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Whether you’re a downhill demon or a newbie, having the right skis is key

What is sidewall construction and why does it matter? What is Titanal and do you want it in your skis? Does the market require you to spend thousands of dollars on gear and have a STEM diploma to shop for skis or to have fun on the hill? These are all questions a shopper for new skis may have to answer.

The variety of skis available to the urban shopper is both a blessing for the 100-days-a-year shredder and a curse for those who just want something decent to have fun on in between trips to the lodge bar and buffet. Here, we will decode the major technical aspects one has to consider before picking their planks.

Ski shape

Skis are slippery planks that come in different levels of float and sensitivity that allow you to control input from your feet through different shapes, sizes and degrees of stiffness.

Narrow-waisted skis of around 80-millimeters wide will not float over powder like a pair of big mountain or “all-mountain wide” skis, but they are nimble and well-suited to fast-twitch, agile styles or users in need of low-effort changes of direction. These skis target beginners or on-piste chargers as they require smaller lateral shifts in your center of gravity to push the arced edge of the skis into the snow and initiate a turn. Narrow skis are suited to the denser snow conditions of the Eastern United States, or for front-side resort groomers in most places.

Wide-waisted skis with widths of about 95 millimeters or larger have the surface area necessary to distribute your body weight and keep you afloat in the powdery, low-density snow often found in the backcountry or popular resorts in the Western United States. The increased flotation from wider skis rewards a skier with the ability to surf down a mountain under optimal conditions, but the increased distance you must shift your weight from side to side to knife into a turn demands greater physical exertion from the skier.

Manufacturers counteract the increased physical demand of handling wider skis by offering products that employ a rockered, upturned shape in the tip and tail that make a ski behave as if it were smaller when riding on harder snow conditions. The result is a minimized effective edge in contact with the snow that allows for wide skis to carve a tighter arc. A little bit of tip and tail rocker makes for versatile capabilities in a myriad of conditions where the skis might otherwise be too difficult to turn when not on powder. The more tip and tail rocker a ski has, the shorter the ski will ride compared to other skis of the same length.

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