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Ski Buying Guide

How do you determine what skis are right for you?  Unfortunately, there is no magical ski for everyone or every condition, but it’s safe to say, don’t be afraid to go a bit wider than you think.  Choosing the right ski depends on your ability level, where you ski and your body type.

Here are some guidelines that will help you determine what ski is right for you.

Ski Length

Longer skis are more stable and better used for speed, where shorter skis are easier to turn and carve. Nowadays, you can get away with a short ski, so toss out the idea of skiing a 200cm behemoth. Rule of thumb – a short ski should go from the ground to your chin and a longer ski will go from the ground to the top of your head.

Here’s a chart that can help you figure it out, without breaking out the tape measure


Ski Width & Turning Radius

Ski dimensions are normally specified by three measurements for the Tip, Waist & Tail (110/95/105). Narrower waist skis are quicker to edge and wider waist skis provide better float in powder and performance in variable snow/crud.

turning guide

Rocker Type

There are three main types of rockers.

  1. Camber or Flat. Camber is a slight upward curve in the middle of the ski and is used on most skis. It gives the ski spring and is best on groomed terrain and harder snow. Flat skis are better for pow and “buttering” turns and will be less lively.


  1. Tip Rocker curves up towards the tip of the ski, providing easier turn initiation in variable snow and powder. If you ski at an area that gets over 300 inches a year, a little tip rocker will go a long ways. Get it.


  1. Tail Rocker curves up at the tail of ski, and gives you the ability to land and/or ski backwards. If you’re buying skis for your kid, go with a ski that has both tip and tail rocker.

ski_guide_rocker_camberThere are several combinations of tip and tail rocker and camber types. The Rocker/Camber combo provides a more all-mountain type of ski, good for both powder and hardpack. There are several other rocker types, including, rocker/flat/rocker, Rocker/camber/rocker, and Flat/camber/flat but the three we covered are what you’re most likely going to be running into when choosing.

Skis by Terrain

Park & Pipe Skis

Park and pipe skis, are for skiers who spend the majority of their time in the terrain park. If jumps and rails are your thing then these are for you. Though traditionally, park and pipe skis have narrower waists with full camber profiles, this category is incorporating more rocker patterns and different shapes to transition into the backcountry jibs.

Powder Skis

These skis are not just for the deep days. Powder skis will excel in variable snow, windbuff, and crud. If you like to find pockets of fresh and venture in the side/backcountry looking for the goods, you’ll want a ski over 100mm in the waist.  If you’re on the west coast, I’d recommend a ski around 115mm in the waist with a bit of tip rocker (also called early rise tip).

All-Terrain Skis

As the name suggests, all-Terrain skis are for skiing the entire mountain. They are designed to handle anything you throw at them including powder, ice, groomers, steeps, heavy snow, and everything in between, but they aren’t necessarily a master of any one terrain or snow type. If you’re only going to own one ski to do it all, this is what you want.  All-terrain skis generally have what we call mid-fat waists that range from 80-105mm. The key is to figure out where you will be spending the majority of your time on the mountain and what type of terrain you like to ski most.  As we mentioned earlier, go a little wider than you think.  The sweet spot for an all mountain ski is a 100mm waist.

Backcountry / Alpine Touring Skis

Also known as AT skis, these are designed for going uphill as well as downhill. These skis are typically a bit lighter for their width, making it easier to climb.  Some even feature fittings that coordinate with climbing skins, but these are pretty unnecessary. Backcountry skis vary in width and weight, but if you’re pursuit is powder, don’t skimp on the waist for weight. If you’re more into covering long distances and randonnee racing, go skinny and light.