12 Tips on Buying Your First Skis

Know the ins-and-outs of purchasing your first skis.

Congratulations! You’ve graduated from rental skis into the brave new world of ski ownership. But this is a daunting universe…finding the right first skis for alpine can be as confusing as calculus. They come in all shapes and sizes, with different side cuts, waist widths, tail design, camber, and flex patterns. Even we get overwhelmed, so we spoke with some ski building experts to gather their tips on how to find the perfect pair.

SEE ALSO: How to prevent shin bang this winter season

Father and son on the ski lift smiling wearing their first skis.

  • Consider the most common conditions in the areas you ski the most. Or focus in on where you’d like to ski the most, and what performance features you desire.
  • Compile a list of skis you have used in the past, with notes on the model, length, and what you liked and didn’t like.
  • Ski shape is generally given as width, in millimeters, at the widest part in front (AKA the shovel), waist, and tail. The most critical of these for overall performance is the waist width, which ranges from about 65 mm (for slalom race skis) to more than 110 mm (for powder skis). Narrower skis are more nimble and handle more easily in tight terrain: like trees, bumps, and chutes. Wider skis offer better float and handle more easily in deep snow, including broken powder and crud.
  • Sidecut describes the shape of the curved ski edge, and is often expressed as a radius, given in meters. In general, a straighter sidecut (big radius) carves a longer, more stable turn, and can be more forgiving. A deeper sidecut (short radius) carves a quicker, shorter turn and can require more agility from the skier.
  • A narrow tail can be more forgiving it releases more easily at the end of the turn, which can be an advantage in skiing bumps and tight terrain. A wider tail provides more power and exiting the turn, an advantage in high-speed carving.
  • Every ski is a compromise between ease/forgiveness on one hand and power/speed on the other; and between quick-turn agility and stability in challenging conditions.
  • If you want a more nimble ski, go with one with a narrower waist or shorter sidecut radius. If you want a floatier ski for soft snow, consider moving to a wider design.
  • Length and camber/rocker: Ski length, camber, and rocker affect the area of ski base in the snow. More area gives better float and stability; a shorter running surface provides easier turn entry and edge release at the turn exit.
  • Camber is the gentle arc visible when the ski sits flat. With a traditional camber, when the shovel and tail rest on the bench, the center of the ski is held clear of the bench. Camber has been a fundamental part of ski design for a couple of centuries because it allows skis to track predictably on hard snow, ice, and groomers. Camber can also add energy or pop as the skis release from turns. A bit of camber typically adds precision and stability to skis. Too much camber and it becomes difficult to flex the ski at the start of the turn.
  • On a traditional ski, the upturn or rise of the tips starts close to the widest point on the shovel of the ski. On rockered or early rise tips, the upturn of the shovel starts closer to the binding. This type of elongated tip offers better float, helping to keep the shovel from diving. Early rise tips help a skier stay in an athletic stance, centered over the middle of the ski, when plowing through crud. Rockered tips also reduce the effective edge length of skis. That helps a longer ski to turn and maneuver like a shorter traditional (non-rocker) skis. The tradeoff is that an elongated shovel riding above the snow surface tends to vibrate. So, precision is compromised in hard snow conditions.
  • On a traditional ski, any upturn in the tail starts close to widest point of the tail. On a ski with tail rocker or early rise in the tail, the upturn of the tail starts closer to the binding. Rockered tails or early rise tails encourage easy turn release, which can be helpful when skiing tight terrain or soft snow conditions. A rockered tail reduces the effective edge length of the ski, and makes the tail feel softer. The tradeoff is that a rockered tail feels less stable when skiing fast or in challenging snow conditions.
  • If you’ll be using your skis at a resort, you’ll probably want a ski with camber for optimum grip and stability on hard snow. Camber is also the best choice for ski touring, because it holds the full length of your climbing skins in the snow for efficiency going uphill.

Now that you have all this knowledge to purchase your skis, the next big questions are: Do you need to get your ski boots fitted or not? and How to maintain your skis?

Husband and wife skiing down the mountain on skis