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Ski Buyers Guide

Taking a few factors into consideration will keep your search for the right pair of skis headache-free. Understanding your ability and preferred features helps finding that "Where have you been all my life?" - ski easier than signing up on

To start, determine your ability level. No one's judging, so be honest. A ski that's too advanced forces you to work harder than necessary to get a response. (And we want to save some of that energy for a nice apres-Pabst in the lodge)

Ability Level

Beginner - heading to the mountain for the first time or has a few days on-snow. Learning to "pizza" and get on/off the lift.

Intermediate - comfortable turning and skiing on blue trails

Advanced - comfortable on varying terrain, black diamond trails, and/or freestyle skiing in the park/pipe

Next, get familiar with the conditions you experience the most and how you like to ski. Alpine and Nordic are basic categories, each with several more specifically designed skis.

Types of Skis

Alpine or Downhill Skis have a fixed boot and binding system.

All-Mountain - versatile skis with an overall hourglass shape designed to carve in varying resort slope conditions

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Backcountry/Powder - wider skis best for floating over deep powder & skiing in unpredictable terrain

Slalom - shorter skis with a more pronounced hourglass shape & stiffer flex. Good for going fast & World Cup-style racing and require a little more effort to maneuver

Racing - much stiffer, narrower, and longer skis best for high-speeds

Nordic Skis use bindings that release in the heel.

Cross Country - light & narrow skis, with very minimal sidecut used by skating forward stride by stride

Telemark - heel bindings never lock in. turns are performed with one heel raised with the opposite leg bent forward

Once you've decided what type of ski you want, read up on the major features and how your height, weight & ability work into them. Find what specific factors you'll need to look for in a ski that'll produce your desired response & feel.

Variables in Choosing a Ski

Size - length of the ski in centimeters, tip to tail.

Determining the best ski length depends on height, weight, ability & style of skiing. If you're mostly riding hardpack or groomed snow, keep in mind that the shorter the ski, the more difficult it'll be to maintain control over. A ski that's too long on the other hand, will take maximum effort to turn & maneuver. New materials & manufacturing processes have allowed shorter skis to perform just as well as long ones, reducing ski height overall for all athletes.

Beginners or youth skiers up to age 12 should choose a ski that comes to the chin-area. Lighter athletes & freestyle skiers also prefer a shorter ski for better response & maneuverability.

For intermediate to advanced levels, all-mountain skiing, or athletes of average weight, skis should hit anywhere from chin to eyebrows.

Tall skis reaching the forehead and above, perform best in heavy powder or big-mountain terrain. Skiers with heavier frames will also find that longer and/or fatter skis provide more even weight distribution and better control.

Ski Width - expressed as 3 digits representing the millimeter width at the tip, waist & tail.

Width measurement is displayed in this format: 128/88/108. The greater the difference between waist-tip and waist-tail, the deeper the sidecut & quicker the ski will be to turn.

Narrow skis will be faster, quicker to initiate turns, and require less effort to control, whereas wide skis have more stability & float better in deep powder.

Sidecut - the curvature of the lengthwise, outer edge of a ski that affects turning capability.

Parabolic (or "shaped") skis are characterized by an exaggerated hourglass shape, and are widely popular because of their responsiveness. The severity of the sidecut determines just how shaped a ski appears.

Sidecut radius is measured as if this curve was extended to complete a full circle and is expressed in meters. A deep sidecut curve creates a smaller radius allowing for quicker, tighter turns. A shallow sidecut will have a larger turning radius making it better for longer, wider turns & maintaining control in high speeds.

Shape - the nose & tail measurements of a ski are designed to perform better in certain conditions.

Waist width, shovel (the widest part of the tip), and tail shapes influence how well a ski performs on different kinds of snow.

True twin tip - tip & tail of the ski have the same measurements. Preferred by freestyle skiers who face alternate directions when dropping into/landing jumps.

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Directional twin tip - skis that face in a primary direction with a wider tip and narrower tail. A wide tip will float more easily in deep snow.

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Profile - describes the flatness/elevation of the base when viewed from the side, focusing on tip, waist, & tail.

Camber - traditional "bow-ed" ski profile. When laying on a flat surface, the middle of the ski rises up with the very end of the tail & tip slightly upturned. Camber offers better edge hold, stability, & control in hard-packed snow or icy conditions.

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Rocker (reverse camber) - when lying on a flat surface, a rocker ski will have an overall convex or U-shape. They'll float better in powder & have a more lively, forgiving feel in all conditions. The severity of the rocker profile can vary; the most extreme curves perform best in powder while slight rocker or a rocker/camber combination work well on varying resort trails.

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Core - the materials that make up the interior of your skis & influence its overall strength, weight & flexibility.

The core is surrounded by the fiberglass, aluminum, carbon fiber, or titanium that makes up the ski's base & top sheet.

A laminated wood core is typically more expensive but offers a light, responsive ride & a durable, long-lasting ski.

Foam cores create very lightweight, flexible & fast skis. Many mogul/slalom skis feature foam cores.

Mixing 2 or more materials in a composite core allows manufacturers to mix qualities of each component (ex: using for stability, but adding foam to alleviate some weight).

Base - the waxed, bottom surface of your ski that glides across the snow

Flexibility - a ski's flexibility is given in 2 measurements; longitudinal (lengthwise) flex & torsional (widthwise) flex.

A ski with a stiff torsional flex will resist twisting & maintain edge hold at high speeds. Stiffer skis also provide more support for heavier athletes. A soft torsional flex means edges will come in contact with the snow sooner & make it easier to initiate turns.

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