Ski Buying Guide and Size Chart – How to Choose a Pair of Skis

June 10, 2016
Ski Buying Guide and Size Chart – How to Choose a Pair of Skis

There are so many factors to consider when searching for that perfect pair that shopping for skis online can leave you feeling like you’ve hit the moguls without meaning to. At Outdoria, you’ll find a huge range of ski models suitable to your style and skill level whether you’re a total beginner, a confident blue run crusher, or a veteran powder hound.

Our ultimate ski buying guide will keep you on-trail throughout the buying process, explaining in detail how to choose a pair of skis based on:

  • Gender
  • Ski type
  • Ski length
  • Ability level
  • Sidecut & turning radius
  • Rocker type

This guide is pretty detailed but don’t let that overwhelm you. If you take your time and focus on the sections that are most relevant to your level of knowledge and skill on the slopes, you’ll shoot out the end ready to start shopping for your next set of skis.

Gender

First things first, are you a boy or a girl?

While many skis are unisex, women’s and men’s skis differ greatly in their style and construction. It is possible for women to ski men’s models, but many woman swear by the control and feel afforded by skis that are designed specifically for the female anatomy, stance, and style.

Check out the range of women’s skis available at Outdoria:

Types of skis

Shopping for skis at Outdoria is like having a season pass to the snow gear your need; you can come and go as you please. The main difference is these lifts never stop running.

To help you refine your search, we’ve categorised ski types based on the style and terrain for which they are most suitable.

In this guide, we are going to be looking at downhill skis specifically.

All mountain – the alpine all-rounder of the ski family. All mountain skis are capable of tackling a wide range of terrain and snow conditions. You can find beginner, intermediate, and advanced all mountain skis at Outdoria.

Twin tip – park skis, all mountain skis, and even powder skis are available in twin tip models. ‘Twin tip’ refers to any ski that features a tail profile that matches that of the tip (or shovel), allowing them to be skied backwards (or switch).

Powder – if you are a seeker of glorious fresh pow, these are the skis for you. Powder skis are wider than other ski types to help them float on the surface of deep, freshly-fallen snow.

Carving – if you like to make hard and fast turns on the groomers you want a pair of carving skis. Carving skis feature a more aggressive sidecut creating a shorter turning radius and are available for skiers of all skill levels.

Race – designed to go from the top of the piste to the bottom as fast as possible, race skis are designed specifically for competition race events like slalom, giant slalom, and downhill.

We should make clear at this point, that all of these skis are downhill skis. Cross country skis, on the other hand, are predominately designed for traversing across the snow and backcountry applications. They use of special bindings that allow the heel of your ski boot to lift allowing you to effectively walk the ski across the snow.

If you are new to skiing, you are most likely going to want to choose all mountain, or carving skis, although the lines of distinction between different models are getting more and more blurred as ski technology develops. It’s not uncommon to see powder and park skis that can be used by raw beginners.

By this stage, you might have a good idea which category you should be searching under, but you might be wondering, how do I know what size ski is right for me?

Ski length

Ski length can be determined by a number of factors, such as height, weight, ability level, and terrain. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.

Traditionally, all you need to do is hold a ski next to you and if it reaches a point just below your nose, you’re good! This technique is still used in rental shops today for determining which skis you should be using.

The ski size chart below gives you a good idea of the range of ski lengths you could go for based on your height. As you work your way through this guide, you’ll realise that there are many factors that could affect what size skis you should be using.

For beginners, it can be as easy as choosing beginner all mountain skis that match your height.

Ski size chart

skis size chart   size guide for skis

Exceptions to the rule

Now, there are a number of reasons why you might need to ski a different size to that suggested in the chart above.

All it takes is a few centimetres to change the way a ski behaves underfoot. Some skiers should choose longer skis that sit closer to the top of their head.

  • You might like to choose a longer pair of skis for the following reasons:

  • You are heavier than average for your height

  • You are an expert / advanced skier that skis fast and hard

  • You predominately ski off-piste and powder

  • You ski twin tips

The same goes for shorter skis. If one (or more) of the following describes you, choose a pair of skis that would sit nearer your chin.

  • You are a beginner just starting out

  • You weigh less than average for your height

  • You prefer to make quick turns on the groomers, rather than skiing fast

  • You are looking for a carving ski with plenty of camber


Ability level

When choosing a pair of skis, you need to be honest with yourself about your level of ability. If you are a total beginner, you will probably find it challenging to control advanced skis at low speeds which can make the learning curve that much steeper. For intermediate skiers, however, it’s less clear cut. Many ski models traverse the typical ability level categories and are actually very skiable, even if you are only working your way up to black diamond runs.

We’ve done our best to sort the skis available online at Outdoria into beginner, intermediate, and advanced models to help you find a pair suited to your skill level. But bear in mind, some skis may be suitable for a range of ability levels. If you’re not sure, contact the seller to find out more.

So what makes a beginner ski different from an advanced ski?

A ski’s ability level rating is determined by a combination of factors, the most obvious being the ski's flex and bindings.

Ski Flex

A ski’s flex not only affects the way it behaves underfoot but how easy or difficult it is to control. Flex is the amount of force required to flatten out its edge to grip the snow. The stiffer the flex, the more force / weight and precise technique that is required to initiate a turn on its edge.

Beginner skis tend to have a softer flex than more advanced models making them more forgiving and easier turn, especially at low speeds.

More advanced skiers will often go faster and harder than beginners. All that speed and force generated in the turn flattens out the ski along its edge. This is what allows advanced skiers to create smooth, parabolic arcs in the snow.

It’s important to note, however that there are exceptions to this rule.

  • Skiers who are heavier for their height should ride a ski with a stiffer flex. This will make it easier for them to pop out of a turn and initiate the next.

  • Powder skis are also often wider and softer than other ski models. This helps them to float on the surface of freshly-fallen snow, reducing the chance of them catching an edge.

Skis with bindings - what is DIN?

You'll find that many skis for sale at Outdoria come fitted with bindings. Ski shop technicians carefully match skis to bindings that are optimally suited to that particular model. If you are a beginner, it's a great idea to pick a pair of skis that come with bindings attached. If buying skis and bindings separately, you should always get your new skis fitted and DIN level adjusted to your boots in-store by a registered ski shop technician.

The term DIN refers to the Deutsches Institut für Normung, in English, the German Institue for Standardisation. When we talk about DIN in relation to ski bindings, we are referring to the amount of force that it takes to release a boot from that binding. Your shop technician will set your DIN based on your skill level on the slopes, your height and your weight. Ski bindings come with a specified DIN range. Skis that come with bindings on Outdoria may be listed under a particular ability level because their bindings are designed for more advanced riders.

Note: your DIN setting should always be adjusted by a registered ski shop technician to ensure that it is appropriate for your skill level and size.

You might have noticed a series of numbers on the product page and thought, "what do those numbers actually mean?"


Sidecut & turning radius

A ski's sidecut is the curvature of its effective edge when viewed from above from shovel to tail. The amount of sidecut a ski exhibits will affect its turning radius; that is, the length of the arc it naturally makes on the snow. Imagine drawing a circle following that natural arc: this is the ski's turning radius. The more pronounced a ski’s sidecut, the shorter its turning radius. The longer the ski's turning radius the less dramatic that curve will be from tip to tail.

ski sidecut and turning radius

The sidecut of the product you like should be represented by a series of three numbers on the product page. These three numbers represent the ski's tip width(mm), waist width(mm), and tail width(mm), for example, 129 / 94 / 118.

If a series of five numbers is displayed, these numbers represent the ski's length(cm), tip width(mm), waist width(mm), tail width(mm), and turning radius(m), for example, 180 / 125 / 92 / 119 / 20.

Disclaimer: different brands calculate and represent ski specifications differently. Yo may find this information is not available for all models. If the skis you like do not display sidecut dimensions, inquire with the seller to learn more.

The smaller a ski's turning radius the better suited that ski is for making fast turns. The larger that number, the more suitable it is for powder and big mountain skiing. Remeber: the more aggressive the side cut is on a ski, the shorter the turning radius will be.

  • Short radius – skis with a turning radius less than 16m are suitable for fast, short turns. Skis with a short radius are typically made for carving and all mountain skiing on groomed runs.

  • Medium radius – skis with a radius of 17-22m are in the middle of the range; the goldilocks zone. This is the most common turning radius for skis, making them suitable for a range of terrain and ability levels including all mountain, park skiing and some backcountry activity.

  • Long radius – skis with a radius greater than 22m are powder or big mountain skis. They are designed to turn smoothly in loose, freshly fallen snow.

Tip (shovel) width

Sometimes referred to as the shovel, the tip width of your skis – while perhaps less important to consider than waist width when making your decision – will impact the way they behave on the snow and is one of the measurements used to calculate its turning radius.

A wider tip, up around the 120mm mark, will encourage the ski to float over soft powder. Carving skis, and some all mountain models will often exhibit a wider tip and tail in relation to their waist width which gives them a shorter turning radius, whereas powder skis are often more uniform across their length to allow for long turns and better flotation.

Waist width

The narrowest point on a ski is called its waist. The width of a ski’s waist will affect, not only the way that it performs but will, to an extent, determine what types of terrain and snow for which it is most suited. As a general rule, the narrower the ski, the quicker and easier it is to flick from edge to edge. The wider the ski, the better it will perform on powder or off-piste.

60–70mm – suitable for skiing on hard packed, well-groomed runs. Skis with a narrow waist are usually beginner, carving or race models.

70–85mm – are good for intermediate skiers, suitable for groomed runs. Skis in the 80-85mm range are often designed for making quick, carving turns. They make for an agile ski, and can handle the crud that builds up throughout the day as the slopes get chopped up.

85–110mm – now we’re starting to get into models that can handle runs that are less well maintained and even some backcountry skiing. Wider skis within this range are suitable for some powder skiing.

111–120mm+ – powder skis are much wider than all mountain skis, designed to provide float in deep, soft snow while allowing you to transition from edge to edge with precision.

Tail Width

The width of a ski at the tail impacts how easy it is to transition out of a turn and how good it is at holding an edge. Most important is the ratio of tail width to waist and tip width as this determines the ski's turning radius.

Tail profile

There are three popular tail profiles used by manufacturers today: twin tip, flared, and flat.

Twin tip skis are flared at the tip and tail allowing them to be skied switch. The flared tail also allows them to quickly exit a turn making them suitable not only to park skiers but to all mountain skiers as well. Not all twin tips are symmetrical. Some all mountain skis feature only a partial twin tip meaning they are not designed specifically for freestyle but are more all mountain /big mountain appropriate.

Flared tail profiles are the most common tail shape seen today. A flared tail lifts up slightly of the snow keeping the rear contact point close to the tail. This helps the ski to hold an edge but also means they require more energy and precise technique to exit a turn.

Flat tail profiles are reserved for race and some carving models. A flat tail shape maintains constant contact with the snow allowing for maximum edge hold, but requires a lot of energy to exit and initiate the next turn.


What about Rocker Type?

A ski’s rocker type plays a huge role in the way it performs on the snow.

When we use the term ‘rocker type’ we are referring to the shape of the unweighted ski when viewed side-on.

‘Rocker’ and ‘camber’ are two of the most common rocker types. They are the exact opposite of one another. Therefore, rocker is sometimes referred to as reverse camber and camber is sometimes referred to as reverse rocker. To keep things simple, we will refer to them as rocker and camber.

Camber

Camber is still the most common ski profile manufactured today. Cambered skis lift off the snow at the waist when unweighted. The ski’s stiffness affects the amount of force that is required to press the edge to the snow during a turn.

Ski type and terrain: carving skis often exhibit a lot of camber making them great for skiing on groomed runs. They are easier to flick from edge to edge than skis with a lot of rocker as a result of the pop created by the cambered shape at the waist.

ski with a full camber shape

Rocker

Rocker is the polar opposite of camber forming a U shape when unweighted on the snow. If you think about it, camber becomes rocker when weighted in a turn. So skis with full rocker simply require a lot less force to initiate a turn and hold an edge.

Ski type and terrain: skis with full rocker are suitable for park skiing, powder skiing, and big mountain as they are more forgiving during landings and in deep snow. They can sometimes be harder to control at low speed on hard-packed snow making them difficult to learn on for beginners.

ski with a full rocker shape

Tip Rocker / camber

A combination of rocker and camber seeks to provide benefits of both ski profiles in one using an asymmetrical profile. The rocker at the tip makes it easier to initiate the turn, while the camber helps the ski to pop out of a turn before the next.

Ski type and terrain: Tip rocker moves the ski’s first point of contact further back making them less catchy in powder and the cambered tail provides good edge-hold when transitioning on to the groomers. This rocker type is commonly seen on all mountain and big mountain skis. If you are planning on spending a lot of time in switch this might not be the best choice for you due to the asymmetrical profile.

tip rocker camber shaped ski

Rocker / camber / rocker

A symmetrical ski profile that lends itself to freestyle and park skiing. Rocker / camber / rocker skis provide good pop and are less likely to catch between turns. Rocker at the shovel moves the contact points closer to the waist of the ski helping them to transition from edge to edge quickly while the camber at the waist improves edge-hold on groomers and gives them extra pop.

Ski type and terrain: This shape is often used for powder skis and on all mountain models for skiers who like to turn a little harder. It is also used on beginner models making for something a little more forgiving.

rocker camber rocker shaped ski

Rocker / flat / rocker

Similar to full rocker skis in performance, rocker / flat / rocker skis provide stronger edge-hold than full rocker models while the tips make them less catchy in deeper snow.

Ski type and terrain: rocker / flat / rocker skis are preferred by park skiers who prefer a stronger edge hold than a ski with full rocker.

rocker flat rocker shaped ski

Disclaimer: Rocker types vary from model to model and from manufacturer to manufacturer. There are many more custom variations on the shapes you see described here. If you find terminology that you are not familiar on a product page, contact the seller to find out more about that ski’s particular profile.


Buying skis at Outdoria

After reading this, you’re probably thinking, “I had no idea skis were this complicated.”

But we really hope that you now have a much clearer understanding of modern ski types, their features and specifications, and the types of terrain for which they are suitable.

And if you are still confused, don’t worry! The best thing about shopping at Outdoria is that you can always flick the seller an email or give them a call and ask for help. If you’re just still not quite sure if that particular model is right for you, inquire online first and check out the skis in person at the shop.

Shop the complete range of ski & snowboard gear available online at Outdoria.


Related Articles


Follow #aworldofoutdoors

Instagram: outdoria

Twitter: @Outdoria1

Keep up with our reviews, features, how-to's and more - like us on Facebook, follow us on YouTube or subscribe to our email.