or flared (or partial twin). The turn radius will often fall in the moderate range.

FLEX Medium
WIDTH Narrow to Mid-Wide (80-110mm, depending on how much powder)
TURN RADIUS Medium
CAMBER Tip Rocker
LENGTH Depends on Physical Specs and Personal Preference and how aggressive you ski
WEIGHT Average
TIPS Partial Twin Tips or Full Twin Tips

Big-Mountain

Skiing has become more and more extreme, and these skis were developed as a result. These are reserved for experts who will be tackling steep, monstrous lines.

This ski looks like a combination of a powder ski and an aggressive carving ski. It is built for maximum stability and speed, but wider so that it can power through and stay above deep powder. It has a lot of weight and is very stiff. It needs to handle the pressure of the big lines it will be thrown down.

FLEX Stiff
WIDTH Wide
TURN RADIUS Medium to Long
CAMBER Tip Rocker or Tip and Tail Rocker
LENGTH On the longer end of your range
WEIGHT Heavy
TIPS Flat Tail, Partial Twin Tips or Full Twin Tips

Park

If you are a skier who spends the majority of the time in the park, you will need to seek out park skis. These are specialized for the rails, pipes, and boxes you will find in the park.

These skis are often narrow in the waist for quick turns. They are often shorter in length for maximum maneuverability and response time. The camber is usually standard for extra pop off jumps and the pipe, but you will find variations today. The tail is pretty much guaranteed to be twin tip, so the skier can ride and land switch. These skis are usually lightweight, and the flex varies, depending on if you’re mostly jibbing (softer) or jumping (stiffer). The turning radius can be short to medium.

FLEX Soft to Medium
WIDTH Narrow
TURN RADIUS Short to Medium
CAMBER Traditional Camber or Tip & Tail Rocker
LENGTH On the shorter end of your range
WEIGHT Light
TIPS Full Twin Tip

ABILITY LEVEL

The final category to help you choose the perfect ski is your ability level. Beginners have a whole set of features to look for in their skis, as do intermediate and advanced skiers.

Beginner Skiers

If you are a beginning skier, you are going to want a narrow waist (under 85mm). The length is usually short, and it should have a soft flex. Your goal is to be comfortable learning to turn, so you will want a ski with a shorter turn radius. The camber profile is often rocker/camber/rocker. This will help initiate and exit turns easier, with a more “smeary” feeling. Beginner skis are often lightweight. The tail is most likely a twin tip or a partial twin tip.

FLEX Soft
WIDTH Narrow
TURN RADIUS Short to Medium
CAMBER Tip and Tail Rocker
LENGTH On the shorter end of your range
WEIGHT Light
TIPS Full Twin Tip or Partial Twin Tip

Intermediate Skiers

Skiers at this level are more comfortable in their turns. As a result, the intermediate ski will generally have a wider waist than a beginner ski. The flex will be a little stiffer, and there will be a little more weight in the ski so that it handles faster speeds. Most intermediate skiers go for a waist of 85-95mm, as it still turns easily but can handle more areas on the mountain. As intermediate skiers improve their carving style, they will appreciate a slightly more cambered profile.

FLEX Medium
WIDTH Narrow to Mid-wide
TURN RADIUS Medium
CAMBER Tip Rocker or Tip & Tail Rocker
LENGTH About in the middle of your range
WEIGHT Average
TIPS Full Twin Tip or Partial Twin Tip

Advanced/Expert Skiers

The better you get at skiing, the more variety of skis you have to choose from. It now becomes more of tailoring the dimensions to your desired terrain and your skiing style.

An expert in the park will have a very different-looking ski than an expert big-mountain skier. Powder buffs will go for a wide ski, but if they love the rest of the mountain equally they may go for an all-mountain ski instead of a strict powder ski.

The length and width of the ski you purchase will be determined by what kind of skier you are. If you love charging aggressively down every run, you will want a longer ski. The waist width varies depending on how much of the mountain or backcountry you are planning on skiing. The turning radius you are looking for will also depend on your style and terrain, from a short radius for carving to a long turning radius for powder.


Conclusion

Making sure that you choose the best ski can be tough. As you look for your next purchase, consider the type of skier you are, the terrain you will most likely encounter, and your ability level.

Once you get the basics of the ski down – length, width, turn radius, weight, flex, tail type, and camber – you’ll be able to find that perfect ski that is best for you. For more details on these factors, or if you’re still unsure of one or more of the specifications for your ideal skis, check out the following:

>>More on Choosing Length

>>More on Choosing Width

>>More on Ski Flex

>>More on Camber Profiles

>>More on Turn Radius

Hopefully this can help you to choose the skis that are just right for you. If you can think of anything else that comes into choosing skis, or if you have any other questions or comments, just leave them in the comments box below.


Tags

Choosing Skis, How to choose skis, Ski Buyer's Guide, Ski Buying Guide


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