Ultimate Ski Guide – How to Choose the Best Skis

In this guide, you will learn about the different types of skis and what to look for.

As a person who learned to ride with rented skis, choosing my own pair of skis was difficult. When you rent skis, the shop chooses them for you so you don’t need to care about anything. As a counterpart, you don’t learn what makes for a good pair of skis.

I made a lot of research to find the most important things to consider. In this ski guide, I summarize it to help you get through that difficult decision. We explain the most important things to look for when choosing your skis.

If you want to know what all this means and how to use it to choose your skis, this ski guide is for you. You don’t need to know everything about skis, I’ve summarized the most important things for you.

Ski Design

Ski Camber

Camber is the arc (or bow) of your skis. If you put them on flat, you will see that the center doesn’t touch the ground.

The camber makes skis behave like a spring. They flatten when you are on them due to your weight, and curve back when you release force.

This makes your skis feel lighter and more lively. It is helpful when initiating turns, as you change the position of your body weight.

Ski Rocker

Rocker skis have more curve in the tip and/or tail. With the ends lifted, skis keep over the snow and bumps more easily. This improves flotation in powder snow and makes them more forgiving and playful.

Rockers also shorten the camber, so contact points are closer to your boots. Turn initiation gets easier and maneuverability increases in tight spaces. It’s popular in freestyle, freeride, and powder skiing, where agility and stability are crucial. Wide powder skis are also rockered.

Skis Profiles

The combination of camber and rocker creates different profiles. You can have rocker in one end, on both ends, you can have no camber at all… Each combination offers a different performance, choose the best one for you.

Standard Alpine

A ski with camber and no rockers. It’s the most common profile and racers use it because of its grip. Contact points are close to the ski ends, which makes them hard for powder but stable on hard and groomed snow.

The camber results in a better grip on the ground and easy turns thanks to its spring-like shape. When flexed, the weight distributes through the whole ski from tip to tail, being those the highest pressure points.

Rocker/Camber (Tip rocker)

This profile maintains the camber in the rear and its spring-like performance while rising the tip of the ski. Rocker in the tip moves the front ground contact point closer to your boots.

As the tip rises, your skis perform better when encountering bumps. The flotation on powder increases without sacrificing hard snow. This offers a hybrid solution that aims to perform well in many terrains.

It’s important to consider that this is an asymmetric profile, so it doesn’t ski-switch well.

Rocker/Camber/Rocker (Tip and tail rocker):

Both ends, tip and tail, rise while maintaining the camber.

Contact points get closer to the boots and the pressure exerts almost below your feet. You then become more agile while maintaining some grip from the camber.

Turns become more fluid and flotation increases, allowing for a playful ride. The profile is symmetric and facilitates ski switch. It’s popular in freestyle and parks.

Rocker/Flat/Rocker

This profile puts the pressure right under your feet. It provides high maneuverability and flotation, but keeps some edgehold while prescinds of flex and spring.

It has a balanced performance between a rocker/camber/rocker ski and a full rocker one.

Full Rocker

Full rocker skis have reverse camber. It means that if you put them flat, you will see that only the center touches the ground.

This is the shape that every ski achieves when put on edge. It produces a spring effect too, but there is only one contact point to the ground instead of two.

Rising the two ends produces excellent flotation and handling, but makes it hard to control at high speeds and in groomed snow. You will hardly see full rockers in thin skis.

Skis Width

It comes in three dimensions across the whole ski, measured by millimeters: Tip/waist/tail.

Ski Waist

It is the most important, as it determines the contact area with the ground.

  • Wider: Big surface, which is best for powder snow and flotation.
  • Narrower: Help you edge faster when turning. It’s best for graceful turns and maneuverability.

Ski Tip

Also called the shovel. It initiates turns.

  • Wider: Enhances flotation and is best for soft snow.
  • Narrower: On groomed snow it will make your skis more stable but difficult to turn.

Ski Tail

The tail sustains your skis when taking a turn and prevents skids. It’s important for pro skiers.

  • Wider: A bigger surface produces more drag. It lowers the loss of speed when you turn, especially on tight ones.
  • Narrower: Smoothie and easier to control. Best for wide turns and non-experienced skiers.

Ski Sidecut

The side of a ski forms a radius on its edge. This curve is the natural turning radius of your ski.

A narrow waist produces a shorter sidecut, so the ski turns more.

The ski will ease turns of that same radius. If you have a high sidecut your ski will tend to go straight. But it will perform best at narrow turns with a low sidecut.

Its size depends on the waist, tip, and tail width. The bigger the waist, the bigger the sidecut. But the bigger the tip and tail, the smaller the radius.

  • Short sidecut (<15m): Most skis have this. They are best your groomed pistes so you can perform fast turns.
  • Medium sidecut (15m-20m): Skis in this range can perform well in every terrain but don’t specialize.
  • Long sidecut (>20m): These skis keep very stable so they perform well on freerides.

Ski Bindings

Most fix your heel and are best for alpine skiing. Bindings that let your heels free are for backcountry touring and telemarking.

System Skis (Integrated bindings)

Most skis come with already integrated bindings. This is ideal for most skiers as you don’t have to worry about anything. The manufacturer has already made sure that they fit perfectly.

Yet, you should always ask an expert to adjust them to your boots.

Nonintegrated bindings

Best for advanced skiers. You can choose your preferred bindings and adjust them as you want. That way, you can customize things such as edge hold, flex, or the required release force.

Skis Length

The size of your skis depends on your height, weight, ability, and personal preferences. As a rule of thumb, they should reach your face.

Shorter skis

  • For beginners
  • If your weight is low.
  • On-piste.
  • Want to make short and fast turns.

Longer skis

  • For Intermediate/Advanced.
  • If your weight is high.
  • All-round.
  • Want to go fast.

It’s best to start with yourself and then adjust to the intended use.

In general, longer skis are faster but difficult to control. Shorter ones are easier to turn, but slower and less stable.

If you want to know more, check out our ski length calculator.

Gender or Age

Every body is different, and so is our weight distribution. We explain how women’s and kids’ skis are different from men’s.

Women’s Skis

Women usually are shorter and lighter than men. Even though, given a woman with the same weight and height as a man, her center of gravity will be lower. This is important because the leverage on the ski won’t be the same.

You lean when taking a turn, and your center of gravity misaligns with your feet. In this position, you would fall if you were still.

Women’s skis are different because of it. They have fewer layers, softer cores, and are thinner and shorter. Thanks to that, they are smaller and lighter. The mounting position also moves forwards for a softer ride.

There is no problem if you choose to use male skis. But you can perform better with skis designed for your gender.

Kids’ Skis

You could think it’s a good idea to buy your kids longer skis, so they can ride them for a few years. That’s what we do with clothes after all. Yet, it doesn’t go well with skis.

Long skis are difficult to control and could be dangerous for inexperienced kids. They should only wear skis for their size, or even lower. It’s recommended that kids under 6 wear skis a few inches below their chin.

Renewing their skis as they grow is expensive, so it’s a good idea to rent instead of buy. Once your kids become adults, you can buy them a nice pair of skis they won’t outgrow.

Ability

As with every sport, there are skis for every ability level. Technology has opened the opportunity to use almost every type of ski if you are a newbie or a pro. Yet, these guidelines can make your experience better.

Ability Indicator Chart

Beginner Skis

Beginners are those who feel confident at lower speeds and easy terrain. You are here if you run green and blue pistes but don’t perform well on steeper slopes with ice or bumps.

Your skis will be on the shorter range to help you get confident and don’t punish you for minor mistakes. It’s forgiveness and ease of turn is perfect to practice and progress quickly.

They will have standard alpine camber to ensure grip and control. It is also good that they have some rocker to help you start turns and help them be less sticky. In that line, they will be narrow and with a short sidecut to ease your movement.

Beginner’s skis have capped soft cores, such as foam o wood, to soften the flex and help in your turns.

Intermediate Skis

Most skis are for intermediates, including rental ones. These skis can take you through black or red pistes, and ungroomed snow.

They will keep a standard alpine camber and be a bit longer than beginner ones, in the medium-length range. Width also increases while the sidecut reduces. This will all help you achieve faster speeds while maintaining some grip.

Be careful if riding off-piste. Intermediate skis use strong materials, but may still be hard to control over bumps and powder snow. There are dedicated skis to ride off-piste better suited for that.

Advanced Skis

Advanced skis are often specialized in one terrain or skiing style to get the most out of it. They are the longest ones to help you reach the highest speeds. But, if you want to ride the whole mountain, you need an all-round ski that depends more on your skills than on the ski itself.

You can find extreme configurations within advanced skis. There are infinite widths, profiles, and binding combinations to cover any situation. This freedom will allow you to customize your experience.

High-end skis seek to improve your performance. They have premium materials such as alloys or carbon fiber. They are strong and stiff to provide grip and stability at high speeds. This also makes them difficult to control, as it relies on you to know what are you doing.

Terrain

On-Piste Skis

Snow will be always groomed and ready for you when skiing on-piste.

Pistes have groomed snow, with few bumps and almost no powder snow. In general, it’s best to have skis with a standard alpine camber profile.

It’s common to see narrow skis. Those will allow quicker turns and carving thanks to their fast edge changes. Also, short and medium skis are best for this.

Look for long and wide skis with big sidecuts if you want to go fast. They will make it difficult to take turns, but their stability will allow you to reach the fastest speeds.

All Mountain Skis

If you plan to ski both on and off-piste, be prepared to ride powder snow.

The most versatile skis. They can handle almost every terrain, but won’t perform as well as specialized ones.

All mountain skis fall in the intermedium-low ranges. They have a medium width and a medium length, with some camber and tip rocker. Their purpose is to perform well all around, from groomed snow to powder or ice.

Advanced skiers will get the most out of them. Pros can best adapt to different conditions, even if their skis are masters of none.

All Mountain Wide Skis

Also called Mif-fats or fats.

These skis feature a wider waist to enhance stability in ungroomed snow. Flotation increases and it’s easier to ride in powder or sloppy snow.

Powder Skis

Also called super fats.

They are best for ungroomed terrains, such as freeride or powder snow. These skis are in the wide range to provide outstanding flotation and control over bumps.

Most have rocker ends to further help in difficult terrains, and even full rocker profiles. The goal is to prevent edges from catching. These skis provide a playful feel like surfing.

Backcountry Touring Skis

Taking your heels off the skis allows you to walk uphill more comfortably.

Also called alpine touring, they are best for wild terrain. These skis can go both downhill and uphill, with the help of climbing skins.

Since you will go uphill, their special bindings allow you to detach your heels. That way you can walk in a natural way, raising your knees. It’s also a convenient way to try Telemark.

Backcountry skis are lighter to make your excursions easier. The wider ones are for deep snow in winter, whereas the narrower ones are best for spring and long distances due to their low weight.

Freeride Skis (off-piste)

Freeride skis can handle most of the surprises you will encounter off-piste.

Freeride skis are usually bigger than on-piste ones. It’s best to have a wide and stable surface to go over powder snow and big bumps.

If you plan to freeride, try to get the largest skis you can handle. It’s also a good idea to focus on rocker over camber, even if it means going full rocker. That way you will have great flotation and stability in hard terrains.

They are made of hard materials to resist jumps and impacts.

Carving Skis

Fast turns bend you down. You can even touch the ground with your hands!

Carving skis are the ones with smaller sidecuts. They aim at making the perfect turns with fast edge changes.

These skis have the narrowest waists but wide tips and tails. They are really responsive and will help you learn how to turn if you are a beginner.

Advanced skiers can use them on steep slopes or in slalom races where quick edge changes are a must.

Freestyle and SnowPark Skis

Freestyle skis are symmetrical and can handle jumps and bar grinding.

These skis featured camber profiles, but are now using rocker more. They are narrow and with short sidecuts. They focus on agility, speed of movement, and maneuverability.

Freestyle skis always come with twin tips. It means that they are symmetrical and have the same rocker in the tip and tail. This allows you to ride backward and smoother slides.

These skis are more durable and have bigger edges. Need less waxing and have reinforced zones to perform tricks.

How to Choose Skis

Understanding your skiing style, ability level, and the various ski types available, can help you decide. In case of doubt, we recommend you start riding on pistes with short skis. You can start experimenting with new things when you feel comfortable and want to take the next step.

Trying out different skis through rentals can provide valuable insights and help you make a more informed decision. Don’t hesitate to ask ski experts, instructors, or experienced skiers for personalized advice.

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Daniel Espada

Daniel Espada

Daniel Espada is a passionate adventurer, certified scuba diver, and the mind behind geardventure.com. With a background in Engineering, Daniel combines his technical knowledge and love for the outdoors to create content that not only informs, but inspires action.
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