Buying Guide: How to choose your skis
SKI REVIEWS: HOW TO USE THEM
It is often difficult to get reliable advice when choosing a ski. Stores are obviously interested in selling the models they have in stock, and their selection is usually very limited.
Ski reviews offer several advantages:
- They are independent from the products sold by the retailers.
- They are performed by professional reviewers or strong technical skiers.
- They are carried out using a precise testing methodology (snow, terrain, ratings, etc...).
- They allow you to choose from a wide selection of models.
Ski reviews often select the “best skis” in each sector of the market. These are the “best skis”... according to the criteria of the review, which are often set by professional skiers who are very strong technical skiers.
In many cases, the “best ski” of the review isn’t necessarily the ski most suited to your needs. A ski with a slightly lower score, but that is more accessible or more versatile may prove to be a wiser choice. Read the reviews of the testers and make your choice keeping in mind your skiing ability and what you plan to use the ski for.
GEARSCORE’s mission is to help internet users buy the skis best suited to their needs at the best price.
GEARSCORE’s selection process is based on the relevance of the information for the internet user: the testing process, the reviewers' skiing abilities, the technical content in the review, independence from the brands, product differentiation, and measurement of ski stiffness, etc., are all criteria that will be taken into account.
We don’t test skis on the mountain like we test canned goods at the end of a production line. The weather conditions, the terrain, the snow conditions, the reviewers, the models in contention, the testing methodology used by the publisher are all factors that may affect the evaluation of a ski. Therefore, the assessment of the same ski may vary from one review to another or from one season to another. However, experience shows that the reviews tend to be similar, and that there are very few significant differences of opinion.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE PERFECT SKI
What practice do you want to buy skis for?
- On-piste, off-piste, or both?
- Gentle, intermediate, or steep slopes?
- Smooth terrain or moguls?
- Soft or hard snow?
- Do you skid or carve your turns?
- Short turns, long turns, at high speed?
- Low: beginner or novice
- Intermediate: capable of making skidded parallel turns, comfortable on intermediate slopes (red runs).
- Advanced: capable of making carved turns, and starting to increase edge angles while carving, comfortable on steep slopes
- Expert: capable of carving and creating big edge angles (carving), comfortable in all snow conditions and on very steep slopes. Comfortable off-piste.
You can choose a ski designed for a level slightly higher than yours.
First, decide which category matches your needs.
If you are a low-intermediate or intermediate skier, look at the categories that focus on accessibility or ease of use (“Easy cruisers” on ProSkiLab, and “Frontside” on Neveitalia, for example).
If you are an advanced to expert skier, choose a category based on the type of skiing you plan to do.
- Slalom: if you are a good skier, are in good shape, and like nimble and responsive skis.
- Giant slalom: if you are a good skier, are in good shape, and like to go fast and make long turns
- Carvers: if you want a ski that is lively but less technical and less demanding than a slalom or giant slalom ski
- Cruisers: if you want an all-purpose ski which is easy and performs well
- All-mountain: if you want a ski that performs well on piste and off-piste
- Freeride: if you ski mostly off-piste
Once you have chosen a category, choose the ski that best matches your needs based on the comments on the various criteria: scores, reviewers' opinions, price, etc.
These are slalom, giant slalom, or super-G skis made for racers, and comply with the regulations of the International Ski Federation (FIS). These skis are very demanding and are designed exclusively for racing. They are in no way suited for “recreational” use.
The design is often based on FIS skis, but they are less stiff and more forgiving. They would be great for an athletic skier who doesn’t necessarily want to race.
Slalom skis have a smaller turn radius, quick turn initiation, excellent edge grip, and good rebound at the end of the turn. They are agile and responsive skis.
Giant slalom skis are made for long turns at high speeds. They have a longer turn radius and provide exceptional edge grip and stability.
Generally speaking, you have to have good technique and be in good shape to ski on these skis.
There are different sub-categories:
- Beginner skis
These skis are made for low-level skiers. They are relatively soft and facilitate snow plow turns, skidded turns, and pivoted turns. Certain ski reviews like Proskilab evaluate the ski’s ability to allow the skier to progress towards carved turns.
- Carvers skis
These skis are performance-oriented but are less technical and specialized than slalom or giant slalom skis.
- All-round skis
These are wider skis, approximately 80mm to 85mm under foot, which are designed to be skied in all types of snow. They can be taken off-piste.
In certain countries, where skiing is mostly on groomed trails, the “all-round” skis are sometimes confused with “all-mountain” skis.
These skis are designed solely for off-piste skiing. They are designed to maximize flotation and maneuverability in powder as well as in chopped-up snow. Consequently, they are very wide (more than 100 mm in the waist), and almost always equipped with rocker technology (where the ski base is raised in the front and/or back of the ski).
This category is often divided into two sub-categories:
- “Fat Freeride” (Wide skis with a classic shape)
- “Big Mountain Rocker” (Wide skis with a lot of rocker and sometimes reverse camber).
The width, lack of stiffness, big rocker or reverse camber of these skis mean they usually perform poorly on groomed slopes.
These skis were designed to be used on-piste and off-piste.
The industry often divides this category into two sub-categories:
- All-mountain skis geared more towards on-piste skiing
These skis are called “All Mountain 70% piste/ 30% freeride” (FR), “All-Mountain East” (US), “All-Mountain Frontside” (US).
These skis are 85 mm to 92 mm in the waist and perform well on groomed slopes. The extra width and tip rocker allow them to perform adequately off-piste. These are the ideal skis for someone who enjoys skiing groomers but also likes to go off the side occasionally when the conditions are good.
- Versatile All-Mountain skis
These skis are designed for an equal balance of on-piste and off-piste skiing.
They are called “All-Mountain 50% piste/50% freeride” (FR), “All-mountain West” (US), “All-mountain back” (US).
With a waist of 92 to 100 mm, these skis are designed for skiing on groomed trails as well as in fresh powder snow.
- All-Mountain Freeride skis
Certain reviews and manufacturers have a category which is 30% piste/70% freeride.
Note: It should be pointed out that the description “All-mountain” is not the same in each country. In Germany, Austria, and Italy, where skiing is more piste-oriented, this category includes narrower skis, with a width of approximately 80 to 92 mm, and anything wider is classified as “freeride.”
Freestyle skis are designed for the snow park and doing tricks. They usually have twin tips to facilitate riding switch. Some other popular characteristics of these skis are: Center mounting to facilitate aerial maneuvers, pop (the energy released from the tail of the ski during jumps), and absorption of the ski during landings.
Some of these skis are designed for jumping or doing freestyle off-piste. We call these “All-Mountain Freestyle” or “Freestyle Backcountry” or “Powder Freestyle.”
These skis allow you walk up a hill by attaching skins to the bases of your skis and using touring bindings, which allow you to lift your heel. Backcountry or alpine touring skis have traditionally been narrow to make traversing easier and to minimize weight. But now, manufacturers offer a line of wider skis that make it a little harder during the ascent but are more fun to ski on the way down.
A relatively new sector of the market, “Freeride Touring” is a combination of backcountry and freeride skiing. Freeride touring skis are freeride or light all-mountain skis, mounted with touring or hybrid bindings. They allow a freeride skier to access more terrain from a ski area and to seek out virgin slopes that are otherwise inaccessible. They are more performance-oriented during the descent and are thus generally heavier than traditional touring skis. Therefore, it’s hard to do huge ascents on them.
IMPORTANT FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A SKI
The shape of the ski will have a significant effect on its performance. By looking at the ski shape we usually get a good indication of how it will perform.
Modern skis, also known as parabolic skis or shaped skis, have an hourglass shape, which may be more or less pronounced. This shape affects the performance of a ski, in conjunction with other factors, such as the flex pattern, the weight of the skier, and so on.
A ski with a lot of shape (or deep sidecut) usually means that it is designed for groomed slopes. The parabolic shape makes it easier to flex the ski, get on the edge quicker when carving, and make shorter radius turns. Slalom skis and carving skis often have a very deep sidecut. Giant slalom skis have a longer radius and a more traditional shape.
On the other hand, all-mountain freeride skis are straighter to increase flotation in powder, facilitate skidded turns, and avoid catching the tail in difficult snow.
The shape is more or less determined by the sidecut which is expressed in millimeters and indicates the dimensions of the ski: the width of the tip (front of the ski), the waist (middle of the ski), and the tail (back of the ski). A big difference in width between the waist, tip, and tail mean that the ski has a pronounced shape or a lot of sidecut.
A ski is designed to flex as a function of the weight of the skier and the forces applied to it. Even distribution of ski pressure on the snow is crucial.
Ideally, the flex should be spread evenly along the length of the ski. However, it seems that certain manufacturers deliberately make the front of the ski softer to facilitate turn initiation and make the tail stiffer to increase edge grip and rebound.
Rocker is when the ski is raised off the ground/snow before the real tip starts (tip rocker) or before the tail (tail rocker).
Most modern skis have tip rocker, including some slalom and giant slalom skis.
Rocker makes it easier to pivot beginner skis. In variable snow, rocker makes the ski more forgiving. In all-mountain and freeride skis, rocker helps flotation in powder.
However, tip rocker must not be excessive. When there is too much tip rocker, it hinders turn initiation because the raised tip cannot engage. It also reduces the stability and precision of the ski due to the reduced effective edge length, and because the tip tends to float and chatter at high speeds.
To simplify matters, we can say that there are three types of camber, which are often combined with tip and/or tail rocker.
- Traditional camber
When the ski is laid flat, it makes contact with the ground at the tip and tail but curves upward in center. The camber is designed to better distribute the pressure exerted by a skier in motion (weight + horizontal and vertical forces) on the length of the ski and on the edges. This type of camber is mainly used on carving or all-mountain skis.
- Flat camber
When the ski is laid flat, it makes contact with the ground along its entire length, except for the tip and tail rockers. This type of camber is used for all-mountain and freeride skis.
- Reverse camber
When the ski is laid flat, it touches the ground at its center and rises up progressively through the tip and tail.
- Tip shape
The tip shape and the rocker profile affect the performance of the ski at the beginning of the turn.
The radius of the ski is the radius of the turn that the ski will naturally make if we put it on edge and apply pressure. It varies from 11 to 30 meters for most recreational skis. The shorter the radius, the better the ski will be in short turns, and vice versa.
A deep sidecut (a distinct hourglass shape) makes it easier to bend the ski and shorten the turn. The deeper the sidecut and the more pronounced the hourglass shape, the tighter the radius of the turn will be.
The width of a ski is measured at the waist (the middle of the ski) in millimeters. The narrower a ski is, the more it is geared towards skiing on groomed runs, and the more it can move quickly from edge to edge. The wider it is, the more it is suited to off-piste, variable snow, and powder due to the increased flotation. The width is often included in its name.
For example, the Rossignol “Experience 94 Ti” is a ski that is 94 mm underfoot.
There are two types of construction:
Foam is injected into a mold, sometimes along with other materials, then heated to form a core. This is an economical manufacturing process by which certain entry-level skis can be produced. The technical level of these skis depends in large part on the reinforcement materials that are added before injection (different materials greatly affect how a ski performs on the snow).
In sandwich construction, materials are layered and then placed under pressure in a mold. The majority of skis are manufactured using this method.
In the center of the sandwich is the core, which is often made from wood (wood core).
Numerous high-end skis use materials meant to improve the mechanical characteristics and the performance of the ski. The main materials used are:
Contrary to what its name would suggest, it is not titanium (a rare and expensive metal), but a trade name given to an alloy comprised mostly of aluminum and zinc, which has excellent mechanical properties. Skis using this material can usually be spotted when the letters “Ti” are included in the name.
Another alloy with an aluminum base.
Carbon is often used to make a ski lighter and/or increase stiffness.
The edges are the metal borders of the ski which increase grip on hard snow.
Very few consumers are going to focus on the design of ski edges before buying a ski, but a bit of information on the subject is always useful.
The edge angle is the angle formed by the vertical part of the edge (the side edge) and the base of the ski. This angle varies between 90 degrees (a right angle) and 85 degrees. The smaller this angle is, the sharper your edge will be, and the more edge grip you will have. On the other hand, the ski will be less forgiving, and the edges will be more fragile. They will get dull faster and require tuning more often.
The edges of most recreational skis are set at an angle of 88 to 90 degrees. Racing skis or high-performance often have smaller angles. Freeride and all-mountain skis usually have an angle of 90 degrees or 89 degrees because edge grip is less important, and the edge is subject to more external forces (rocks, etc.).
In the US, they refer to the “side edge angle,” “side edge bevel,” or “side bevel,” which measures the angle of the side edge in relation to vertical (which amounts to the same thing).
The “base edge angle,” or “base edge bevel” or “base bevel” is the angle, which varies from 0 to 2 degrees, that is formed between the base edge and the base material. At 0 degrees, the base edge is oriented at the same angle as the base -- this is very rare. When this angle is greater than 0 degrees and the ski is placed flat on its base, if you look at it from the front, you can see the outside of the edges go up slightly.
Increasing the base edge angle makes it easier to put the ski on edge, pivot the ski, and skid the turns. The ski will be less grippy but softer and more forgiving. It is often used on beginner skis. It is usually at least 0.5 degrees, including on race skis.
The base plays an important role in how the ski glides, and therefore in the overall performance of the ski. The material used is high-density polyethylene, which is known for its hydrophobic properties and its durability.
The ski base has a structure which facilitates the evacuation of water and limits the surface area in contact with the snow. It has numerous micro-grooves which are cleverly oriented depending on the type of ski.
HOW TO CHOOSE SKI LENGTH
You have chosen the best ski based on your ability, your intended use, and which is within your budget. Great. But now you face another dilemma: What size should you buy?
The right ski length is critical. If the ski is a few centimeters too long or too short, it can make a significant difference in performance.
If a ski is too short, it will overturn, lack grip and stability, as well as flotation in powder. On the other hand, a ski that is too long will be less maneuverable and more demanding technically and physically.
We advise against using skier height to choose ski length as is too often done. It seems practical (we are comparing centimeters with centimeters), but this method can lead to disastrous results.
Remember that the goal is to flex the ski in the manner intended by the manufacturer when the ski was designed. Now, a multitude of factors are involved in flexing the ski, but the skier’s height is without a doubt the least important.
The ideal ski length will depend on several factors, which are more or less interdependent, and are divided into three categories:
→ Design factors
a. Ski category:
Each category has its own guidelines for size because the category determines what qualities are desired in that particular type of ski (float in powder, stability, radius, etc.).
Below are the approximate lengths for a male skier of average build:
- Slalom: 165cm
- Giant slalom: 180cm
- All Mountain: 180cm
- Freeride: 180-185cm
- Carvers: 165-180cm
- Easy Cruisers: 170cm
- Backcountry/Alpine Touring: 165-180cm
b. The length designed by the manufacturer
The manufacturers give a “reference size,” which is the length the ski was designed in. (Some brands like Dynastar always list it.) The “reference size” gives a good idea of the “standard” size, which is geared towards a skier with an average build who has the skiing ability to use that particular type of ski.
The reference size of the manufacturer, when given, is a good starting point. If this information is not available, use the guidelines for the category.
c. Ski stiffness
Length usually increases the perceived stiffness of a ski and, in turn, the difficulty of flexing the ski. With stiff skis, you may find it advantageous to choose a shorter size, and conversely, with softer skis, to choose a longer model, especially if you are debating between two sizes.
d. Presence of tip or tail rocker
A rocker raises the tip (and sometimes the tail) of the ski and reduces the amount of edge in contact with the snow. If there is a lot of rocker, you may want to go with a longer ski, especially with freeride skis.
→ Factors affecting flex
e. A skier’s height and weight
All skis are designed to be flexed. The weight of a skier is therefore a crucial factor and is significantly more important than height! Heavier skiers should choose a longer ski and lighter skiers should choose a shorter model.
f. How aggressive the skier is
How aggressive the skier is and different vertical movements (weighting/unweighting) and horizontal forces (centrifugal force) combine with the skier’s weight and increase the amount the ski is flexed. The more aggressive a skier is, the longer the ski should be.
→ Skier profile
g. Skiing Ability
A low-level skier will want a slightly shorter ski which facilitates turn initiation, pivoting, and skidding. An experienced skier will prefer a longer ski, which is more stable at high speeds, and which allows him to create higher edge angles.
h. Skier’s preferences
Skiers who like speed, long turns, and powder will choose a longer ski.
Those who like moguls and short turns will opt for a shorter ski.