Whether you’re just hitting the slopes for the first time, or you’ve been skiing black diamonds every season for years, deciding how to choose perfect skis can be a complicated experience. Luckily, a little bit of preparation and foresight goes a long way towards making the mission a success.
The following guide will help you choose skis that are the perfect match for your height, weight, skill level, and ski style, so you can walk out of the ski shop or rental store with exactly what you need.
Where Will You Ski?
The first step is deciding what kind of a skier you are, or what kinds of mountains and terrains you’ll be skiing on. This should be the first question a salesperson asks you, and from there, they’ll be able to hep you determine how to buy the skis that you need. You’ll also need to seriously consider getting your own ski boots too, if you haven’t already. This is possibly even more important than owning your own skis as your feet NEED to be comfortable. Check out our ski boots buying guide for more info on boot selection.
All mountain skis are suitable for skiers at any age or experience level. They handle best on hard snow and groomed terrain. All mountain skis tend to be narrower, with deep sidecuts and rockered tips (more on these features later) which make them easy to turn. All mountain wide skis, also known as mid fats or fats can handle more powder snow than their thinner equivalents and can provide stability and power on snow of varying density.
Powder skis, predictably, do best in deep powder snow. They are sometimes called super-fats because they are wide enough to provide superior floatation in loose snow, like surfboards. Most of them are fully rockered to keep the edges from catching. They’re not the first choice for tight turns on groomed runs, but they’ll handle deep powder better than any other variety.
Backcountry skis, also known as alpine touring or ski mountaineering skis, tend to be lighter than all mountain or powder skis, to make them easier to carry when trekking to find untracked slopes. Many of them come with notches in the tips and tails for attaching climbing skins, so you can ski uphill and explore to find fresh terrain. Because backcountry skis are so specialized, they’re not always great on hard snow, and their light weight makes them susceptible to damage by impact. Unless you’ll be spending most of your time mountaineering with your skis, another style might be a better option.
Gender or Age
Gender and age are both important factors to consider when shopping for skis. Because women’s bodies are different from men’s, women’s skis are designed differently, often with a softer flex which makes them more responsive and easier to maneuver. They tend to be lighter and shorter than men’s skis. Because the center of gravity on a woman’s body is typically farther back than on a man’s body, the bindings on women’s skis are often mounted farther forwards than on men’s skis, for enhanced balance and stability. Of course, everyone’s body and preferences are different, but it’s certainly worth considering models that are designed with your body in mind.
For kids, avoid the temptation to buy skis for kids to grow into. Skiing equipment should fit right, all the time, and sticking a kid with skis that are too long for them will hamper their development and give them unnecessary difficulty. If nothing else, skis that are too short are much better than skis that are too long, so keep this in mind if you’re stuck between two different sizes or styles.
Height and Weight
Your height and weight will help you determine the ideal length and width of your skis. In general, for adults, the tips of the skis should reach somewhere between the nose and eyebrows, though this may vary depending on skill and style. For kids under six, the skis should land just under the chin, and for kids under twelve, skis should reach somewhere between the chin and forehead, depending on skill, style, and comfort.
Your weight, too, plays a role in how to choose skis. Heavier skiers might want to consider longer or wider skis. Extra weight gives good leverage for turning longer skis, and wider skis are good for weight distribution.
The length of your skis will decide how your skis perform on any terrain, at every speed, during turns, and skiing straight. In general, shorter skis are more nimble than longer skis, making them ideal for the park, or for skiers who are interested in making quick turns around trees. Their superior maneuverability is great for shorter and lighter people, who don’t have as much mass to put into turns. Short skis also handle better at slower speeds, making them ideal for beginners.
Long skis, on the other hand, are more stable at high speeds than short skis are. They aren’t as nimble, so they’re appropriate for advanced skiers who are comfortable with longer turns. Heavier skiers might do well on longer skis as well, because they have the weight leverage for turning.
Ski length is a matter of preference, rather than an exact science, so this is something you might want to experiment with if you are able to demo your equipment before you buy it.
When deciding how to buy skis, the most important dimension to consider is ski width, or waist. A narrower waist is ideal for harder snow. Narrow waists allow you to get your skis on edge sooner, concentrating your weight for turns. Narrow skis are more nimble, great for turns and groomed runs.
A wider waist, on the other hand, gives a skier the needed surface area to float through powder and flatten out the irregularities of softer snow. By spreading the skier’s weight out over a greater surface area, wide skis make skiers lighter per square inch of snow, providing stability and float.
Carve skis tend to have the narrowest waists, generally measuring less than 85mm. Backcountry skis built for trekking and long tours tend to measure on the narrower side as well, between 70 and 90mm, but alpine touring skis designed for deep snow are wider, at 90-115mm, for better float. Allmountain skis land somewhere in the middle, with an 85-95mm waist for harder snow, and 95-105mm for more varied terrain. If you’re unsure, or want something suitable for a variety of terrain, this is a great waist width to consider. Powder skis are the widest, typically measuring between 98mm and 125mm—the deeper the snow, the wider the waist you’ll want.
Camber & Rocker
The camber and rocker of your skis refers to the bend in the middle and the ends of your skis, respectively. The more camber, or arc, that you have in your skis, the more energy and power you’ll be able to put into and get out of your turns. It’s like a built in spring that snaps the ski back from turns. Camber skis are great for skiers who use the whole ski from tip to tail throughout their entire turns.
The rocker is sometimes called the reverse camber or negative camber, and it refers to the rise at the tip and tail of a ski. Rockered skis are great for skiers who keep their weight balance in the middle of a ski, and for maneuverability and floatation in powdered snow and mixed terrain.
The final consideration when deciding how to choose skis – before, of course, the color! –is the stiffness. Stiff skis can feel and perform completely differently to soft skis, and your skill level will play a big part when deciding what stiffness is best for you. In general, beginners will be more comfortable on softer skis, which are much easier to learn on. Soft skis are easy to control at lower speeds, and require far less energy and technique to maneuver than stiffer alternatives. They’re less responsive than stiff skis, though, so you might find that you want stiffer skis as your technique develops.
Experts, more aggressive skiers, and heavier skiers might want stiff skis, which require more strength to maneuver, but provide more power for speed and stability for varied terrain. Metal skis are stiffer and less flexible than wood or carbon skis, but faster and more stable. The faster and more aggressively you ski, the stiffer your skis should be.
Somewhere in the middle, medium flex skis are great for skiers who ski at a variety of speeds or on a variety of terrains. Powder skis tend to be medium flex, which will keep you floating on top of the snow instead of cutting beneath it, while still providing stability with some speed.
How To Choose Skis
This guide is a great start to choosing the skis that are right for you, but nothing beats experimentation. Let your research give you a sense of what might work for you, and then take it to a rental shop. Whether you’re hitting powder slopes or cutting a groomed run, find the skis that are appropriate for the terrain, and then try out some different lengths and waist widths to find the balance that’s truly right for you.