Buying Guide: How to Choose the Right Skis
SKI REVIEWS: HOW TO USE THEM
It is often difficult to get trusted advice when choosing a model of ski. Stores are, of course, interested in selling the models they have in stock, with a very limited choice in general.
Ski reviews have several advantages:
- They’re independent from the products sold by the retailers,
- They’re carried out by professional reviewers or ones who have a good technical level,
- They’re carried out within a precise methodological framework (snow, terrain, ratings, etc.),
- They allow you to choose from a vast number of models.
Ski reviews often identify “best skis” for each market segment. These are the "best skis"… according to the review specifications, which are often set by professional skiers with a high technical level.
In many cases, the "best ski" of the review isn’t necessarily the most suitable ski for your needs. A ski with a slightly lower score but that is more accessible or versatile can be a much wiser choice. Read the reviewers' opinions and make the right choice based on your level and practice.
The purpose of GEARSCORE is to help internet users to buy the skis best best suited to their needs for the best price.
The selection policy of GEARSCORE is therefore guided by how relevant the information is to the internet user – methodological framework, reviewers' level, technical nature of the opinion, independence from the brands, product discrimination, measures of ski stiffness, etc., are all criteria that will be taken into account.
You don't test skis in the mountains like you test tins of food at the end of a production line. The weather conditions, the terrain, the snow conditions, the reviewers, the models put to the test and methodological framework provided by the publisher are all criteria that can affect a ski’s evaluation. Thus, the evaluation of the same ski may vary from one review to another or from one season to another. However, experience has shown that opinions converge and that there are few significant differences in evaluations.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE PERFECT SKI
What practice do you want to buy skis for?
- On-piste, off-piste or mixed?
- Gentle, medium or steep slopes?
- Smooth terrain or bumps?
- Soft or hard snow?
- Do you skid or carve when skiing?
- Short or long turns, low or high speed?
- Low: beginner or initiated;
- Intermediate: able to ski parallel and skid parallel turns, comfortable on intermediate slopes (red slopes);
- Advanced: able to make carving turns, carving approaches, comfortable on steep slopes;
- Expert: able to cut with sharp angles (carving), comfortable on all types of snow and very steep slopes. Comfortable off-piste.
You can choose a ski that requires a slightly higher technical level than yours.
First, define the category that meets your needs.
If your level is low or intermediate, focus on the categories that favour accessibility (“Intermediate” for Proskilab, “All-round Tourism” for Neveitalia, for example).
If you have an advanced to expert level, choose your category according to your practice:
- Slalom: if you have a good level, good physical fitness and like agile and nervous skis;
- Giant Slalom: if you have a good level, good physical fitness and you like speed and sharp turns;
- Piste Performance: if you want a sport ski that is less sharp and less demanding than a slalom or giant slalom ski;
- “Cruiser” Piste: if you want a homogeneous ski that is both comfortable and efficient;
- All-Mountain: if you want a comfortable ski on- and off-piste;
- Freeride: if you mainly practice off-piste.
Once you've selected your category, choose the ski that meets your needs based on the comments on the various criteria: notes, reviewers' opinions, selling price, and others.
These are slalom, giant slalom or super-G skis for racers, standardised by the International Ski Federation (FIS). These skis are very demanding and designed for exclusively competition practice. They are not at all suitable for “leisure” practice.
They are often inspired by “FIS” skis but are less rigid and more forgiving, suited to the needs of an athletic clientele but who don’t necessarily practise at competition level.
Slalom skis are characterised by a smaller turn radius, quick turn initiation, excellent edge grip and a good boost at the end of turns. They are nervous, agile skis.
Giant slalom skis are specialists in long turns at high speed. They have a longer turn radius and are distinguished by exceptional edge grip and stability.
These skis generally require a good technical and physical level.
There are various sub-categories:
- Beginner skis
These are skis for the lowest levels. These are relatively soft skis that generally favour snow plough turns, skidded and pivoted turns. In their specifications, some reviews, such as Proskilab, include the ability to allow skiers to develop towards carving.
These are performance-oriented skis, but they are less comprehensive and specialised than slalom or giant slalom skis.
- All-Round Skis
These are larger skis, approximately 80 mm to 85 mm wide at the waist, designed to promote behaviour on all types of snow. It can go off-piste.
In some countries with a piste-oriented culture, "all-round" skis are sometimes confused with "all-mountain" skis.
These are skis optimised for exclusively off-piste practice. They are designed to optimise lift and handling in powder snow and switching to chopped powder. As a result, they are very wide (more than 100 mm at the waist), almost always equipped with rockers (elevated ski base at the front and/or back of the ski).
The segment is sometimes divided into two sub-categories:
- “Fat Freeride” (wide skis with a classic shape)
- “Big Mountain Rocker” (wide skis with large rockers and sometimes a reverse camber).
The width, lack of stiffness, the large rockers and even the reverse camber of these skis often penalise behaviour on the piste.
These skis are designed for mixed on- and off-piste practice.
The market often distinguishes between two sub-categories:
- "All-Mountain" skis that favour on-piste practice
These skis are called “All-Mountain 70% Piste/30% Freeride” (FR), “All-Mountain East” (US), “All-Mountain Frontside” (US).
These are skis from 85 mm to 92 mm at the waist with good on-piste behaviour. The extra width and a tip rocker allow them to get correct off-piste behaviour. These are the ideal skis for those who love the piste but want to leave it from time to time when conditions are good.
- Versatile "All-Mountain" skis
These skis are designed for balanced on-piste/off-piste practice. They are called “All-Mountain 50% piste/50% Freeride” (FR), “All-Mountain West” (US), “All-Mountain Back” (US).
With a waist width of 92–100 mm, these skis are designed for mixed on-piste/off-piste practice.
- "All-Mountain" Freeride skis
Some tests and manufacturers distinguish a 30% piste/70% freeride category.
Note: it should be noted that the “All-Mountain” qualification is not the same in different countries. In Germany, Austria and Italy, where the ski culture is more oriented towards the piste, this category includes narrower skis, the width of which is between approximately 80 mm to 92 mm, wider skis being called “freeride” skis.
Freestyle skis are designed for the snow-park and doing tricks. They usually have twin tips to favour switch skiing. Some other popular characteristics of these skis are: centre mounting to facilitate aerial moves, “pop” (energy released by the ski tail during jumps) and the absorption of the ski in during landings.
Some of these skis are designed for off-piste jumps and freestyle. In this case, they are called “all-mountain freestyle”, “backcountry freestyle” or “freestyle powder” skis.
These skis allow you walk up a hill by attaching skins to the bases of your skis and using touring bindings, which allow you to lift your heel. Although backcountry skis are traditionally narrow in order to make traversing easier and optimise the weight. Manufacturers now offer a wider range of skis to sacrifice a bit of performance on the climb for more fun downhill.
A relatively recent segment of the market, "Freeride touring" is a hybrid practice between backcountry and freeriding skiing. Freeride touring skis are lightweight freeride or all-mountain skis with touring or hybrid bindings mounted on them. They allow freeride skiers to expand their active territory from a skiing area and to go looking for virgin slopes inaccessible by other means. They prefer downhill behaviour and are, therefore, generally heavier than traditional touring skis. Therefore, they don’t let you do large height variations.
IMPORTANT POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A SKI
The ski shape will have a determining influence on its behaviour. Looking at the shape of a ski often gives you an overview of how it will perform.
Modern skis, known as “parabolic” skis, have a more or less pronounced hourglass shape (“cut ski”). This shape affects the performance of a ski along with other factors, in particular, the distribution of the flex, the skier’s weight, etc.
A pronounced shape often indicates that the ski is designed for the piste. It allows the ski to deform more easily on the edge in cut lines (parabolic effect), with a shorter radius. Slalom skis and carving skis often have a very deep sidecut. Giant slalom skis have a longer radius and a more traditional shape.
In contrast, all-mountain and freeride skis have more rectilinear shapes to optimise lift in powder snow, facilitate skidded turns and avoid the tail becoming anchored in difficult snow.
The shape is more or less translated by the sidecut, which expresses the width at the tip (front of the ski), at the waist (middle of the ski) and at the tail (back of the ski) in millimetres. A large difference between the waist measurement and the tip and tail measurements indicates a pronounced shape.
A ski is designed to flex according to the weight of the skier and the forces imposed on it. The distribution of the ski pressure on the snow is a crucial point.
Ideally, the flex should be progressively distributed along the length. However, it appears that some manufacturers voluntarily prefer a softer front to facilitate initiation into the curve at the beginning of the turn and a stiffer tail to promote grip and rebound.
The rocker is an elevation of the ski, before the tip (tip rocker) or before the tail (tail rocker).
Most modern skis have tip rocker, including some slalom and giant slalom skis.
The rocker provides pivoting manoeuvrability for beginners, increased ski tolerance in heterogeneous snow, and additional lift in powder snow for all-mountain and freeride skis.
The tip rocker must nevertheless be balanced with restraint, because when it’s excessive, it interferes with initiation into the turn (a tip that is too high cannot engage) and with the stability and precision of the ski (loss of length on the edge, floating tip and high-speed tap).
To simplify matters, there are three types of camber, often associated with tip and/or tail rockers:
- Traditional Camber
When laid flat, the ski touches the ground at its ends, but is raised in its centre. The camber is designed to better distribute the pressure applied by the skier in action (weight + horizontal and vertical accelerations) along the length of the ski and the edges. This type of camber is mainly used on carving or all-mountain skis.
- Flat Camber
When laid flat, the ski touches the ground along the whole length except for the tip and tail rockers. This type of camber is used on all-mountain and freeride skis.
- Reverse Camber
When laid flat, the ski touches the ground at its centre and rises up progressively through the tip and tail.
- Tip Shape
The tip shape and the rocker have an influence on the behaviour of the ski when entering turns.
The radius of the ski is the radius of the turn that the ski naturally makes when an angle and pressure are applied to it. It ranges from 11 m to 30 m for most leisure skis. The shorter the radius, the more comfortable the ski will be in short turns, and vice versa.
A deep sidecut (with a pronounced hourglass shape) increases the ski’s deformation and shortens the turn. The deeper the sidecut and the more pronounced hourglass shape, the tighter the radius of the turn will be.
The width of a ski is expressed by its size at the waist (the middle of the ski) in millimetres. The narrower a ski is, the more typical it is for on-piste, with high speed of switching from edge to edge. The wider it is, the more suitable it is for off-piste, powder snow (increased lift) and heterogeneous snow. The width of the ski is often indicated in its name.
E.g. The Rossignol “Experience 94 Ti” is a ski that is 94 mm underfoot.
There are two types of construction:
Foam is injected into a mould, sometimes along with other materials, and then heated to form the core. It is a low-cost manufacturing process that allows certain entry-level skis to be manufactured. The level of technicality of these skis depends largely on the reinforcing materials integrated before injection.
The sandwich is a layering of materials that are then put under pressure in a mould. Most skis are manufactured using this method. At the heart of the sandwich is the core, which is often made of wood (wood core).
Many high-end skis use materials to improve the ski’s mechanical properties and behaviour. The main materials used are:
Contrary to what its name seems to indicate, it is not titanium (a rare and expensive metal), but a trade name given to an alloy composed mainly of aluminium and zinc, with excellent mechanical properties. Skis using this material are often identified by a “Ti” included in the name.
This is another aluminium alloy.
Carbon is often used to lighten the ski and/or improve its rigidity.
The edges are the metallic borders of the ski allowing it to grip on hard snow. Very few consumers are going to focus on the design of a ski edge before buying a ski, but some information on the subjectf is always useful.
The edge angle is the angle that the vertical part of the edge forms with the base of the ski. This angle varies between 90° (right angle) and 85°. The smaller the angle, the “sharper” the edge and therefore the greater the grip. On the other hand, the ski will be less forgiving and the edges more fragile. They will soften more easily and therefore require more maintenance.
The edges of most leisure skis have an angle of 88° to 90°. Racing skis or high-performance often have smaller angles. Freeride and all-mountain skis generally have a right angle of 90° or 89° because there is less need for grip and the edge is subject to greater stresses (stones, etc.).
In the USA, a side edge angle is calculated, which measures the angle of the edge with the vertical (which amounts to the same thing).
The “edge drop” or “base edge angle” is the angle, varying from 0° to 2°, given to the edge on the snow side with respect to the base. At 0°, the underside of the edge is oriented like the base (this is very rare). When this angle is greater than 0°, when the ski is laid flat on the base, viewed from the front, you can see the outer extremities of the edges rising very slightly.
The edge drop improves putting the ski on its edge and the ski’s behaviour in pivoting, in sliding and skidding. The ski has less grip but is softer and more tolerant. It is especially used on beginner skis. It is generally at least 0.5°, including on race skis.
The base is essential for sliding and, therefore, for the ski’s overall behaviour. The material used is high-density polyethylene, appreciated for its hydrophobic qualities and durability.
The base of a ski is structured to facilitate the removal of water and to limit the area of contact with the snow. It contains a multitude of micro-grooves that are skilfully oriented according to the ski programme.
HOW TO CHOOSE SKI LENGTH
You’ve chosen the best ski for your level and practice, according to your budget. Good. But you are now faced with a dilemma: which size to choose?
The ski size is a fundamental criterion. A few centimetres too long or too short, can make a significant difference in performance.
A ski that is too short will overturn, lacking in grip and stability, and even in lift in powder snow. On the other hand, too long a ski will be less manoeuvrable, as well as more technically and physically demanding.
We advise against using the skier’s size to choose the ski size as is still done too often. This is certainly convenient (you compare a number of centimetres with a number of centimetres) but can lead to disastrous choices.
Let’s remember that the objective is to flex the ski in the proportions predicted by the manufacturer when designing the ski. However, a multitude of factors are involved in mechanically flexing the ski, with the size of the skier being probably the least important one.
The ideal ski size will depend on several criteria that are more or less interdependent, classified into three categories:
→ Design Factors
a. The Ski Category
There are size references for each category because this has an influence on the expected qualities of the ski (lift in powder snow, stability, radius, etc.) for each practice.
Here are the approximate sizes for a male skier of average size:
- Slalom: 165 cm
- Giant: 180 cm
- All-Mountain: 180 cm
- Freeride: 180–185 cm
- High-Performance Piste: 165–180 cm
- Initiation Piste: 170 cm
- Touring: 165–180 cm
b. The Manufacturer’s Size
Manufacturers also define a “reference size” to which the ski is designed. The “reference size” (some brands such as Dynastar provide this systematically) usually gives a good idea of the “standard” size corresponding to an average size and a technical level corresponding to the ski’s programme.
The manufacturer’s reference size, when provided, is therefore a good starting point. Use the category reference if this information is not available.
c. The Rigidity of the Ski
Length generally accentuates the impact of the rigidity and thus the difficulty in deforming the ski. On rigid skis, it may be wise to choose a slightly shorter size, and conversely on soft skis, a longer model, especially when you’re hesitating between two sizes.
d. The Presence of a Front/Back Rocker
The presence of a rocker raises the front (and possibly the back) of the ski and decreases the contact area of the edge. If it’s a large rocker, it may be better to choose a slightly larger ski, especially on freeride skis.
→ Deformation Factors
e. The Skier’s Weight and Size
All skis are designed to be deformed. The skier’s weight is, therefore, a fundamental criterion (much more so than their height!). Heavy skiers will choose a bigger ski, lighter skiers a shorter model.
f. The Skier’s Dynamism
The skier’s dynamism and the various vertical (press/lightening) and horizontal (centrifugal force) accelerations act as a weight-factor multiplier and increase the ski’s deformation. The more dynamic the skier, the more likely they are to choose a long ski.
→ The Skier’s Practice
g. The Technical Level
A skier who isn’t very technical will look for a ski that is a little shorter, making it easier to pivot, enter turns, ski without pressing too much, and even skid. An experienced skier will prefer a longer ski that is more stable at high speed, making it possible to take greater angles.
h. The Skier’s Preferences
Skiers who like speed, wide turns and powder snow will choose a ski that is a little longer. Those who like bumps, parallel turns and short turns will opt for a shorter ski.