How long should my skis be?

When carving became popular in the 1990s, a whole range of new skis in different lengths where introduced to the market. There is no magic formula for determining the perfect size ski for every ski type. At Freeride we will help you find the right size alpine skis. We will talk you through the skis’ important properties, such as waist (width), turning radius, stiffness and rocker profile.

You actually need to take quite a few parameters into consideration to determine the right size. You need to consider:

  • your weight
  • your skill level
  • if you are skiing on or off piste
  • if you are a fast or slow skier
  • what type of skiing style you prefer

Before choosing the ski size you first need to decide which type of ski you want, and with this I don’t mean brand of ski. All ski brands have different ski types in their ranges. It is much more important to first decide the type of ski, rather than the brand of ski. There are basically no bad ski brands today, so choosing a brand is more about individual taste and preferences than anything else. Choosing skis is like choosing a car. First, decide on the type of car: sports car, jeep, combi or something else. Then you decide which brand of car to go for.

All ski manufacturers are selling a range of different types of skis. In order to compare ski types from different brands, you need to divide the skis into different groups. Alpine skis can be divided into the groups below: (The different groups of skis are not ranked in any way. They simply represent different skiing styles. Within each group, there are subgroups according to price ranges.)

  • Piste skis
  • All-mountain skis
  • Off piste skis
  • Park & Pipe skis
  • Ski touring skis
  • Skis for beginners

If you want to compare different brands of skis, you must compare the same types of skis. E.g. you need to compare piste skis from different ski brands. Comparing off piste skis from one brand with racing skis from another brand is like comparing apples and pears.

A step-by-step guide has been developed, which you can use to roughly determine the ski size you need. Be aware, however, that this is just a guide, which will not provide an exact result. It will only give you a rough measurement. Personal preferences also come into account when determining ski size. It is important that you are honest with your responses when using the guide, or else the guide will not provide relevant results.

Find the ski size in cm that corresponds to your weight. Add the number of cm that apply to your skill level, assertiveness, slope condition and which type ski you are after

1. Weight

Kg < 47 48-52 53-58 59-65 66-73 74-82 83 >
Ski size cm 140 145 150 155 160 165 170

2. Skill level

Able to ski in most groomed slopes at low pace.+ 0 cm Able to ski in all well groomed slopes at different paces. + 5 cm Able to ski on slopes, in all snow conditions at high pace. + 10 cm

3. Slope condition

Most of the time in groomed pistes and hard packed snow conditions. + 0 cm Most of the time off piste or in soft snow conditions. + 5 cm

4. Type of skis

– Piste skis + 2 cm
– Park & Pipe skis + 2 cm
– Ski Touring skis + 2 cm
– Beginner skis + 2 cm
– Giant Slalom skis + 10 cm
– All-Mountain skis + 10 cm
– Off piste skis + 12 cm

Total = This cm size is a guide only. Choose this size or one just below or above.

This is how I worked out which ski size suits me:

1. Weight/ski size in cm: I weigh 80 kg, which means I’m in the 74-82 kg bracket. Looking just below I find that my starting point is 165 cm.

2. Skill level/ assertiveness: This is where I consider my skill level. My level is the one to the far right, +10 cm. I add 10 cm to the starting point of 165 cm and get 175 cm.

3. Slope conditions: On what slope conditions do I do most of my skiing? I believe it’s the one to the far left: + 0 cm. At this stage the guide indicates my ski size is still 175 cm.

4. Type of ski: Finally I choose the type of ski. I use All-Mountain skis and thus add 10 cm and get a final result of 185 cm.

The guide gives you an appropriate length for when you choose skis. You may still prefer skis that are 5 cm longer or shorter, which is fine. The guide is simply an indication of the size skis you should choose.

Ski length guide
1. Weight

2. Skill level

3. Slope condition

4. Type of skis


Total = This cm size is a guide only. Choose this size or one just below or above.

 

Choosing the right type of skis

Choosing skis is not as easy as it seemed a couple of years ago. The sports industry is constantly developing new designs, geometries and materials for alpine skis. Besides the engineering developments, there are also changes to how the manufacturers market their products. One year there is a real thrill regarding the skis’ turning radius, another year focus is put on the material used: carbon layer graph, titanium and cores made from poplar wood. In their aim to differentiate themselves, ski manufacturers may rename things that already exist. This is obviously quite confusing for consumers when they try to compare different skis. One minute you think you are on top of everything, then… Whoosh! …. all of a sudden your knowledge is out of date. This is in part because of real new developments of skis, but also because the marketing focus is changing and new ski terminology and buzzwords are introduced.

The most basic question to ask when choosing skis is really on what slope conditions you will do most of your skiing. Is it piste slopes? Off piste? Both on piste and off piste? Jumps and tricks in ski parks? Or mostly alpine touring? You choose your ski type based on the answers to those questions.  Skis can theoretically be divided into numerous categories, however, to keep this introduction simple we will only talk about five segments: All-Mountain-, Off Piste-, Park-, On Piste- and Alpine Touring.

Types of skis – overview: what ski is suitable for what?

If newly groomed pistes is your thing and you love to carve, then you should be looking for On Piste skis. If you want skis that work well both on and off piste, then you should choose All-Mountain skis. You pick Off Piste skis if you will do your skiing in unprepared terrain in deep snow. If you enjoy jumping, railing and other ski tricks, then you should obviously be looking at buying Park skis. Finally, if you are after lightweight skis for touring, you should steer your way to the Alpine Touring skis.

Once you have selected the ski type, the other considerations (waist width, turning radius, rocket profile, stiffness etc.) will be quite easy to deal with. Start by thinking of where you will do most of your skiing, and thus decide which type of ski you need. After having chosen the ski type, you can move to a more detailed level: “Hmmmm…. is 110 mm too wide? Is 108 mm enough? Will I regret not choosing a tip rocker with early rise? Is titanium completely overrated? Should I be looking for skis with a core of birch wood? Does a lightweight cap design really hold up, or does it feel unnatural and floppy on the foot? Am I too optimistic in believing a 1755 gram ski will work for both alpine touring, off piste skiing AND for down hill fast pace piste racing? Do I need two pairs of skis? Is that worth the conflict I will definitely have with my partner? Hmmmm….”

What type of ski should I use?

Start by asking yourself how you will be using your skis. If you are completely focused on jumping, then you should find yourself some Park skis. If your heart is only in Alpine Touring, well… then its that type of skis you should look for. If you are solely doing on piste skiing, spend your money on skis designed for piste skiing. If you are only into heli-skiing in Alaska and the Himalayas, the choice is simple! Buy a pair of long cool off piste skis with full or flat rocker profile!

Many skiers are not only enjoying one type of skiing, but are into a few different skiing styles. This is the reason many people will choose All-Mountain skis. All-Mountains skis are exactly that: – skis to use all over the mountain.  Unfortunately, though, there is not really such a thing as an all mountain ski. No skis can handle (a) blue ice carving with your shoulders touching the ground, and (b) meet your expectations for park skiing and (c) support you in two meter deep powder snow, and (d) handle a well beaten semi-hard off piste slope, and (e) be feather-light for alpine touring, and (f) be short enough for the kids’ slopes for when you’re standing there with a crying 3-year old between your legs. Nevertheless, manufacturers are quick to claim just that: “we have designed the ultimate type of skis, to be used in all types of conditions!”

From a skiing perspective, the most optimal thing is to have more than one pair of skis, although this is not possible for everyone due to practical, environmental and financial reasons. Luckily there are skis that (almost) let you have your cake and eat it too. Compromising often means you have to sacrifice something, but perhaps not too much. Your new skis may perhaps not be best for powder, piste or alpine touring, but they can probably be the second or third best choice for various skiing conditions and terrains and in that way allow you many wonderful experiences in the mountains.

Freeride skis: All-Mountain and Off-piste skis

Anyone who just so slightly considers anything else than on piste skiing, should immediately look for All-Mountain or Off Piste skis. These two types of skis overlap with each other a little. The widest All-Mountain ski is definitely very close to the Off-Piste category. What distinguishes them from each other is their width under the foot – i.e. the ski’s waist measure – and to some extent the type of rocker profile they feature.

All-Mountain – skis that handle most challenges

The classic All-Mountain-ski has a waist of 90 – 110 mm, which makes it versatile both in getting up on the edge in on-piste carving turns, at the same time as it is wide enough to provide float in off-piste snow slopes. The narrower (down to 90 mm) All-Mountain skis are more on-piste oriented, while the wider (up to 105 mm and more) are more off-piste oriented.

The turning radius of an All-Mountain ski is normally between 16 – 25 meters, which makes it controlled and soft in large turns, but still allowing you to push in the skis in the shorter carving turns.

The rocker profile of a classic All-Mountain ski (more about rocker profile further down) has a traditional camber under the foot, which allows for great performance on firm surfaces.  Firm surfaces can be present, as we know, both on piste and on a really icy couloir off piste. The camber under the foot is then combined with either the rocker at both tip and tail (mustache rocker), or only at the tip.
A 110 mm wide All-Mountain ski with rocker at both tip and tail is trailing carefully further away on the mountain and is getting very close to our next ski category: Off Piste skis.

Off Piste skis – for deep snow days

Classic Off Piste skis fulfill your dreams when skiing during those epic days with new powder snow cover. The waist width has become a bit narrower in recent years and is now generally 110 – 125 mm. Some rocker profiles are similar to those on powder-oriented All-Mountain skis, i.e. classic camber under the foot with rocker at tip and tail, while the wider skis (120 mm or more) are fitted with a full rocker or, more commonly, a flat rocker.

Both the full and flat rocker profiles are completely lacking the classic camber, which makes them poor on hard surfaces, as they become floppy unless you are carving constantly. Full rocker has reversed camber, giving the ski a banana shape, which is great for skiing in deep and light powder and allowing for superior float. The ski becomes quick and has an increased ease of turn due to the small contact points. The shape of the flat rocker sits in between a full rocker and the version with camber and rocker at tip and tail. This gives a mix of properties: great float, but better transition on hard packed snow conditions compared to full rocker.

120 mm and skis with full or flat rocker are thus great powder skis. On the average skiing day, those skis are left behind in the garage. However, when fresh powder has fallen they must be put to use and offer you amazingly great float in off piste fluffy goodness. Think Alaska, Canada, Japan and the really deep snow days on the west coast of Norway.

The tail of an Off Piste ski is more or less bent upward, without being a twin-tip, which is the case with Park skis. The pointy tail makes it easier to release from turns in powder conditions or in groomed but messy slopes.

Pure Off Piste skis generally have a large turning radius, starting at 20 meters and upward. This allows for great skiing in large turns at high speed (a few ski brands combine really wide skis with strong carving to allow for better performance on hard surfaces).

The coolest powder skis are often featured with a “pin tail”, meaning the tail of the ski is a bit narrower than normal. The reduced bearing capacity in the pin tail makes the float easier in deep snow; it stabilizes the ski and provides maximum float. This is the reason wide Park skis almost never have pin tail, as the skiers want bearing capacity at the tail when doing back flip landings.

Park skis

If jumping, railing and jibbing are your thing, then get yourself some Park skis (twin tips, jibb). If it is full on park and pipe, then you want skis with narrower waists, perhaps 80-90 mm. However, the more powder and the more away from prepared areas you intend to ski and play in, the more you will benefit from a broader waist.

If you’re only using your skis to jump, you may benefit from mounting the skis forward a little so that you are closer to the centre of the ski. The piste performance deteriorates somewhat, but it is easier to do tricks and turns when you are standing at the centre of the ski. Some jibb skis are so-called symmetrical skis, meaning they have the same dimensions at both ends. There is no tail; both ends are tips. These skis lose performance in piste as well as float in powder, but they help facilitate back flip landings and backward skiing. Symmetrical skis are always centre mounted.

Twin tip skis are designed with the tail curved up to enable the skier to ski backwards down the slope without problems. The downside with the curved up tail is that it makes it difficult to really finish a carving turn, as the tail tends to “drop out” of the turn. However, you are obviously not buying Park skis for their piste performance. You simple need to accept this downside in the park skis’ performance. The “dropping out” performance makes it easier to get out of turns when skiing in messy terrain and powder – which then means the “drop-out” is an advantage. The wider Park skis, waist 90 – 115 mm, are similar to both All-Mountain and Off Piste skis. These skis are sometimes called “Twin Tip Back Country”.

Piste skis

The classic piste skis have narrower waists than other type of skis. The waist width usually varies between 65 – 90 mm, making it very easy to get the ski up on its edge on hard packed and steep slopes. For those who enjoy the classic style of laying a ski over on edge and arcing a perfect turn, good quality sharp piste skis is what you need. These skis deliver amazing floatation down perfectly groomed slopes.

The typical piste ski has a long camber under the foot. If you put the skis bottom to bottom, they will only touch at tip and tail. Serious carving racing skis have riser plates under the bindings, enabling even more spring-effect on the edges.

In recent years we have seen piste skis fitted with a small tip rocker, which helps initiating turns (when turning a ski while carving, the ski needs to flex after passing the fall line. The tip of the ski is the part that needs to flex first, which a small tip rocker helps facilitate). The tail of a piste ski is relatively flat and provides good grip when releasing from a turn. It also helps prevent losing the grip at the end of a turn when the force is at its peak. Advanced piste skis are often relatively heavy with high stiffness both lengthwise and sidewise (torsional resistance), which allows for high speed and force.

Most beginners start their skiing career in groomed slopes. There are many piste skis for beginners that have been designed to make learning how to turn very easy.

Piste skis come in a large range of turning radius. If you prefer classic slalom and a lot of turns you should choose a radius of 16 meters or less. Skis with higher turn radius support a giant slalom skiing style, suitable for high speeds and large turns.

Alpine Touring Skis

The classic touring ski is a lightweight ski. You are not going up the mountain by a lift, helicopter or cat ski. Instead, you have to carry all your gear, including your skis, up the mountain yourself. That’s when light is right. An alpine touring ski somewhat resembles a narrower and shorter All-Mountain ski (smaller ski = lighter ski). Alpine Touring skis are designed with lightness in focus (often made from carbon fiber with cap construction). There can be as much as one-kilo weight difference between a super-light alpine touring ski and a robust, wide All-Mountain ski. When going long distance alpine ski touring you benefit from choosing a real lightweighter, say 1400 grams or lighter (excluding bindings), although this compromises the ski’s downhill performance. The loss in downhill performance is, however, not as noticeable when the skiing style is less aggressive and less forceful, and if the skier has relatively light body weight.

There has been a rapid development into more robust tech-bindings for Alpine Touring skis, which means there is now a bigger interest in heavier and more robust Alpine Touring skis as well. There is now a wealth of 1500 – 1900 gram skis (excluding bindings) to choose from. The design is getting closer to the All-Mountain category, but the skis are lighter. There is plenty of choice depending on the skiing excursion you are planning, if you are going uphill a lot and how aggressive you down hill skiing is.

There is often a debate as to how rocker profiles on Alpine Touring skis impact on the gripping ability of climbing skis. There is no impact at all in loose snow conditions, as the ski sinks into the snow regardless. The common view is that an All-Mountain ski with mustache rocker (camber under the foot with tip and tail rocker) works very well for alpine touring. The grip is sufficient even on firm surfaces, although the contact point is smaller. Having good quality climbing skins that are cut to perfectly fit the skis, is probably more critical than focusing on the rocker profile of the skis.

Other considerations – stiffness and more on rocker profiles

Stiffness – flex (lengthwise) och torsion (sidewise, twist stiffness)

Optimal ski resistance depends partly on your weight and partly on how fast and aggressive you skiing style is. Stiff skis are suitable for heavier people with fast and forceful skiing abilities. Flexible skis are suitable for beginners and people with lighter body weights.

If you are somewhere in between a light weight beginner and a heavy aggressive skier, then personal taste comes into play when determining the right stiffness. A more flexible ski is usually more comfortable and easy to use. You don’t have to work as hard, as less force is required to flex the ski and make it turn. What is gained in playfulness with a flexible ski is lost when skiing at higher speeds, as the ski becomes floppy and somewhat unreliable. Generally speaking, a flexible ski does not provide as much responsiveness as a stiffer ski, for example when releasing from a turn.

Skis are often grouped as advanced, intermediate and beginner, which mainly corresponds to the stiffness of the skis. The most advanced skis – in the recreational category, not professional – are not as challenging to ski on as they used to be. Therefore, if you are an intermediate skier, don’t be afraid to try something from the advanced category.

In order to get a really rigid and speed-resistant ski, it has been necessary to add material to the design and thus make the ski a little heavier. It is for this reason that ski manufacturers in recent years have experimented with new materials in order to make lightweight alpine touring skis with sufficient stiffness and speed stability for downhill.

Stiffer skis are sometimes perceived to “turn less” than identical skis that are more flexible. This actually does not relate to the skis, but to the skier. A stiff, advanced ski requires more speed and force to flex and turn. The degree to which the ski turns depends on its cut, which is measured by its turn radius. A flexible ski is simply easier to flex and to initiate a turn with. This makes it feel like the ski turns easier and more. A heavier and more skilled skier may over-flex a flexible ski, which makes the ski difficult to control. Flexible skis do not provide strong response – or pop (not to mistake for pop in park skis) – when exiting a turn, something that experienced rapid-turning skiers often like to have.

When it comes to stiffness, we need to clarify something. We discussed lengthwise stiffness above, sometimes also referred to as flex. The other type of stiffness is torsional resistance, which is the sidewise stiffness of the ski. Generally speaking, you would want as much torsional resistance as possible. Torsional resistance means a better grip and the ski has a more controlled performance when pushed on the snow with force. Skis with insufficient torsional resistance become floppy and difficult to control. The need for high torsional resistance increases the heavier the skier is and the more forceful their skiing style. Beginners will benefit from torsionally less stiff skis, as these skis may be perceived as more forgiving.

More about rocker profiles

To be fitted with a rocker basically means the ski’s shape starts to go upwards before the real tip starts. Its purpose is to improve skiing abilities and float. The rocker also enables smoother skiing as it prevents the ski tip to get caught in bumps and other uneven snow patches.

Rocker fitted skis have been around for more than ten years and are today standard features of All-Mountain and Off Piste skis. The first ski to feature a rocker was Volants Spatula, which was introduced as a prototype in 2001. The creator, Shane McConkey, got the inspiration from water skis. Water skis are wide and have reversed camber (rocker) and also reversed cut (i.e. wider at the waist than at tip and tail, the opposite to how carving skis are geometrically cut).

A multitude of rockers have been developed since experimentation started in the early days of the 21st century. Some have survived. The four most important rocker profiles are:

  • Traditional profile (a full camber under the foot with contact points close to tip and tail)
  • Tip rocker (rocker at the tip of the ski, the brim of the ski starts to point upwards further back than on the traditional profile)
  • Tip & tail rocker (rockers at the ends) with traditional camber under the foot – mustache rocker
  • Full rocker (reversed camber with the entire ski bent, more or less like a banana. A softer version is the flat rocker (the ski has tip & tail rocker while the middle part of the ski is flat).

TRADITIONAL PROFILE: The entire length of the ski has a positive camber with contact points only close to tip and tail, on a ski with no load. The traditional profile works very well on groomed pistes, as you have a long steel edge to utilize in carving turns. More camber = more carving. A camber enables a spring (or pop) response. Other terms for traditional camber are “standard alpine” and “positive camber”.

TIP ROCKER: The most common and versatile rocker type, where the tip of the ski starts pointing upward further back. This profile is common on Piste, Park, All-Mountain, Off-Piste, and Alpine Touring skis. The further back the rocker is, the more effect it has. On the other hand, the more rocker, the less steel edge, which can be a challenge on groomed slopes and icy patches. A carving ski with tip rocker usually has a traditional camber under the foot, but no tail rocker. Narrow All-Mountain skis and some Alpine Touring skis features tip rockers.

TIP & TAIL ROCKER: Tail rockers are always combined with tip rockers. A tail rocker is an upward bent tail, which improves the float somewhat. The tail rocker allows for an easier release from turns in powder and messy snow. On the other hand, the grip will deteriorate when releasing from turns on even and hard slopes, possibly with an unstable effect. The tail rocker enables easier back flip landings in powder. The tip & tail rocker (i.e. the famous mustache rocker) is standard on wider All-Mountain skis and narrower Off-Piste skis.

FULL AND FLAT ROCKER: The ski has a slight negative camber under the foot on a full rocker. A full rocker has great float advantages in powder and makes the ski easy to control. On the other hand, a full rocker’s performance will deteriorate on hard packed surfaces. Full rockers are uncommon and features only on a few wide powder skis. The flat rocker is a less extreme version. The ski profile is flat under the foot, which is sometimes referred to as a neutral camber, as opposed to positive camber on a traditional profile and negative camber on a full rocker.

Text: Ola Rockberg, Anders Winqvist
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