US Outdoor Store
US Outdoor Store
GUIDE TO SKIS
Downhill ski technology has come a long way since humans crafted skis from birch wood and animal skins to trek through Scandinavian forests and sneak up on seals.

While most modern skis share several characteristics with each other (laminate construction, steel edges, and polyethylene bases, for example), ski models vary depending on what type of skiing you do and in what terrain.

Choosing the the right ski for you means being aware of those variables. (And that’s why you’re here.)

TYPES OF SKIS

ALL MOUNTAIN SKIS

Often called one-quiver skis, all-mountain models are for skiers who consider the entire mountain their playground. They’re typically designed to be capable on and off the trail—on groomers, in powder, and helping you adapt in variable conditions—but they’re not experts in any one terrain. The name is a catch-all, though, and can be misleading, because there isn’t just one type of all-mountain ski. Some all-mountain skis are more carve-oriented models, while others are friendlier versions of big-mountain freeride skis, and they may feature traditional camber or rocker profiles or a blend of the two. The key is determining what type of skiing you do most and then you’ll be in the best position to choose your ideal daily driver.

All-mountain models typically feature waist widths between 90mm and 105mm (with narrower waists performing better in hard snow) and medium sidecut with a turn radii somewhere between 16m and 20m (with shorter radii making quicker turns easier).

POWDER SKIS

Powder skis are for deep days when float matters and friends don’t. They typically have a playful, maneuverable feel in soft, deep snow. They’re also wide—at least 105mm at the waist—to keep you from sinking up to your chest… at least, if the snow gods are cooperating. These days, most powder skis feature some form of rocker too (to increase float and maneuverability in soft snow) whether it’s early rise rocker in the tips or full rocker along the entire length of the skis.

Powder models typically feature waist widths of at least 105mm and a variety of turn radii, and they may even feature some powder-specific reverse sidecut that mimics the outlines of a water ski for a more maneuverable, playful feel in soft snow.

FREE-RIDE SKIS

Designed for steep, technical terrain, the heritage of freeride or big-mountain skis lies in race technology which, combined with the off-piste characteristics of powder skis, makes them reliable at speed, but also able to handle ungroomed snow on big-mountain lines. Freeride skis are typically stiffer with a tougher construction too, so they’re best suited to strong, advanced-to-expert skiers who can control them in critical big-mountain situations. Like all-mountain skis, they may have a hybrid camber / rocker profile to help them adapt to variable snow conditions and terrain.

Freeride models typically feature waist widths between 95mm and 115mm (with narrower waists performing better in hard snow) and sidecut with turn radii of 20m and longer.

FREESTYLE SKIS

Built for skiers who spend most of their mountain time in the terrain park and the halfpipe, freestyle skis also lend themselves to urban riding where rails and jib features are the skier’s main focus. Early park and pipe skis featured lightweight construction, twin tips, symmetrical dimensions, and central mounting points to facilitate spinning and riding switch. Newer freestyle models may feature more modern camber, rocker, or hybrid profiles, but they still feature twin tips, tougher bases, and durable edges to withstand abuse from rails and jib features.

Freestyle models typically feature waist widths around 90mm, but more all-mountain-friendly models with wider waists do exist.

TOURING SKIS

Reducing weight is a primary concern when it comes to backcountry touring skis (also known as alpine touring, ski mountaineering, or randonee skis). Touring skis feature attachment points at the tip and tail for your climbing skins and, while these skis may range from ultralight models to ones similar to all-mountain or freeride skis, most models share the same focus on lightweight materials to make them more manageable during ascents. But the weight-savings comes at a cost—touring skis may not be as chatter-resistant at speed or in hard snow, and some models are more susceptible to damage than traditional resort skis are.

Touring skis range from skinny and ultralight (to make the ascent easier) to all-mountain-inspired models able to handle the variable terrain you might encounter on the descent. Determine what style of backcountry touring you do most and you’ll be better suited to finding the right width and style of ski.

CAMBER & ROCKER PROFILES

TRADITIONAL CAMBER

Skis with traditional camber curve upward underfoot and are typically best suited to performance on hard snow. This arch provides more precision on groomers, offering more edge contact and edge hold, making camber ideal for race or more carve-oriented skis.

DIRECTIONAL ROCKER

Skis with directional rocker (also known as tip rocker or early rise rocker) are typically more versatile on ungroomed snow. The tips of skis with directional rocker curve upward earlier than skis with traditional camber. This early early rise rocker handles ungroomed snow and crud better and allows you to initiate your turns and pivot more easily. Because of this, skis with directional rocker are often more versatile, all-mountain models.

FULL ROCKER

Skis with full rocker (also known as reverse camber) first appeared in the market about 15 years ago in the form of the Volant Spatula. The theory was that skis that curved upwards away from the toe and heel of your boot (like a water ski or a surfboard) would perform better in soft snow. Guess what: They do. Traditional camber is great for a strong edge hold on hard snow, but rockered skis handle powder and ungroomed snow better and allow you to initiate turns more easily and have a more maneuverable, playful experience overall.

HYBRID ROCKER

Rocker technology has evolved plenty since Saucer Boy’s day, to the point that hybrid rocker and camber profiles are practically the norm. The most common form of hybrid rocker is probably traditional camber underfoot with rocker in the tip and tail (sometimes known as rocker / camber / rocker), offering versatile performance on and off the trail. This profile often features in all-mountain and freeride models.

TURNING & SIDE CUT RADIUS

A ski’s sidecut is determined by the tip, waist, and tail widths. Typically, the narrower a ski is at the waist compared to its tip and tail widths, the deeper its sidecut is (and, therefore, the shorter its turning radius will be). Skis with shorter turn radii are better for quick turns and on-piste skiing, while skis with longer turn radii are better for more drawn-out lines and are more stable at higher speeds.

Skis with deep sidecut and turn radii of less than 16m are generally carve-oriented, on-piste models, while skis with more more shallow sidecuts and turn radii over 20m are generally big-mountain models, better for bigger lines and more stable at higher speeds.

SIZE CHARTS

WHAT NOW?
We hope this resource guide helps give you an idea of what type of ski will best suit your ability and style, but we recommend coming into our shop and speaking with our expert staff for an even better idea of what you need.

After that? Grab that new pair of skis. Go to the mountain. Maybe get sponsored. Embrace your new professional status. Repeat.

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