Finding Your Perfect Pair of Skis: A Guide Through the World of Ski Buying // Helpful Ski Hints

Finding Your Perfect Pair of Skis

Photo Courtesy of Flickr User Skistar Trysil: Image has been altered.

With so many different ski brands, shapes, and technologies, buying your perfect pair of skis has become much more complex than it used to be. Ultimately it’s great to have this many options available as it means there’s most definitely going to be a pair of skis that suits your style of skiing perfectly. Still, it can be daunting to look for a new pair of skis, especially if you’re a first time buyer or haven’t bought new skis in a few years.

Whether its you’re first time buying, or you’re just looking for something different to ski on, our goal with this guide is to get you pointed in the right direction so you know what to look for. To get started, feel free to dive right into the text, or simply use the following flow chart to find which type of ski fits your style! We know there’s a lot of information here, so take your time and if you have any questions, feel free to give us a call, write us an E-mail, or leave us a comment right here on this article. Now, let’s dive into the guide!

Finding Your Perfect Pair of Skis: Flow Chart

Buying Beginner Skis:

Kids, Women, and Men:

This category is the easiest to advise. No matter if you're a grown adult of a kid who's just starting out, you're looking for the same thing. For your first pair of skis, you're going to want something that's maneuverable and won't hold you back. So the first thing you want to look for is if the ski has a soft flex. Fortunately, a general rule of thumb is that the cheaper skis are going to have a softer flex, as the "ingredients" of the ski are built with mostly synthetic materials which are cheaper to produce. The second thing to look for is the turn radius of the ski. For kids, you should expect to find a turn radius between 6-10m, and for adults expect the range to be roughly 10-15m. Along with that, skis that have a small amount of early rise in the tip and/or tail can help make it easier to learn turn initiation. Third, you'll want to take into account the width of the ski. Typically, I wouldn't recommend a ski that's any wider than 80mm for someone who's just starting out. Finally, and probably most importantly, you'll want to make sure that your ski is the proper length. With skis now days, beginners will want to find a ski that goes right up to their chin. This is especially true for children. While you may think you're saving money if you buy a ski that's a bit longer and expecting them to grow into it, the truth of the matter is that you're making it much more difficult for them to learn how to ski. So while you might expect a longer ski to last a kid for two seasons, you're really just making it more likely that your kid will become frustrated and hate skiing before the first season even ends.

Finding Your Perfect Pair of Skis: Beginner Skis

Buying Intermediate Skis:

The intermediate stage is when skiing gets to be a bit more fun. At this point, skiers can comfortably make it down the easiest trails and have little trouble with the Blue Square trails (intermediate runs). The nice thing about becoming an intermediate skier, is that you start to get some more options.

Kids: Option #1- More Beginner Skis

If your kid is showing improvement and becoming a better skier, but is still growing to the point where he needs longer skis each season, then you're probably fine buying more Junior skis. If your child is still growing at that rate, then chances are they're still small enough where they don't have the weight to really over power any of these skis.

Kids: Option #2- Young Adult Skis

This is basically the flip side of option #1. If your child is showing improvement and is clearly starting to outgrow the junior skis, then it might be time to transition them to a shorter adult ski. Typically, we see this switch start to happen around ages 12-13. At this point, your kid is probably starting to overpower the true junior skis, and should step up to the adult range. In doing this, make sure the ski is either a composite or wood core. Be sure to avoid any Metal or Carbon in its construction, and keep an eye on the waist width. Intermediate skiers should stay below 90mm, and ideally they'd find a ski between 75-85mm.

Kids: Option #3- Junior Twin Tip Skis

The third option for intermediate Junior skiers, are junior twin tip skis. These are a great choice if your kid is starting to show interest int he freestyle aspect of the sport. With a tweaked up tail, it'll give your little skier the chance to get into the mini-park and get a feel for what freestyle skiing is all about. Now I know some parents might be nervous about having their young skier going backwards, but that's not necessarily the only benefit of a twin tip ski. Think of it this way: whether you like it or not, some kids are just going to gravitate towards the park. They're going to want to try 180's and sliding small boxes, which could end up with them skiing backwards. If they're using a flat-tail ski, they run the risk of their tails catching on the snow and making them fall. So whether or not it makes you nervous, you might as well get them a ski that gives them a fighting chance of staying up when they're going backwards!

Women and Men

The good news here, is that intermediate Men and Women get the same advice. Now, that doesn't mean skis are unisex- typically the women's ski is softer than a men's ski, so it is still important to buy a ski for your gender. It's also worth noting here that besides the difference in flex patterns, the bindings on system skis (or skis that have their bindings integrated into the ski) are also gender specific, and provide another reason to look for skis for your own gender.

So what should you look for? For both men and women intermediate skiers, the big upgrade is going to be in the flex of the ski. While beginner skis tend to flex very easily, a good intermediate ski should begin to be a bit stiffer. The reason for this, is that intermediates start reaching speeds that will likely overpower the flex of beginner skis. Beyond that, the fun here really lies in the ability to start choosing the types of skis you like. While the array of options isn't as vast as it is for expert skis, you can still start buying skis based on how you like to ski. For instance, if you find yourself attracted to softer snow on the side of the trail, then you'll probably enjoy a ski with a wider tip, a bit of early rise, and maybe a slightly fatter waist, something around 80mm. On the other hand, if you're really looking to progress your carving ability, then you'll want something geared towards that. Look into skis that have integrated bindings, and a lower turn radius. A ski that's between 72-78mm is usually the sweet spot. Also, don't worry yet about getting metal or carbon in your skis. While a good heavy set or taller intermediate skier might find the extra stiffness helpful, a vast majority of intermediate skiers will simply struggle to reach the speeds needed to get stiffer skis turning.

One last thing worth mentioning, is that there can be a bit of a grey area between being a true intermediate, and a true expert skier. For that reason, we broke out a ton of advanced intermediate skis on our site that cater well to intermediate skiers who are transitioning over to true experts. Typically these skis will have some traits of both intermediate and expert skis.

Finding Your Perfect Pair of Skis: Intermediate Kids Skis Finding Your Perfect Pair of Skis: Intermediate Adult Skis

Buying Advanced Skis:

For advanced skiers, the advice is typically the same for men and women. The only real difference here, is that you can buy gender specific skis. Typically the two big differences here are the graphics and the available lengths. More often than not, expert women's skis will have nearly identical construction to expert men's skis. For instance, the Blizzard Black Pearl and Blizzard Bushwacker are essentially the same skis, just different in appearance and available length.

Hardpack Crushers: Gate Chasers

Okay, I'm going to be honest. If you're an advanced skier who races competitively, you'll probably know just as much as myself, if not more. If you belong in this category, I'm surprised you've even read this far. Stop acting like you need to do any research, and go buy the ski you know you want!

Hardpack Crushers: Frontside Fanatics

The frontside carvers have it relatively easy when it comes to finding that perfect groomer ski. Chances are, if you're an expert level skier who prefers groomers, then you're looking for two things: Something that can hold an edge, and something that's stable. In this case, you're going to want to find a ski with vertical sidewalls, and some metal in its construction. The metal construction will help the ski remain stable, while the vertical sidewalls help push your energy directly to the edge of your ski, improving edge hold ability. In terms of ski width, you’ll want to consider where you’re skiing. On the East and in the Midwest, things can get pretty firm so narrower is definitely going to perform better. If you’re a West Coast skier, you can afford to go a bit wider, but keep in mind the wider you go the harder it is to get a ski on edge. If frontside carving is really your thing, I'd try to find a ski between about 72mm-88mm. Once you start getting into that 90mm range, you're really starting to get back into the "One Ski Quiver" category, where you start giving up a bit of groomer performance to be able to take your skis into the loose snow more often.

Finding Your Perfect Pair of Skis: Advanced Skis

Powder Junkies: For the Faturdays

The basics of powder skis are pretty easy to understand. The fatter the ski, the more your weight is distributed and the better you’ll float. Lots of rocker also helps keep your skis above the snow. So if you’re looking for a ski that you’ll only use on powder days, then you want to find a ski with a nice, fat base, and plenty of width in the tip and tail. As you’re only using these skis on powder days, then go with something that has plenty of rocker. Not only will that help you float, but if you’re skiing technical lines then it'll also help you navigate more quickly. On that note, there is one major pitfall to watch out for when buying an East Coast powder ski: make sure you don't over do it. Sure out west using the 190 cm+, 140 mm waisted skis is no big deal, but have fun navigating a behemoth like that through shoulder width saplings here on the East. Typically, I've found skis in the 120's range to be totally suitable for East Coast powder days. Of course if you're an advanced powder junkie, you'll have your own opinions, so I won't name a "width-limit". Just heed my advice and don't over do it, or you'll find yourself buying slightly smaller powder skis the next year. If you’re on the West Coast though, then the sky’s the limit! Without mandatory tree lines, there is a lot less reason to worry about your skis being too big to fit in your line.

Finding Your Perfect Pair of Skis: Powder Skis

Powder Junkies: One Ski Quiver

A lot of advanced skiers either can't afford or can't reason with themselves to buy two pairs of skis. The holy grail in skiing has always been the "One Ski Quiver," and while we're getting a lot closer, it's still out of reach. No matter what type of skier you are, the fact of the matter is you'll never be able to shred groomers as well on a powder ski, or float effortlessly through the trees on a frontside carver. Still, skis have been getting much better at handling diverse terrain, so there is still hope for us one ski quiver types. If this sounds like your approach to finding skis, take a second and break down both the type of skiing that you like to do, and how often you get to do it. If you ski in the midwest or East coast, then remember to be realistic about how many powder days you get each year. Even if you absolutely love powder skiing, you have to keep in mind that we probably won't have more than a handful of days each season that truly require a ski over 120cm. For most midwest and East Coast skiers looking for a one ski quiver, I’d recommend something between 90cmm-105mm underfoot. Skis in this range are nimble enough to enjoy on trails while still being able to handle some deeper snow on those elusive powder days. If you’re a West Coast skier though, you can afford to stay a bit fatter. The main reason is that you don’t deal with as much ice from day to day, so you don’t have to worry as much about a ski being able to really lay into carves. In my mind, a good width for a one ski quiver on the West Coast is 100mm-110mm. That should be enough to help you keep up with your friends on deep days, while not prohibiting a good time on the groomers.

AT Skiers: Powder Chasers

I'm going to give you guys the same advice I gave to East Coast powder skiers: Don't overdo it! Even if you're only going out in the days following a storm, and even if you're not going on multi-day outings, it's still typically not worth it to use enormous powder skis for your setup. Likewise, you're probably not going to want metal in your touring skis. Even though skins make AT skiing easy, you have to keep in mind that you're still hiking a mountain, and that can get pretty tiring. You're going to find yourself with much more energy at the top of your run if you got there on a pair of 100-120mm skis with a light wood core, than getting there on something super fat, super long, and with layers of metal. Now, there might be some West Coast skiers who would disagree on the no metal claim, and that’s with good reason. There certainly are a lot of AT skiers out West who climb some extremely steep, technical lines and the added weight of metal is less important than the ski’s stability. Still, that’s a relatively small group of skiers, and so I’d still recommend avoiding metal to most people.

AT Skiers: Trekkers

If you're not an AT skier who's out chasing leftovers, then chances are you're the type of AT skier who is out for recreation. Whether your goal is to get some good exercise, enjoy nature, or simply to escape crowds, most AT skiers are going to want to look for skis with the same traits. First and foremost, you want your skis to be as light as possible. With more and more skis being built for AT skiers, this means going beyond skis that lack metal in their construction. Thanks to the growing interest in this segment of our sport, companies are making super light skis by doing things like using lighter wood and using different construction techniques. Take for instance a ski like the Nordica Hell's Belles, which uses their I-Core technology to make the ski 20% lighter. If you're not out chasing powder, then weight should definitely be your primary concern.

One last thing I do want to mention though, is that you should try to avoid skis on the narrower side of the spectrum. Even if you're not out to find fresh turns, chances are you'll still find yourself breaking trail most of the time. Plus, on the way back down, you won't be skiing a run that's been packed down by groomers and snow machines, so you won't want to try reducing the skis weight by going narrower. Personally, I'd try to stay above 85mm for any ski I plan to use for touring.

Finding Your Perfect Pair of Skis: AT Skiers

Parks Patrol: Send'er!

If you're the type of park skier who likes to hit the biggest jump in the park, spin onto rails, air out of half pipes, or just generally "go big", then you're this type of park skier. Typically skiers like this will want a somewhat narrow ski, combined with sidewall construction and a layer or two of metal. The reason is, that on large features, there's almost always an instance of high impact. Imagine coming down on the landing of a 60 foot jump, leaning back ever so slightly. On a pair of solid, stiff skis, you'll likely be able to land just fine as your skis will support the pressure and your momentum will bring you down. In contrast, a pair of softer skis would likely wash out on the landing, leaving you flat on your... well, you know.

Finding Your Perfect Pair of Skis: Park Skis

Parks Patrol: Smooth + Buttery

You know how almost everyone thought grunge and punk music was just terrible, but in reality it was bad in a good way? Well, that's kind of what buttery park skis are in the world of skiing. The bastard child of skis... the ones that really shouldn't be advanced skis, yet they somehow are. If you're the type of park skier who loves finding tiny transitions, doing nose butters, stalls, presses, or any other trick that has more to do with pushing the limits of your skis than the limits of how fast you spin, then this is the category for you.

When looking for a park ski like this, there are two characteristics to keep in mind. First, you'll want the ski to be somewhat wide, anywhere from 95mm to 105mm. This extra width is extra useful for any trick that finds your weight over the tips or tails of your skis. For instance, when you're doing a nose press, it's going to be a lot easier for you to balance on skis with a nice wide platform than narrower skis meant for quick spins.

The second thing you'll want to look out for is how stiff the ski is. If you want to be pressing, you're definitely not going to want a ski with metal in it. Getting a ski with metal in it to bend into a press is just about impossible and you're more likely to hurt yourself than to land the trick. On the other hand, you'll want to keep an eye on just how soft your skis are getting. While you may be completely fine with a ski that's a noodle, you do want to keep in mind that a ski with at least a little bit of stiffness is going to be more versatile all over the mountain. Ideally, your park skis will be made with a full wood core (for moderate flex and durability), and feature a small amount of early rise to help get you on your tips.

So there you have it, our complete guide to ski buying! Whether you're a first time buyer, or just interested in trying out a different type of ski, we hope our guide helped you get started in the right direction! If you have any further questions, feel free to give us a call, shoot us an E-mail, or ask in the comments section below!


Written by on 2/11/14