Bunny slope or black diamond, skiing is America’s most popular winter sport because it’s an activity that appeals to people of all ages and all levels of athletic ability. You’ll enjoy skiing more if you’re outfitted with the proper equipment, so start at the bottom with skis that are suited to your body and your style for better performance and greater comfort. Skis and accessories can be a substantial investment, but Pronto’s Ski Buying Guide will get you off on the right foot.
Downhill skis should stand between the height of your chin and eyebrow. Choose shorter downhill skis for greater maneuverability and longer downhill skis for more stability at high speeds.
Choose a cross-country ski built for the type of terrain you like to explore. Skis with deep sidecuts turn faster than those with shallow sidecuts, and a high camber will give you more stability but less of a feel for the terrain.
Downhill bindings should provide a quick release to prevent injuries. Cross-country ski bindings should allow your foot to lift from the ski for proper kick and glide motion. Be sure to have bindings professionally adjusted at the start of each ski season.
Most skis use a core of wood wrapped in fiberglass to achieve a proper camber, known as a torsion box design. For the best performance, look for waxable skis with graphite bases that resist scratches.
Women should choose women’s skis made from more flexible materials with binding mounts adjusted to a woman’s center of gravity. Be sure to buy the right size skis for kids. Getting skis that are too big for a child can lead to injury.
The underside of a ski, which contacts the terrain.
The amount of space under the center of the ski when it is laid on a flat surface and its weight rests on the contact points at the tip and tail. A high camber provides more stability while a low camber gives a skier more feel for terrain.
A ski designed for gliding across flat surfaces. Cross-country skis are more lightweight because they are propelled by the skier.
A ski designed for riding down mountain trails. These skis are built for speed, and longer downhill skis maximize speed while shorter skis offer greater control.
A binding found on cross-country skis that allows the heel to lift from the surface of the skis to generate forward motion.
The measurement of how deep or shallow a ski is cut from its nose to its waist. The smaller the sidecut radius, the tighter you will be able to turn.
The back end of a ski.
The front end of a ski.
A type of construction used in the core of skis. In this method, thin strips of laminate wood or urethane are curved into a camber that is strengthened by tightly wrapping the material with fiberglass.
The center of a ski.
A ski that can be waxed. Waxable skis offer better glide and last longer than nonwaxable skis.
There are two types of skis for two types of skiing. Downhill skis are designed for speed on steep slopes, while cross country skis are made for moving a skier across the open countryside. You’ll need skis specific to the style of skiing you choose.
Downhill skis come in lengths between 140 and 200 centimeters and are available in 5 cm increments. Ski length is based on a skier’s size. In general, skis are sized by height first, then by weight.
When testing skis by height, the rule of thumb is that standing skis should reach somewhere between your chin and eyebrows. Sizing them on the longer side results in skis that are faster and more stable at high speeds; sizing them on the shorter side makes maneuvering easier but sacrifices some stability. Don’t buy skis shorter than chin level.
The chart below will give you an idea of the right ski length by weight. Generally, heavier skiers will need longer skis.
|Skier’s Weight||Ski Length (cm)|
|Less than 100 lbs.||140|
|More than 200 lbs.||170+|
Downhill ski width is measured in millimeters at the tip, waist and tail of the ski. This will be described as 122/90/115, for example. Beginning skiers should choose skis with a wide waist of 70mm and a narrow tail of 80mm. If you’ve graduated to the green or blue trails, you’ll want more responsive skis than those used by beginning skiers, so opt for a ski with a narrower waist. The most advanced skiers will appreciate the speed and control offered by wider skis with varying degrees of thickness that allow them to race over rougher terrain.
Cross country skis are made of lightweight materials because a cross country skier’s motion is self-propelled. Like downhill skis, cross-country skis are measured at tip, waist and tail, but also in two other dimensions: sidecut and camber. Sidecut is the inward curve of the ski. A ski with a deep sidecut turns more quickly than one with a shallow sidecut. Camber is the arc between the middle of the ski and the ground, visible when the ski rests on a flat surface. High cambers provide more stability, but they reduce the feel of the skis on the surface of the snow.
If you will be skiing on well-traveled paths, in-track touring skis are a good choice. They have a shallow sidecut and are conducive to forward kick-and-glide motion. On groomed trails, skating skis, which are shorter, narrower and lighter, will provide optimal results. Off-track skis, with their wider design, are best for navigating over powder and ungroomed surfaces. If you are skiing on the wild side and venturing through variable snow conditions, select backcountry skis, which are very wide and have metal edges.
Bindings attach the ski boot to the ski. Bindings are customized to the skier based on height, weight, boot size and skiing style, and you should have your bindings adjusted by a qualified technician at the start of each ski season.
Downhill skis use bindings that fit the ski boot to the ski at the toe and heel. To reduce the chance of injury, downhill ski bindings will release the skier’s foot in the event of a fall.
Cross country skis can have three types of bindings, all of which are “free heel” in construction, which allows a skier to lift the heels off the ski to “kick and glide” forward. Most common today is New Nordic Norm, where a bar in the boot’s toe is hooked into a catch in the binding, allowing the heel to raise and lower freely. Similar to New Nordic Norm, but designed for skate-style cross country skiing, is the Salomon Nordic System, which also attaches by a bar in the toe. The original type of cross country binding is the 75mm/3-pin, where three pins stick up from the ski and the toe of the boot has three holes that line up with the pins.
In order to give skis proper camber, most are made using torsion box construction. In this method, strips of laminated wood are curved into the camber, then wrapped tightly in fiberglass to hold the shape. Synthetic materials are sometimes substituted for wood in these skis.
The core of the ski is then coated in plastic or metal, and a base material is added to help the skis glide. Graphite is a good choice for bases, as it resists scratches that can cause skis to slow over time. Waxable or nonwaxable refers to the type of care a ski’s base requires. Experienced skiers prefer waxable skis for their superior performance.
Most skis will perform well on the packed powder and occasional ice found on ski slopes and trails. If you’re interested in a particular kind of skiing, consider skis built for the purpose, such as shorter mogul skis that give better control on bumps or backcountry skis that can handle ungroomed surfaces.
Women’s skis are designed differently than those for men. They are made from more flexible, lighter materials, and the mounting points are farther forward on the ski to adjust for a woman’s center of gravity.
Junior-sized skis are made for children and adolescents and are shorter than adult skis. It’s important to get the right size for right now when shopping for skis for your children. For your child’s comfort and safety, choose skis that fit a child’s current height and weight. Don’t buy big and expect them to grow into the skis.