Ski Tips > Gear > The Recreational Skier's Guide to Buying Skis
The Recreational Skier's Guide to Buying Skis
Flex, Camber, Rocker, Sidecut; when buying skis, it seems that there is an endless list of features to consider. Our new guide provides some simple guidelines to better understand the nuances of the hundreds of skis on the market and help you decide amongst the few that best suit your needs. Consider this your complete guide to buying skis when you love skiing but don’t know where to start.
When to Buy Skis: It’s never a bad time to invest in the greatest sport on earth, but springtime is generally when you can find the best end-of-season deals on the latest gear.
Where to Buy Skis: Sites like backcountry.com and evo.com often have blowout sales on brand new gear during the spring. Act fast though, as this inventory doesn’t last long. REI.com is another national retailer and is especially awesome for REI Co-op members who receive a dividend with every purchase. The internet is helpful for doing extensive product research. We especially like Evo’s breakdown of ski features and tech specifications by category covering everything from rocker type, flex and sidecut to binding compatibility, turning radius and width. For example, see Evo's breakdown of the Line Skis ‘Blade’ ski here.
Local ski shops, however, are still the best places to buy skis. Nothing beats a face-to-face talk with experts when selecting the perfect ski for your needs. Pricing at local ski shops is generally competitive due to their dealer discounts.
Try to Demo Skis: Many ski shops have awesome demo programs. Nothing beats trying the ski before you buy it and many of these programs allow you to apply the cost of the demo to the purchase of the ski. Most shops have locations at the base of the resort, making it easy to demo. Larger chains like Christy Sports are reliable and have locations at many resorts in the West. Christy Sports also allows you to apply two days worth of demo costs to your ski purchases. When demoing a ski, always make sure to inquire about applying the cost of your demo to the purchase of a pair of skis.
KEY CONSIDERATIONS TO FIND YOUR BEST SKI
THE ANATOMY OF A SKI
The Optimal Width is a Function of Terrain Type and Skill Level. First and foremost, where do you spend most of your time skiing? For those who spend the majority of their days on the hard pack of the Eastern mountains, the best ski width will be in the 80-95mm range. A narrow ski is also lighter, allowing you to turn more efficiently. A narrower, lighter ski will not “float” as much, but out East you seldom need assistance to stay above the snow. Narrower skis can be easier for beginners because they are lighter and easier to maneuver.
If you spend the majority of your time skiing powdery slopes out West, we recommend a ski with a waist width of around 100mm (plus/minus 5mm).
For the backcountry or even off-piste within the resort, it’s better to go for a slightly wider ski, ~110mm underfoot. The extra width will make it easier to keep your tips up while navigating lighter snow.
Since greens, and often blues, tend to be well groomed, if you plan to spend more time in this type of terrain, go narrower. The extra width is less useful on the easier slopes of big mountains as the grooming will prevent skis from sinking into the snow. Narrower skis also lower the force needed to turn, which can be helpful when working to string turns together.
Waist Width (mm)
80 - 95
95 - 105
Hard packed, groomed/Northeast
Lighter, deeper powder/West
Length is dependent on both your height and ability level. Ski length charts, like the one pictured below, are easy to find online and should be referenced when buying skis. The general adage is that your ski should be about nose height.
Beginners should err on the shorter side - chin height. Shorter skis are easier to manage, generally lighter and less likely to cross.
Experts should consider a ski that is about their height. This will create more stability due to the increased surface area connecting you with the snow. This is especially useful on steep slopes. Also consider a longer ski if you are someone who skis fast and aggressively, ski off piste, or want a ski with a lot of rocker.
SKI LENGTH CHART
We look to Makaela Shiffrin for further context on ski length. The needs of a shaped slalom ski are a good parallel with what most recreational skiers will need during a typical day on the mountain. They tend to provide quick turning radius, the ability to handle chop, and some flotation in powder. For example, Mikaela Shiffrin is 5'7 and uses shaped, 155 slalom skis for sharp turning, but straight 225s for downhill (speed, stability, hardpack). While every person is different, if you're close to her height, you can probably get away with similar sizing, or even smaller. You probably don't need those 170s you've been eyeballing that are as tall as you are.
MORE KEY TERMS & FEATURES
Nerd out with these other key features.
Powder hounds are going to want to pick a ski with some sort of hollow tip technology. Lighter tips, like those of the Rossignol Honeycomb design, will help you stay above the snow while the weight of your skis will make it easier to maneuver on the mountain.
The downward curve a modern ski tends to have right under the mid-foot. This gives a ski it’s bow-like shape. When the skier is pressing down on the ski, camber allows for more precise and more fluid turning while in motion, especially when on hard snow. For East Coast skiing, make sure to pick a ski with a cambered shape.
Rocker is the reverse of camber. A rockered ski has tips that slope up, almost like the base of a rocking chair. Rocker is a useful feature of the modern shaped ski as it helps keep the rider afloat while also facilitating turn initiation. Rockered skis are great for big mountain resort skiers as they give you the benefits of a wide ski while keeping you nimble as if you were on a thinner ski.
The curvature along the sides of a ski. The more dramatic a ski’s hourglass shape, the more sidecut it has. The more aggressive the sidecut, the tighter the turning radius. Under a 15 foot turning radius is ideal for a skier who spends his time on the slopes carving. For those who just want to go full speed downhill, find a ski with a turning radius of over 20 feet, as it will have a straighter shape, almost like that of a downhill racing ski.
MISTAKES TO AVOID
Buying without trying. While online resources are helpful for getting up to speed, we’re big believers in try before you buy. Demo programs are a helpful and cost effective way to become familiar with your skis. Don’t miss the opportunity to apply your demo costs to your purchase.
Buying a ski for your aspirational ability. Be realistic in your skill level and terrain selection when purchasing skis. There is no need to be a hero and choose a ski that is too long.
Buying an overly specific ski when you ski a variety of terrain. Remember snow conditions can change rapidly so consider skis that are versatile.
Buying based on physical appearance. Just because there is a new cool design or color palette, it may not be the right choice for you