Choosing Equipment

Ski buying guide

By 12/09/2018 No Comments
Selection of skis in a shop to sale

HOW TO CHOOSE WHAT SKIS TO BUY

There many different types of skis in the market, many brands, many prices, try to choose the right skis for you can be difficult.

Sometimes, in the specialised shops, the sellers can be helpful, other times they can be misleading, they’ll probably will try to asses your level of ski with few questions, but believe me, the best person to help you out on this matter is yourself. But you need to know first all the factors about the shape and construction of the skis that have a direct effect on how the ski will behave on different types of turns, speeds and terrains, and the way you are going feel them under your feet.

To have the right pair of skis for the day under your feet can be the difference from a great ski day or a frustrating one.

SKI LENGTH

When you choose the ski length base your decision on your weight, height, skill level and terrain preference.
The longer the ski, the faster they will be as increases the surface area of the ski on the snow, what disperses your weight and creates less friction, but the radius of turn will increase also what.

Height: In general, with ski tails on the ground, tips should reach somewhere between your chin and the top of your head.
For kids under 6, tips should not quite reach their chins, for youth under 12, tips should touch a part of their face.

Weight: Skiers with larger frames often are good candidates for either longer skis or wider skis. Extra mass provides leverage for turning longer skis; extra surface area can also help distribute weight.

Experience: Shorter skis appeal more to novices because they’re easier to move and turn. More advance skiers will often choose their size based on the type of turn they want to make, and the speed. Shorter skis usually have a quicker turn and smaller radius. A longer ski will have a longer radius or wider turn.

Terrain: If your tend to ski in hills with narrow, twisty trails, look at shorter skis. They’re better at quickly manoeuvring into tight turns. If you usually looking for more open slopes or terrain, or like higher speeds, look for a bit longer skis.

Ski Length Chart guide photo

SKI WIDTH

The width ski dimensions are determined by 3 numbers, the width in millimetres of the 2 widest points, the tip and tail, and its narrowest, the waist.
Nearly all modern skis have this numbers written in a format like this example: 123/87/115   where 123 is the tip width, 87 the waist and 115 the tail.

Ski dimensions shape

Tip: The tip initiates turns, the bigger the difference between the width of the tip and the waist, the quicker the ski will start turning when leaned on the edge, better to carved short turns. When this difference is smaller indicates a ski more suited to long turns.Tips over 120 mm help to ski on soft snow.

Waist: Waist width is the most critical of the 3 dimensions. Narrow waists allow you to establish an edge sooner and a faster transition from edge to edge, ideal for groomed runs. Wide waists means more area to make contact with snow, which makes more appropriate for softer snows and powder.

Tail: The back end of a ski helps sustain turns. When carving short, quick turns, a wider tail resists sideways skids and maintains speed. Narrower tails are better for longer carved turns, or for easy release at the end of a turn.

Sidecut radius (or turning radius): Sidecut is the shape of the curved ski edge, and is often expressed as a radius given in meters. Is the radius of the imaginary circle that would be drawn if you were to extend the edge indefinitely outwards, see the picture bellow.

Ski sidecut radios scheme photo

A deeper sidecut skis, with low turning radius numbers (15 m under) are better for short-radius turns (the shape of the edge is more curved).
A straighter sidecut, higher turning radius (16 m over) indicate skis better suited for long-radius turns (the shape of the edge is less curved).

So to make tight turns and carve them you’ll need a shorter radius ski. This doesn’t mean that skis with big radius can’t do short turns, a good skier will always be able to slide short turns, but carving them cleanly will be beyond its capabilities.

You could ask your self now, why don’t all skis just have a short radius then?

Because, a ski with a shorter radius will have to be shorter in length, also narrower underfoot to create a larger difference between waist width and tip/tail width, and have a sidecut more curved.

A narrower underfoot makes the average width of the ski also narrower, a short and narrow ski will be quicker from edge to edge, allowing you to engage into the next turn faster, and carve sharper turns, ideal to perform short turns on hard pack, but will loose stability at higher speeds and longer turns, also a narrow ski will sink too much on deeper snow, loosing manoeuvrability and momentum, making things much harder. As you can see is not always beneficial a short radius ski.

A wider ski, with more surface area on the snow, is often used for freeride because it allows the ski to stay on top of deep snow, keeping speed, manoeuvrability, and letting the rider float on top of the powder. This is why powder skis have a bigger radius than piste skis, because they need the extra width to stay on top of deep snow.

SKI FLEX (STIFFNESS)

In the point before we talked about the radius of the ski, but radius means nothing if you can’t flex the ski. Two skis with the same radius but different stiffness can perform completely different.

Ski stiffnes explanation photo sequence

If you put a pair of skis together, base to base, you’ll notice that they only touch at tip and tail, bending away from each other at the waist. This is called camber. When you weight the ski, and initiate a turn, the force underfoot pushing the waist of the ski away from himself, into the snow, creates a curved shape of the ski, a reverse camber shape, and this force distributes along the entire effective edge of the ski, and following this shape, the ski travels round in a carved turn. Camber requires more precise turn initiation and  provides more stability, better edge grip, and superb precision with plenty of power on hard snow and icy surfaces.

Depending on how stiff a ski is, more amount of pressure will be needed to apply on the ski in a turn to flex it, and bend the normal camber shape into a reverse camber.  Greater power will be required to flex a stiffer ski, and will be less forgiving when travelling over bumps and landing air.

Skiers who apply large amount of pressure, like through a fast turn in a World Cup giant slalom, prefer stiff skis to hold the grip of the edge at high speeds, a soft ski will give in and slide away. Also a stiffer ski will snap back into its original shape more powerfully as the pressure is released, and this can help acceleration out of the turn.

Freeride and freestyle skis are softer, they need to be more forgiving in uneven terrain, absorb bumps and land jumps, and less pressure is required to carve on less stable terrain. Meanwhile, skis designed for on-piste performance (particularly race skis) are stiffer, as the skier presses much harder on a stable and hard pack piste, where the snow is unlikely to give way. Softer powder and park skis won’t perform as well on piste.

Ability and sex are two factors to have in mind when choosing the stiffness of the ski to buy:

Beginners skis need to be softer as they will not apply much pressure to the ski in the turn as their speed will be small.
Women normally tend to have less strength so skies of the same range are a bit softer in the females models.
The faster you want to ski, the harder the snow and the higher level of ability the skier has, the stiffer the skis he needs.

SKI TYPES

Does not exist a ski perfect for every terrain, snow condition and speed, they key is to figure out where you will be spending the majority of your time on the mountain.

On-Piste Carving skis 

The shape of this skis helps to drive turns easier (carve), they tend to be narrow on the waist (65-80 mm) for fast transition edge to edge and responsive turn initiation and exit . Ideal for groomed runs and hard pack. The beginner-intermediate skis in this category, with soft flex make learning how to turn easy.  Your choice if you mainly ski on piste.

All mountain skis

These are skis that aim to go anywhere in the mountain, they are the skis that better adapt to different terrains but they don’t excel in any in particular. With a shape similar to a carving ski they are wider, particularly under the foot, usually around (80-100 mm), this increased the float on powder snow but reduces the speed of edge to edge transition. There are many kinds of all mountain skis, varying in shape and stiffness. Shapes go from similar to an on-piste ski to shapes closer to a freeride one. With an all mountain ski you loose grip and smoothness on the slope compared to a similar range on-piste ski but you win on comfort and ease when you head on powder or other un-groomed snows.

Your choice if you want to ski on many different terrains and you only going to own one pair of skis.

Freeride skis

Freeride skis are designed to be used primarily off piste, on all kinds of snow conditions. They tend to be a little wider than all mountain skis and less fat than powder skis, with a waist of around (90-105 mm). The majority of freeride skis have at least some sort of tip rocker, this help the ski to float in variable snow, as well as making them easier to change direction where snow conditions could be catchy. Easier to pivot them in any terrain but trickier to carve on slopes.

Your choice if you want to ski mostly off-piste in any snow condition.

Powder / Fat skis

Powder skis tend to be wider, and a bit longer, than freeride ones. The flex is often softer, which makes them perform better in deep snow. Powder skis waist range (105-140 mm). The camber profile of most powder skis tries to improves float and ease of move in powder, such as rocker on tip and tail, or even reverse camber. Some specific powder skis also have a reverse sidecut, what means that tip and tail are narrower than the waist, what aids flotation and maneuverability in deep powder snow but mades them less good when the snow isn’t so perfect.

Your choice to ski the powder days.

Big Mountain skis

Big mountain skis are designed for charging big lines at high speeds, when compared to freeride skis, are usually wider, longer and stiffer to add stability when skiing fast and aggressive off piste, in variable and choppy snow as well as powder. These are the skis of choice of freeride ski competitors.

Your choice if you want to charge off-piste.

Park and Pipe skis

Park and pipe skis, also known as freestyle skis, are for skiers who spend the majority of their time in the park terrain. You will almost always find these skis with twin tips, this is a turned-up tail to take off and land jumps backwards. Their flex is usually soft and are quite forgiving, also have other specific park features like thicker edges and dense extruded bases to make them more resistant to all the beating they suffer on jumps and rails. They usually have narrower waists with full camber profiles. Bindings are usually mounted farther forward than normal, and some skis are completely bi-directional. They can be skied in the same length as all-mountain skis, or slightly shorter, depending on preference.

Your choice if you want to hit the park.

Race skis

Similar in shape to recreational carving skis, but generally much stiffer to handle faster speeds and lots of pressure. Slalom skis are much shorter than they used to be, with the top racers in the world commonly use skis of about 160cm, while a few years ago they would consider nothing less than 205cm. Flexible and responsive, they offer incredibly quick turning on firm snow, but they lack versatility. GS skis are stiffer than slalom skis and have a longer sidecut radius, and therefore a longer turn radius. These skis tend to be skied on hard packed snow at speed so the skis are used in longer lengths than slalom skis to aid stability and grip. Skiers without a race background will generally find GS race skis very hard work.

Your choice for race competition.

Touring skis

Touring skis are designed for going uphill with help of skins attach to the bottom of the ski for traction, as well as downhill taking the skins off. These skis are typically light for their width to help ascension, and many feature fittings that help the skins attachment. They use especial bindings that allow hill release on the way up. Touring skis vary in width and weight, with the wider heavier versions usually used for winter/deep snow touring and the skinnier, lighter skis usually used for spring/summer/long distance touring.

Your choice if you want to skin up the mountain and explore away from the lifts.

Telemark skis

 A telemark skier turns by sliding one ski forward, lifting the heel on the other and bending deeply at the knee arching both skis into a turn. Unless you are an advance, high-speed skier, a forgiving, easy-turning model will be the best choice. Stiff or long skis are very challenging for a beginner telemark skier. There are some skis specific for telemark but you can use other skis, many telemark skiers choose a regular alpine model, such as a freeride ski, with telemark bindings on. These are often referred to as free-heel bindings.

Your choice if you want to do telemark.

SKI PROFILE (Camber/Rocker)

CAMBER

Consists of a slight upward curve or rise in the centre of the ski. When placed on a flat surface, the ski has two contact zones: one at the tip and the other at the tail. This ski camber, or arch, disappears when the skier stands on the skis. The ski becomes perfectly flat under the skier’s weight. The purpose of this arch is to evenly distribute the weight of the skier and the pressure over the entire ski length.
When the ski is tilted on its edge, the camber shape is reversed. This traditional camber is ideal for skiing on-piste and excellent on hard snow.

ski camber shape
ROCKER or FULL ROCKER

Rocker initially was the equivalent of what we now know as Reverse Camber or Full Rocker, that is basically camber turned upside down.
Rocker skis offer superior float in the soft snow and facilitates turn initiation with less chance of catching an edge. Wide skis designed primarily for powder are often rockered.

ski rocker shape
WHAT WE KNOW AS ROCKER TODAY?

It consists of the extension and rise of the ski tip and / or tail (depending on whether the ski has a single or a double Rocker).
If we look at a ski on a flat surface, the tip will start to rise nearer the center than the tip of a normal ski.
Depending how early the tip of a ski starts to rise, we will say has more or less rocker.

The main benefits are:

  • Floats better in powder
  • Easier to ski on rough terrain
  • Facilitates turn initiation by edge catching
ROCKER/CAMBER

In general, a tip rocker combined with a classic camber offers an excellent combination of lift and edge grip.
This profile gives better edge contact as the ski leans at an angle during a turn, placing the front contact point further back from the tip, while the rear contact point remains close to the tail, resulting in greater grip. The rockered tip allows for better flotation in deep snow and a less catchy feel on hard, while the cambered rear stores and transmits energy similarly to a fully cambered ski. These skis are quite effective on hard snow and powder. This technology is applied both on versatile and all-mountain skis.

If you are looking for a ski that floats in the fluff without giving up too much hard snow performance, this is a great choice.

ski rocker camber shape
ROCKER/CAMBER/ROCKER

This type of skis have the float and playfulness of a rockered ski as well as the added edge hold of a cambered ski. The contact points are closer towards the middle of the ski than a camber ski. The rockered tip and tail provide floatation in deeper snow and easy initiation and release of turns.The cambered midsection increases edge hold and stability, providing a longer effective edge on hard snow. This profile of ski is good to be playful at the park, gives flotation on powder, forgiveness for beginners, is a good option also if you only have one pair of skis as they are very versatile.

ski rocker camber rocker shape
ROCKER/FLAT/ROCKER

This ski is mainly meant for powder and soft snow as it has ease of turning and float, but also provide a little more edgehold on hard pack and also more pop than full rocker ski.

ski rocker flat rocker shape

SKI BY GENDER OR AGE

Women Skis

Women usually weigh less and have less body mass than men of the same height, their center of gravity is lower and exert less force on their skis. So they normally need lighter, softer, and shorter skis.

Thanks to thinner, softer cores and less laminate layers in the construction, women skis require less force to turn. Also mounting positions are often a bit further forward on these skis.

Also dimensions are different than man. For example, on fat skis, a 100 mm underfoot might be appropriate for a 80 kg man. But for a 60 kg woman probably 90mm be better suited. So it’s not just the graphics, the size of the ski is also important.

Kids Skis

Nearly all kid’s skis with the exception of some high performance powder, or race skis are nearly identical, not like the vast variety in adults models.

Height is the most important factor in order to choose their skis. Most children are height and weight proportionate, so usually a ski that falls between their eyebrows to their chin is acceptable.
Ski length closer to the eyebrows if their are more expirineced, linking parallel turns. If you have the kids height in centimeters, to choose the size of the ski simply substract 10 centimeters from their heigth.
Ski length closer to the chin if they are less experienced, still snowplowing, or still developing their skills, or substract 20 centimeters from their heigth in this case.

Kid’s skis are designed to be soft, forgiving, economical, and easy to learn with. They are strictly designed for children weighing less than 45 Kg. They typically have a soft, composite core that requires little mass or technique, and less presure to make the ski bend, flex, and react.

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