Buying new skis is a big commitment, there is a huge number of considerations to take into account. Every pair has its perfect buyer and conditions/terrain that it suits. Those two things aren’t easy to decipher just by looking at the waist width and colour of the top sheet.
The first step is to work out where you want the ski to perform. There are a huge number of factors that affect a way a ski performs in different conditions. Having a clear picture of where you want the ski to perform will help guide the type of ski you are looking for. Most people are ready to accept compromised performance in icy conditions if the skis excel in soft snow conditions and vice versa.
Ski Classifications Explained
Carving skis are narrow-waisted skis that are at home on groomed terrain and harder snow. In order to maximise edge grip, they are often stiff and feature mostly cambered profiles.
The Jack of All Trades, All-Mountain skis are designed to ski all types of terrain and all snow conditions. If you are only going to own one pair of skis (a One-Ski Quiver), an All Mountain Ski will be the ticket.
All Mountain Skis range in characteristics, from soft to stiff, narrow to wide, all depending on your preferences and ability level.
We like to split the All-Mountain category in half. Narrower options are great for harder snow, such as Australia. Wider skis are better for areas that get more snow and will be skied more often in powder conditions, like most of the Northern Hemisphere where people tend to go (North America, Canada, Europe, or even Japan).
Powder Skis are typically wide, heavily rockered skis that excel in deep, fresh snow. With the priority of these skis being heavily focused on soft snow, they are often quite shakey to ski on hard snow, due to short effective edge length and softer construction than many All Mountain or Carving Skis.
Over the years, what classifies a ski as a Powder Ski has largely changed. 10 years ago, skis that were 90mm underfoot were considered Powder Skis, 5 Years ago it was the opposite, 130mm was the norm. Ski designers are getting more sensible in powder ski design and have slimmed most powder skis to 105mm – 125mm. In general, the narrower the waist width on powder skis, the better it will ski on hard snow.
Twin Tip skis are the tools of Park and Freestyle Skiers. Featuring an upturned tail of the ski similar to the tip. Twin Tipped skis are often built primarily for Park use but can be used equally well around the whole mountain. If you are looking at a Twin Tipped Ski, make sure to take note of where you are having the bindings mounted.
The other type of ski that often features a Twin Tip is the Powder Ski. Twin Tipped Powder Skis aren’t necessarily designed for skiing backwards but rather to give the skis a more floaty or surfy feeling. Just because it has a Twin Tip doesn’t mean it is designed for youngsters and their trickery!
Alpine Touring Skis are skis that are designed with hiking up equally in mind as skiing down. They feature lighter weight construction and should be paired up with Alpine Touring Bindings and Climbing Skins to maximise functionality.
The lighter construction of Alpine Touring skis does come at a cost of their downhill performance. Super light touring skis are great for carrying and hiking uphill with, but not as great for skiing down confidently. When looking at an Alpine Touring setup it is important to balance how hard you plan on skiing on that ski, with how easy you want it to be on the uphill.
If you want more information on Alpine Touring Skis and their corresponding Bindings and Skins, check out our Beginners guide to Backcountry Ski Equipment.
Ski Waist Width
The waist width is the measurement of the ski at the narrowest point and performance relates directly to the location it likes to be skied. Australians are a travelling bunch so our skis need a wide range of applications. Common skis range anywhere from 65mm to 130mm and we like to them split into 5 different categories:
- <87mm – Carving Skis
- 88 – 93mm – Australian All Mountain Skis
- 94 – 103mm – Northern Hemisphere All Mountain Skis
- 104 – 113mm – Narrow Powder Skis
- >114mm – Powder Skis
This is not a hard and fast rule but is often a good starting spot. If you tend towards harder snow and groomed runs, a narrower ski is normally more responsive and holds a better edge. Whereas if you spend the mornings hungover and go ski when the snow gets soft, a wider ski will be more fun in the slush.
Modern designs widely incorporate Rocker into the Tips and Tails of skis to improve manoeuvrability. Rocker is the upturn of either end or the entirety of the ski. In short, Tip Rocker adds to the skis ability to float, Tail Rocker adds to the skis ability to pivot, and Camber improves the length of the effective edge and Hardpack performance.
If you are looking for a ski for skiing morning ice, having less rocker will have better edge grip. If you also ski afternoon slush, a bit of width and/or some tip rocker will help your skis stay up and track in the variable snow without taking too much from the hard snow performance. A fully rockered ski is generally for use in Powder. Aimed to provide as much float and surfy characteristics as possible.
In our opinion, most good Australian All-Mountain ski choices have moderate tip rocker but minimal tail rocker. A small amount of tip rocker has nearly no drawbacks unless you are skiing FIS race courses.
Ski Flex (or how stiff the skis are) is a quality often overlooked online because there is no objective measurement that is standardised. Yet a ski that is too stiff or too soft is often a major reason why a ski isn’t suitable. If you are a Beginner skier look on the softer end of the spectrum. Advanced/expert skiers can handle and normally enjoy a stiffer ski.
Despite how much reviewers rave about stiff skis, if you aren’t a very confident skier you’ll likely enjoy a softer flexing ski. Stiff skis get caught up more in variable snow and are harder to manoeuvre unless you have excellent technique.
The Radius of a ski is an indication of the types of turns a ski is designed to make. Skis with smaller radius' typically like to make shorter turns.
Though the radius is not the only important factor to how a ski will turn. A softer ski with a medium radius can easily be bent into shorter turns. Skis with more rocker tend to make a wider range of turn shapes more easily.
We classify skis with a 15-20m radius as being medium, if you like to make all sorts of turn shapes, chances are a ski with a 15-20m radius will suit. If you prefer shorter turns, sub 15m may suit better, & likewise for longer turns, a ski with a radius greater than 20m may suit best.
Whilst radius can be a useful metric to look at when deciding between skis, it is only a small piece of the puzzle and one that can be ignored if everything else about a ski sounds great.
The weight of a ski is more important if you are planning to hike or tour for your skiing. Sure a lighter weight ski will feel lighter hanging off your feet whilst dangling on a chairlift, but the ski performance will be impacted if you pick a lighter ski.
If you are mainly resort skiing, a bit more weight in your skis can be handy. Heavier skis help even out terrain and feel more composed, like suspension on a bike or car. Lighter skis still have their place as they can feel more energetic or lively and ultimately can be more fun depending on the skier.
If you are mainly touring, light is right! Every gram you shave off, especially from your skis, boots and bindings, makes a huge difference to how efficiently you can move around the mountains. Skiing a setup that is 200g lighter could easily be the difference between having the energy to do 3 laps or 4 in the backcountry.
Ski length is a whole post-worthy topic in itself. Many factors affect the end result: height, weight, ability, ski profile all included. Some people just have a personal preference one way or the other.
Most people size their skis within 10-15cm of their height. i.e. a 170cm skier will more than likely ski a ski from 155-185cm. Beginners and intermediates should look at the lower half of the range, say 155-170cm. For these types of skiers, we often recommend that the tip of ski should reach the lower half of your face.
Advanced to Expert skiers will often ski on skis that are as tall or taller than their height, especially if the ski is designed for powder and is heavily rockered.
Above and beyond that, you may want to size up if you are relatively heavy for your height. If the ski has a large amount of rocker or is fairly soft, sizing up will make it more stable.
Adversely, if you are older, lighter and generally more cautious a shorter ski is more manageable. If you are looking at a ski that is marginally too stiff, sizing down can make them more manageable.
Where you mount the bindings on your skis can have a huge impact on how the ski performs. Most skis come out with a Factory Recommendation line printed on the ski. This is often described as the centre of the sidecut and is where the manufacturer suggests is the best mounting point. The only skis that we recommend to move away from this line are dedicated Park Skis.
On a Park Ski, there can be a benefit of moving the bindings forward of the recommended line. If you are planning on spending a reasonable amount of time skiing backwards, having a mount point closer to the centre of the ski provides more performance and balance whilst skiing backwards.
If you ever have any questions, feel free to contact us!