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Home > Advice > Guide to Buying Skis

Guide to Buying Skis

Finding the right ski for you and your requirements can be difficult! Here is our brief guide to how to find the right tool for the job. If you have any questions please get in touch!



Where to start?...

Its always best to start by thinking about what type of skiing you currently do the most of, and enjoy the most, and where you would like to take your skiing over the next few seasons. By thinking carefully and realistically about this you can start to get an idea of what you will require from your skis. For example you might want one set up to do all your skiing from a week with the family in resort, to a week of freeride and alpine day tours. You might already have a piste set up and you just want a super light set up to use for hut to hut tours or you might know you that just want to hunt out powder using the lifts and you never want to go on long tour. By balancing the amount of time you are likely to spend doing the different ski disciplins you can choose a ski which will minimise any compromises.

Skis are generally described by a set of characteristics, we've given a brief introduction to these below:

Ski Length: this is is the full length of the ski, it is usualy measured along the ski base. Due to the curved tip and tail, this measurement is often longer than the actual tip to tail length of the ski, worth remembering when you're choosing your ski length. To choose the length of ski for you it is best to stand with the skis stood on their tails in front of you, look straight forward and see where they come up to. The correct length for you will vary depending on your activity, personal preference and the ski, but for most people a touring or all mountain ski would come to somewhere between the your eyebrows and the top of your forehead. For strong skiers particularly on big rockered skis full head height is usual or even slightly above if you are very good.

Dimensions: This is a set of 3 numbers which describe the width of the ski in millimeters at the tip/waist/tail eg: 138/108/128 mm of the 3 dimensions the one most often refered to is the middle one, the width underfoot or the waist measurement. Very generally wider skis give more float and stability in soft snow and narrower skis have better edge hold in icy conditions, this isn't always the case though! Modern all mountain and touring skis are best choosen between 85mm - 100mm with most people going around the 90mm mark. Freeride skis will be 95mm up. 

Turn Radius or side cut: This is an important factor in describing how a ski behaves, all modern alpine skis have a side cut, this is the incut arc along each side of the ski which gives the ski its 'hour glass' shape. The side cut makes the ski turn more easily when you put it on edge. If you imagine extending the arc of the side cut to describe a full circle, the radius of this circle is what we refer to as the turn radius. skis with a smaller turn radius have more side cut and will generally perform shorter turns more easily. Skis with a longer turn radius will want perform longer sweeping turns when you put them on edge. Its worth being aware that its not just the radius that governs how the ski turns, the ski becomes more curved as you weight and flex it so the ski stiffness and the way you flex them all affect how the ski comes round.

Profile: This refers to the amount of rocker and camber that a ski has, the rocker is an early rise at the tip and sometimes tail, this can make the ski pivot more easily on hard surfaces and slush and helps keep the tips up in deep powder.
The best way to demonstrate Camber is to put a ski on a flat surface and look at it from the side, the ski will be in contact towards the tip and the tail but under the binding it will be lifted off the surface. This is the ski's camber and it makes the ski act like a spring, a ski with a lot of camber will generally have more even pressure along its edge as the rider weights them giving greater edge hold and pop. The proportion of the skis length that is comprised of camber and the proportion that is rocker varries from ski to ski and significantly affects the ski's character.

Weight: An obvious, but important factor, if you're just going to be skiing off the lifts then weight isn't as important but if you're pushing them up hill for 6 hours a day or carrying them up a gully then you'll feel every gram!

Construction: Ski construction is a complicated subject but in general most modern skis use wood to form the core. Wood has many advantages, it's strong, light and its flex remains consistant in a wide range of temperatures. Some skis will use air channels in the wood core to lighten them, some use a carbon or metal layer laminated to the deck or wrapped around the core to stiffen them up. Some skis have cap construction which is a laminated layer from edge to edge over the top of the ski core which makes for a lighter and cheaper construction and some skis use side walls which improve edge hold and durability. Lots of skis have semi side walls which feature side walls in the middle section of the ski and cap construction towards the tip and tail which gives a good compromise.

Using the above characteristics it is possible to compare skis and their suitability for the type of skiing you do. Be aware though that skis don't always behave in the real world as you might expect them to on paper, There is no substitute for skiing them or speaking to someone that has. 

How to choose the best ski for you...

Below we've set out a brief description of the ski general characteristics we would look for for each of the different activities.

Freeride 'off piste' skiing.
Increasing in popularity every year, freeride skiing is off piste and focusd on the down. Freeriders generally use the lift systems in resort for most the uplift with some skinning or hiking to get fresh powder away from the crowds. As a result, freeride skis are generally wide, think 95mm waist and up, they mostly have rockered tips (as much as 30%+) and sometimes rockered tails. Turn radii can be anything from 15m to 24m+ but the current trend is for wide skis with big rockers and a shorter radius underfoot (16m to 18m ish). Skis with these characteristics can be very agile for big planks. As they are designed for hard skiing and using uplift they are often heavy skis, most freeriders are happy pushing the extra weight up the hills for more fun on the way back down! If you want a wide ski for touring in soft snow conditions there are lightish freeride skis out there eg: Cham 107 HM or Rossignol Soul 7.

Ski Touring.
As with all things ski touring, the first question is 'how much do they weigh?'. As you'll be spending hours pushing or carrying the skis uphill is is very important that they are not too heavy. When ski touring you will often encounter the full range of snow conditions from powder to breakable crust with ice and crud along the way, this means that it is important to choose a ski which can handle the full range of conditions, not just the pristine powder. This, along with the fact that you will be traversing mountain sides and sidesliping steep sections etc, means that you want a ski with good edge hold. Edge hold depends on a lot of factors but some important ones are; turn radius, don't go too short, a short radius ski will have less edge in contact than a long radius ski. The short radius ski might be easy for quick edge to edge turns on the piste but it can be hard work keeping your height when traversing and the tips are prone to nose diving under crust. Aim for 16m too 20+ m, with around 19m being optimum for most people. Ski stiffness, stiffer skis transmit your weight along more of their edge, improving the edge hold and they are better at punching through chopped up crud, they can take more effort to ski though! Softer skis are good for people with a light build or wanting a forgiving ski that is good for developing off piste skills rather than for hard charging. Underfoot width, because you're looking for performance in a range of conditions the general rule is don't go too wide. Lightweight wider skis don't usually edge too well and can be hard work on icy, steep terrain. We think that for most people in classic European touring conditions 85mm to 100mm is best, you can happily go wider if the snow is soft but be carefull if its icy! Profile, Big rockered skis have less edge in contact so can be less good on traverses and ice than more cambered skis. I prefer a bit of tip rocker (20% ish) with good camber and a flatish tail, the flat tail is better for fitting skins, cutting blocks and planting as an anchor. Watch out for twin tips as they can be tricky to fit skins to.   

All mountain skiing.
This is the 'bit of everything' category, if you enjoy skiing on and off the pistes and are perhaps wanting to do a bit of touring then you need a ski which can do it all. This generally involves some compromise but there are skis which can do it all. Good all mountain skis are great on the piste, with enough float for all but the deepest days freeriding, they can be light enough to tour but will be a bit heavier than the dedicated touring skis when you're on the way up. Modern all mountain skis are mostly between 85mm - 100mm underfoot often with small tip rockers, look for between 16m and 19m radii, somewhere between 3kgs and 4kgs with a fairly flat tail if you want to fit skins. The modern all mountain skis can be extremely versatile tools for people wanting one ski to do it all.

Choosing the right ski is difficult and will involve some compromises but there are lots of great skis out there and if you are realistic about your requirements and skill level then the perfect pair of planks will find their way to you. Reading ski descriptions is useful but there is no substitute for speaking to people that have skied them, here at Backcountry uk we attend the SIGB industry ski test allowing us to get all the skis the snow and put them through their paces, if you would like more in depth advice about what skis would be good for you please give us a call.