It used to be you could determine your ski length by reaching the tip of the ski to the top of your head. You’d add five to 10 centimeters according to skill and weight. Using the top of your head is still a good guide, but with shaped skis, the trend is to shorter skis.
Shaped skis are wider and have more surface area touching the snow. They’re more stable. Performance combined with new construction techniques and materials mean shaped skis can be shorter than their long narrow predecessors. With such a versatile ski, manufacturers don’t have to produce as many lengths of ski and shopping becomes easier.
What Ski Length?
Here’s a good rule of thumb.
- Juvenile Age 2-5: Ski tip below chin
- Junior Age 6-12: Ski tip center of forehead
- Adult Beginner to Intermediate: Head height minus 10 to 15 centimeters.
- Adult Intermediate to Advanced: Ski tip 5 to 10 centimeters under head height.
More important than height, though, is a skier’s weight. Heavier skiers can turn a larger ski with less effort than lighter skiers can. Women, especially petite women, are light and need a ski that’s very responsive.
Do you want to make short, tightly carved turns? Go for a narrow waist and small sidecut radius. Medium length turns for skiing around the whole mountain call for a medium waist and sidecut radius. For longer turns or racing, go for a fairly straight, wide ski, that is, one with a shallow sidecut or large sidecut radius. Skiing moguls requires skis with little sidecut because the turns are made more in the air than actually on the snow. Powder skis are wide in the waist with a large tip and tail to get and stay on top of the powder.
Understanding Ski Construction
The most durable skis use fiberglass cloth wrapped around a wood or foam core. Another common construction is laminate or sandwich, which uses layers of fiberglass glued to the top and bottom of the core. Although sandwich construction often provides a smoother ride, it’s also less durable and can delaminate over time. Wood cores tend to be more responsive and durable, but more expensive. Foam cores are lighter weight and have a more consistent flex, plus they’re less expensive. The downside is that they can feel less than lively next to wood core skis.
With construction becoming more complex, the core is less of a factor in the flex or stiffness of a ski. The amount of flex in a given ski, makes a big difference in how and where you ski. Stiff-flexed skis are able to absorb the shock that is generated at high speeds and on hard-packed surfaces. They are intended for fast-skiers who stick to packed or groomed surfaces such as racecourses.
Stiff skis are more difficult to maneuver, because they require the technique of tilting onto the edges to create carved turns.
Pliable or soft-flexing skis are easiest for a beginner to learn on and are also more maneuverable in deeper snow. In between are medium-flex skis, aimed at the intermediate level skier. Intermediate skiers usually skid the tails of their skis at the end of a turn to slow themselves down or to shorten the turn. The mid-range flex allows for these skidded turns, but is stiff enough to handle more variety in terrain than softer skis.
General Ski Categories
Expert/Racing Skis built for speed are generally narrower. They’re designed for racing, competition and aggressive skiers who like to push themselves, especially on hard-packed or groomed slopes. Usually the stiffest skis, they absorb shock and vibration at high speeds. This stiff flex, along with a straighter profile, requires good technique to make these skis turn.
Giant slalom are expert racing skis that make fast, large, carved turns. They usually hold an edge well in deep, wet snow.
Slalom are advanced racing skis that make shorter, faster turns than giant slalom skis. They offer good control on steep, icy terrain.
All Mountain/Performance Skis are for intermediate to advanced skiers who carve turns on the whole mountain, but stay mostly on groomed snow. They are wider than racing skis and have a slightly softer flex, so they can handle more snow conditions and slower turning speeds. Their wider tips pull them into turns more easily so the skier doesn’t have to rely quite as much on perfect technique.
Skis are available in men’s and women’s models. Women’s skis are generally lighter weight and have a softer flex than most men’s skis. Bindings on most of the women’s models are positioned farther forward to increase stability and make turning easier. Women can, of course, go with any ski model appropriate for their ability and terrain preferences. Some women, however, especially those with smaller builds, find that lighter women’s skis are easier to control.
From T-shirts and baselayers, to ski jackets, pants, socks, gloves and hats, you’re going to have more fun on the mountain if you’re dressed properly.