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Alpine Ski Guide

Getting a new set of alpine skis may seem like a daunting task at first, but we're here to help you through it. There are a few things to look out for when looking for a new set of skis, such as length, waist width and camber type, so we'll go over everything you need to know. 

Which set of skis are best for you depends on a few factors...

  • Where on the mountain you're skiing
  • Your height and weight
  • Your skier ability level
  • Personal preference

After going through this guide, you should be ready to narrow down your search with confidence and find the perfect set of skis.

Commonly Used Terms

Before we get started, let's take a second to go over some commonly used terms you may not know.

Let's start with the main types of ski setups, system vs flat. The difference between these two is how the binding is attached to the ski.

Flat Skis

Flat skis (not to be confused with a flat camber ski)do not come with any binding mounting plate. Instead, bindings are mounted to the ski with screws. Flat skis are usually better suited for intermediate to advance skiers, or for skiers who are done growing. 

When bindings are mounted to flat skis, holes must be drilled at least one centimeter apart to avoid the mounting screws slipping back into previously drilled holes. This means junior skiers who go up one boot size might not be able to have their binding re-mounted safely. This is why we recommend junior skiers stick to system skis, for maximum adjustability.

System Skis

System skis come with their own set of bindings which are easily mounted to a pre-installed mounting plate, making the buying process a bit simpler. System skis also make it easier to adjust the bindings, since there is no drilling involved. The bindings are instead fastened to a plate that is pre-mounted to the ski, leaving lots of room for adjustability. This is especially handy for junior skiers who go up by one boot size and need their bindings readjusted.
System skis are generally intended for skiing on the groomed, front side of the mountain, known as on piste skiing (more on this down below).


Next, let's look at the dimensions of a ski. These four numbers alone can tell you a lot about what the ski is intended for and whether or not it would be a good option for you.

Tip/Waist/Tail

These three numbers are telling you the tip (sometimes referred to as the shovel) width, waist width and tail width, usually in millimeters. The waist width alone can tell you where the ski is best suited, either on piste, all mountain or powder (more on this down below). The width of the tip can tell you how well the ski will perform in deeper powder. If the tip is a lot wider than the tail, it will likely be intended for some powder riding (again, more on this down below). These measurements also help determine the sidecut of the ski...

Sidecut

The sidecut determines how sharp of a turn you can make, known as the turning radius. If the tip and tail a lot wider than the waist width, you will get a larger sidecut, and a smaller or tighter turning radius, letting you make quick, tight turns. If the waist width is close to the tip and tail width, the ski will have a smaller sidecut and a larger turning radius, ideal for big mountain powder skiing.

For those interested, the sidecut can be calculated with (((Tip Width + Tail Width)/2) - Waist Width) / 2 = sidecut. 


Now let's take a look at the many different shapes of skis. 

Contact Points

Contact points are where the ski touches the ground when laid down on a flat surface, uncompressed. Contact points are found at the tip and tail, on both sides of the ski. Their specific position will change based on what type of camber profile (more explanation on this shortly) the skis have.

Effective Edge

Effective edge is the section of the ski that will contribute to carving. it is more or less the area between your contact points. Again, depending on the shape of your camber profile, the amount of effective edge your ski has will change.

A longer effective edge is preferred for going fast down groomed, hardpacked runs. The longer edge helps to give more grip on the snow, allowing for better carving performance. However, initiating a turn on skis with longer effective edges is a bit harder and takes a bit more effort, meaning they aren't great for quick, nimble turns.

Skis with shorter effective edges are the opposite. They aren't great for high speed stability on hardpacked runs, but they are great for tighter, nimble turns.


Another contributing factor to the ski shape is the camber profile. This refers to the shape of the natural bend of the ski, and there are a couple different types.

Traditional Camber

Featuring the longest effective edge, nearly the length of the entire ski, this camber type is most commonly found on On Piste skis. The added edge hold and stability is perfect for high speeds and more aggressive carving. Many on piste skis wont even have a raised tail, for even more effective edge.

Camber with Early Rise Rocker

These make for great powder skis. The shorter effective edge is great for nimble maneuverability in and out of trees, and the longer nose helps provide some extra flotation for powder and deep snow.

Twin Tip Camber

This can be found on a lot of park skis, where skiers may be riding switch (riding backwards). Riding switch requires an equally raised tail to avoid catching in the snow and taking a spill. The camber in the middle can sometimes be a bit stiffer for some added pop and support for bigger jumps.

Having some extra rocker at the tail can also help release from a turn easier, which can make the ski a bit more nimble as the effective edge is further reduced.

Flat

Flat skis aren't too common, but they perform somewhere in the middle of traditional camber and rocker. Flat skis have easier edge to edge transitions than camber, but not as easy as a rocker ski. They also have better edge hold than a full rocker ski, though not as good as a camber ski.

Rocker (Reverse Camber)

These skis are only used for the absolute deepest powder. Sometimes referred to simply rocker skis, there is essentially zero effective edge, as the contact points are only in the center, meaning they are going to perform very poorly on groomed hardpack. However, they are fantastic for deep snow for their easy turn initiation and surf-like ride.


TermDefinition
Flat SkisSki setup that does not come with any binding mounting plate.
System SkisCome with a pre-installed mounting plate. Best for beginner and junior skiers, or for on piste skiing of any level.
Tip/Waist/TailWidths of the tip, waist and tail, used for determining the sidecut and intended use of the ski.
SidecutDetermines how sharp of a turn you can make, based on the difference between the tip/tail width and the waist width.
Contact Points The areas on the bottom of the ski that make contact with the ground.
Effective EdgeThe section of the ski that contributes to carving. It is generally in between the contact points. A longer effective edge is best for higher speeds on hardpack snow, whereas a short effective edge is better for tight turns and powder.
Camber ProfilesThis refers to the shape of the camber, or the natural bend of the ski. Different camber profiles will have their own sets of pros and cons, making them better suited for certain ability levels and skiing disciplines.
Traditional CamberBest for high speed carving on groomed runs.
Camber with Early Rise Rocker
Best for all mountain and powder skiing, where extra float is needed.
Twin Tip Camber
Best suited for riding switch (backwards).
FlatIn between camber and rocker.
RockerOnly for the deepest, fluffiest powder.

Types of Alpine Skis

There are a few different types of alpine skis, each one meant to excel on a different part of the mountain.

On Piste Skis

These skis are meant for going on the front side of the mountain where the runs are well groomed and clear of powder. They will be fairly quick and responsive, requiring the least amount of effort to initiate a turn thanks to their narrower waist width and more aggressive side cut. The waist width of an on piste ski is generally somewhere below 80mm. If you know you'll only ever be staying on the groomed runs for faster, hard carving runs, or are a more beginner skier, a narrower waist width around 70mm would be your best bet for the extra ease of carving.

On piste skis have the shortest turning radius, usually less than 15 meters.

All Mountain Skis

All mountain skis are the most versatile type of ski. Usually between 80 to 100mm, an all mountain ski is meant to explore the whole mountain, from groomed runs to powder. All mountain skis will come in a variety of different camber profiles to suit a variety of skiing styles.

All mountain skis have usually have a turning radius somewhere between 15 and 20 meters.

Powder Skis

The widest skis available are the powder skis, meant for surfing over deep, fluffy powder without sinking or losing control. The tips will be generously tapered to provide maximum float and will generally be stiffer to help navigate through the deep snow. These skis do not perform too well on groomed runs, since the extra width makes it harder and slower to move edge to edge. These skis will generally have a waist width greater than 100mm. 

Powder skis have the longest turning radius, generally greater than 20 meters.

Park Jib Skis

Park skis can be divided into two categories, jib skis and jumping skis. Jib skis are for those who like to slide on rails and boxes, and less focused on big air jumps and drops. A jib ski will typically have a softer flex to give a more forgiving, playful feel that is generally preferred for hitting rails and buttery carving. Most jib skiers prefer a shorter length ski to lower the swing weight, making it easier for mid-air spins. A wider ski, between 85 and 105mm, is also preferred for more stability when sliding on rails.

Park Freestyle Skis

Freestyle park skis are less intended for rails and more suited for bigger jumps. Typically stiffer than a jib ski to help support bigger landings and provide pop of jumps. This style of ski is also for people looking to go down the half-pipe, which also requires extra stiffness to handle high speeds and big air.


Ski Type
Used For... Typical Waist Width Typical Turning Radius
On Piste Going down the groomed, front side of the mountain. Designed to handle higher speed carving on groomed snow. Up to 80mmUp to 15m
All Mountain As the name implies, skiing the entire mountain. A bit of on piste carving, maybe a few jumps or going through some powder. 80 to 110mm15 to 20m
PowderSuper deep powder, for people who spend nearly all their time on the ungroomed back side of the mountain. Over 100mm Over 20m
Park Jib Ski Hitting rails, boxes and playful buttering in the terrain park or on the street.
85 to 105mm 15 to 20m
Park Freestyle Ski Sending it off larger jumps that require some extra stiffness to support big take-offs and hard landings. 80 to 95mm 15 to 20m

What size do you need?

Sizing up your skis is based on your height and weight, your skiing ability, where on the mountain you're skiing and personal preference.

Let's start with a rough baseline. Use the table below as your starting point, then we'll refine the result down below. The most common guideline for ski sizes is to have the tip of the ski come up to somewhere in between your chin and the top of your head, possibly longer for more advanced skiers.

Height (ft-in)
Height (cm)Ski Length Beginner (cm)Ski Length Intermediate (cm)Ski Length Advanced (cm)
4'10"147135-145140-150145-160
5'0"152140-150145-155150-165
5'2"158145-155150-160155-170
5'4"163150-160155-165160-175
5'6"168155-165160-170165-180
5'8"173160-170165-175170-185
5'10"178165-175170-180175-190
6'0"183170-180175-185180-195
6'2"188175-185180-190185-200
6'4"193180-190185-195190-205
6'6"198185-195190-200195-210

Skier Weight

Depending on how your weight compares to your height, you may choose to go up or down in ski length. Skiers who are heavier than average for their height should go to a longer ski for some added stiffness and support. Lighter than average skiers should go to a slightly shorter ski that's a bit softer and easier to control.

Skier Ability

Beginner skiers should stick to narrower, shorter skis, closer to the height of their chin. Narrow width allows for easier turn initiation, shorter length makes the ski more manageable and keeps the max speed down, and softer flex is more forgiving of mistakes and helps prevent spills.

As you move on to more intermediate or advanced skis, you can get into wider skis that will handle more conditions and skiing styles. Advanced skiers who are staying on piste and carving hard at high speeds will still be using narrower skis, so you don't necessarily have to go to a wider ski as your ability increases.

Where you're skiing

As we discussed earlier, skis that are intended to be used off piste and in powder typically have lots of rocker and a shorter effective edge for easier turning. For more advanced skiers who don't need any extra help with turn initiation and instead want more stability at higher speeds, a longer length ski would be better suited. Depending on how deep the powder is and how advanced you are as a skier, you could go up to 15cm longer than normal.

This is also where personal preference starts to come in. By the time you've become a more advanced skier, you'll develop your own preferences for ski lengths and widths. When that time comes, you'll probably start to deviate from the common guidelines and just do your own thing.

Keep Learning!

We have more guides to help you learn about all things snowboard and ski!


Alpine Ski Guide
Goggle and Lens Guide 
Alpine Boot Guide 

Alpine Boot to Binding Adjustments