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How to choose the proper ski for you?

For many skiers, one ski is like another. There is no crime behind many "ski thefts": some people have no idea what kind of skis they got at the rental shop.
It is also difficult to decide whether the equipment is wrong or we made something in a bad way when we do not feel our best on the ski slope. How can we know what skiing would be like with a different ski if we mostly ski the same ski?

When you enter a store, even a professional skier gets confused by the vast selection of skis.

The experts can help us narrow this endless selection to certain types of skis. We will also help you with this article to find your way around this.


"How to Choose a Ski" Guidelines:

"How to Choose a Ski" Guidelines:
  1. Terrain, field of use: choosing the width.

  2. Radius.

  3. Skill level: stiffness, flex, product

  4. Length



Main features of skis


First of all, knowing which terrain we will use the ski is essential. There are skis for groomed slopes and skis more suitable for deep snow. In case of deep snow, it is easier to be on the surface of the snowpack with a bigger body ski, so wider skis are produced for such conditions. Narrow skis are more stable on compact, groomed slopes.


In contrast to the skis of the previous century, the so-called carving skis are more agile. An essential characteristic of skis is whether they feel comfortable on shorter or longer curves, called their radius.


It does matter for what skill level a ski is recommended for.

Professional skis are stable even at higher speeds but require more accurate skiing. For a less experienced skier, such a ski can be challenging and unpredictable.

On the other hand, a beginner ski is tolerant and easy to operate. A professional skier experiences that the ski does not react precisely enough and is unstable even at medium speeds.


The length of the ski is also a principal factor, but it will be the last during the consideration. It comes into play when we have already decided on the other aspects.


1. What terrain do we mainly ski on? Select the width.


The underfoot size of the ski gives the width.


Skiing on groomed slopes

The narrowest are the racing skis (including their "street" or "shop" versions). These are often only 65-67 mm wide, only a few millimeters wider than the sole of a ski boot. These are the so-called slope or piste skis.

The ski does not keep on the edge on a compact surface but tips back onto its flat base. Keeping a narrower ski on the edge is easier than a wider one. Therefore, it has a more stable edge grip (the racers mainly ski on compact snow or ice).

At the same time, this feature benefits everyone who wants to learn to ski using the edge of the ski (carving skiing) and usually on groomed slopes.


Skiing in powder

On softer snow, the ski runs not only on the edge, but the base is also supported by the deeper snow, making it less likely to tip back. However, we can easily dig under the soft snow, so a larger surface is advantageous. If the layer of soft snow is so thick that you don't even reach a solid surface, the edge of the ski no longer plays a role; only the base supports the ski entirely.

That is why we will find extremely (up to 120-130 mm) wide powder skis on the other side of the product range.

Skiing with narrow skis in deep snow requires high-level skiing skills; wide skis are a huge help here.

Keeping a wide ski on the edge on a compact surface is challenging. If the slope becomes icy, the situation worsens. If someone wants to learn on a wide ski, there is almost no chance to ski with healthy skiing technique on the edges (carving).

It is also crucial that the wider skis exert unhealthy torque on the joints of the legs.


Mixed conditions

The third terrain characteristic is the fresh snow on the compact base. In such cases, we find soft snow on the solid surface and a compact base underneath. (Typically, the slopes are groomed in the evening, but sometimes in the morning if necessary.) Depending on the traffic, these slopes will be rough and bumpy quickly. For that condition are the medium (75-90 mm) wide, so-called all-mountain skis.

You can often find technical (snow gun) and compact natural snow on the lower-lying European ski slopes. Of course, we can get some snowier weeks, but the slopes are usually compact again two days after the last snowfall.

For whom we recommend which ski:

  • For those who want to learn a healthy, clean technique, better to choose a narrower ski; up to a maximum width of 75 mm is better.

  • Those who are not interested in good skiing technique and do not mind that it is more challenging to keep the ski on the edge and mainly ski on groomed slopes, but they often encounter softer and more challenging snow conditions on the slope; they can enjoy the all-mountain skis with a width of 75-90 mm;

  • Those who prefer to ski off-piste but also on the slope before and after the powder can benefit from an 80-100 mm wide ski.

  • Those who ski off-piste and only use a slope out of necessity need a powder ski over 100 mm.



Ski agility: the radius

Telemark arc (radius) of the ski
Telemark arc (radius) of the ski

In addition to the width of the ski, the other parameter usually indicated on the skis is radius.

The shape of the skis is similar to an hourglass. They are wider at the tip and tail than in the middle, as if an arc had been cut out of a slat board on each side. The radius refers to some extent to this arc. In practice, this means that the smaller the radius, the more agile the ski is. It turns more easily even for smaller actions. Skis with a shorter radius are generally less stable at high speeds (but if there are many people on the slope, it is anyway not safe to ski at higher speeds).


The radius of more agile skis is usually 12-13 m (sometimes, we can find shorter ones, too). On the high-end skis, this category is sometimes labeled SL (referring to the slalom racing skis).

Longer radius skis can be 20 m or more, sometimes labeled GS (giant slalom - giant slalom, of which the radius of the standard racing skis is 30 m).


Most skiers should choose from the 12-15 m range. This also applies to good skiers because when skiing on edge with good (efficient and healthy) technique, a longer radius ski requires much higher speed and more space, representing a greater risk. You can take advantage of them when only a few people are on the ski slope. With average or higher traffic, a ski with a shorter radius is more versatile and safer.


The sensitivity of a ski is determined not only by the radius but also by the torsion. A ski with a short radius but soft torsion reacts much more slowly and is less stable than a slightly larger radius ski with a stiffer torsion.

The price of skis is not affected by the radius, while the stiffness is much more. The biggest challenge for manufacturers is to make skis with stiff torsion but with a more flexible camber, especially with a shorter radius.


Skill level


We have reached the most challenging point: if we have the main parameters, which should be the exact ski? The types, numbers, fanciful names, and descriptions marketers create in the catalogs will not help you in the maze either.

Regarding what skill level a ski is recommended for, we are forced to trust the sellers' suggestions because we won't find any references for the ski. Even the catalogs don't help us navigate.

Beginner or advanced skis

The best advice for beginners is to rent skis instead. If someone learns to ski with a ski instructor, they will quickly "outgrow" the first ski. It's worth investing in your skis when you're starting to know how to ski.

When renting, it is better to ask for skis with a shorter radius (maximum 13-14 m); getting the feeling with a 15-16 m or above is more challenging.


The easiest is for good skiers: the so-called "shop" version of racing skis classifies the products intended for them. These are often labeled as "Race" skis in the catalogs; although they have little to do with real ("factory") racing skis, they are more progressive, harder, advanced skis. There may also be differences within these, but at least we can know that they represent the upper range of the given manufacturer's product line.


Otherwise, we can mostly rely on texts that marketers find attractive. Sometimes, the best clue is the price of the ski because better skis are generally more expensive. Beginner skis made of weaker materials are also cheaper, and we will hardly buy more serious skis for buttons.


It is most challenging to navigate in the middle of the product line. The term "intermediate" covers many skill levels, with many different styles, motivations, courage or fear, flaws, or strengths. It isn't easy to design skis for such difficult-to-describe needs and then to describe these properties simply and comprehensibly in the catalogs. The best advice is to try it out on tests or in a rental.


Renting is an alternative to be considered for intermediate and advanced skiers, as this way, you can try out different types of skis and decide on the purchase based on that. Even though we know the main parameters (width, radius, length, its place in the product line, and the descriptions), two similar skis can show completely different characters. They may have additional edge grip and sensitivity; one is tuned more forward, the other is tuned more on the back, etc. What suits one skier's style harmoniously, another skier may not like.


Stiffness

Tough ski is for tough skiers! It is better to rephrase it: A beginner does not need a stiff ski.
Stiffness of the camber of the ski (flex)
Stiffness of the camber of the ski (flex)

What does the stiffness of a ski mean? We understand under "stiffness" or "flex," usually the stiffness of the ski's camber, but more importantly, its torsion, i.e., how easily it can twist. What these properties have in common is that we have no idea about them numerically; we won't even find them in the catalogs.

Torsion of the ski
Torsion of the ski

One thing is sure: the more serious a ski is, the less it twists (torsion), but the same cannot be said about its camber. Sometimes, a GS racing ski bends more gently than its shop or amateur version.







Ski length

We decide on the length of the ski when we have already chosen its type. In general, the larger radius skis should be longer. The length depends on your height and weight.

When the carving skis appeared, we could hear "rules" such as "it should not reach higher than our shoulders". Unfortunately, we don't get away with choosing skis that easily.


The ski length around shoulder and chin height may be adequate for the most frequently used skis with a 12-15 m radius. It is easiest for those skiers of average body shape who choose slalom (SL) skis because, in this case, the men's size is 165 cm and the women's 157 cm (this was because of the competition rules).


Depending on your skiing skills, the ski can be a bit longer at around a 15-16 m radius. You can easily choose the suitable one for your body height from about 20m skis, including freeride skis. If the ski is intended for a larger radius or powder, then over-height skis can also be considered.


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