How to Choose Alpine Skis

Basic ski design concepts and factors to consider in order to find the alpine right skis for you

Skier in Cerler, Benasque valley, Pyrenees. Photo: Aramon Cerler

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A ski is made up of several parts. The bottom of the ski is known as the base and is generally made of Polyethylene. On the side the ski has edges which are made of steel. This is an essential part of the ski, as it is what grips the snow when we perform turns. The core of a ski is the heart of the ski and is made from wood traditionally as not only is it flexible, it is also excellent at storing the energy from flexing the ski and returning it at the exit of a turn. As a result a wooden core feels more responsive than cores made from other materials. They are also excellent at dampening and absorbing vibration making them feel more stable. More economical skis use alternatives to wood such as high density foam which do not perform so well but are cheaper. The core is often reinforced with materials like carbon fibre or titanium to reduce vibration. Polymers are usually used for the top layer of the ski to protect the inner parts of the ski and is also allow graphics to be added.

The construction and flex of a ski is something that we should be aware of. Flex is the resistance a ski has to bend along its length. Getting the right flex for a ski depends on your weight and skill level, as well as how aggressive of a skier you are. It is essential for a ski to flex to be able to turn correctly. However it must also be rigid enough to be able to absorb vibrations, which increase when we go faster. The heavier you are and the faster you go the more force you create to flex the ski. A beginner ski or laid back ski will be more flexible, while a race ski for skiing fast will be more rigid. You may often see torsion resistance referred to. This is the resistance the ski has to bend across its width. It is important to have a high torsion resistance so the edges can do their job correctly.

There are two construction methods, Sidewall and Cap. Sidewall construction is a wall along the sides of the skis that makes the ski more rigid. Cap construction is where the top layer also covers the sides of the ski. This construction method makes for more flexible skis.

All modern skis have a slight hour glass shape to them and are known as carving skis. This shape is communicated by three measurements known as the sidecut. The measurements are taken at the tip, the middle or waist and the tail of the ski. A deep sidecut will produce a ski that turns sharply where as a shallow sidecut will produce a longer turning ski. The distance a ski will naturally turn due to the sidecut is known as the turning radius and is given in metres. A low turning radius means the ski performs sharp turns and a high turning radius. The waist measurement is also important as it tells us how wide the ski is. A narrow waist will perform well on hardpack snow and groomed slopes and will be easier to change edges to initiate a new turn. A wider waist will provide more float in powder snow and will perform better off piste. Nowadays a standard waist is around 80mm. Anything under this is can be considered narrow designed for on piste. Anything over 100mm can be considered wide and is likely to be a freeride ski for off piste skiing in powder snow.

The clearer it is in your mind which type of skiing you want to do and what your expectations are, the easier it will be to make the correct choice.

Camber and Rocker
Cambers and Rockers are now common place in ski construction. A camber profile is where the base of the ski is arched in the middle so that the ski is only in contact with the snow in the tip and the tail. Under the weight of the skier the camber is flattened out distributing the weight evenly along the length of the ski improving edge grip in the turns. This is especially interesting on hardpack and groomed snow and is still found on competition and race skis. However this profile lacks floatability in powder snow which is where the rocker comes in. The rocker is the opposite of the camber where the tips of the skis are turned up. This greatly increases the float a ski has in powder snow but lacks edge grip on hard snow. Rockers can be found in the tip or in both the tip and the tail. Many skis nowadays use a combination of Camber and Rocker and often gives give present this by giving the percentage of rockers and camber that the ski has. This kind of profile of camber and rocker can be found in All Mountain skis.

Skiers in Cerler, Benasque valley, Pyrenees. Photo: Aramon Cerler
Ski Size
Each manufacturer has it’s own recommendation on the ski length depending on the model and the intended use of the ski. Once you have decided on a model of ski the best thing to do is consult the recommended length with the manufacturer or a professional. Bear in mind that the shorter a ski is the easier it will be to turn and longer it is the faster it will run and the more float a ski will have. A slalom ski will inevitably be short to be able to achieve sharp turns while a freeride ski is likely to be longer than average. Having said all of this a good rule of thumb is that a ski should come between your chin and your eyebrows in length. In other words if you have no other reference a ski should be 5-15cm less than your height.

Types of Ski
Nowadays they is a huge range of skis and continues to grow to keep up with the demand of the many disciplines we can find within the sport. Depending on the type of skiing you plan to do you, whether it be on-piste, freeride or freestyle, you will need one type of ski or another. Having said that, All Mountain skis have blurred the boundaries between disciplines creating versatile skis that behave well whatever we do with them.

All Mountain Skis All mountain skis really are the thing of the moment. They are designed to be all-round skis making skiing easier on any terrain. They generally have a combined Camber/Rocker profile to give optimal grip while making it easier to initiate turns and deal with changes in the snow with rocker technology. If you want one pair of skis that can deal with anything you can throw at them, All Mountain skis are for you. Within the vast market of this category what you won’t find is extremes with waists from 75mm to 90mm, turning radius for 15m to 20m. The other thing you can be sure of is they will be easy to ski without being overly demanding to the skier.
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Race Skis
This type of ski will usually have a narrower waist and pronounced sidecut with a low turning radius. They are very responsive with high flex resistance to be able to deal with high speeds on hardpack snow. The profile is often 100% camber although a slight Rocker is added to many models to make turn initiation easier. These are high performance models for skiing on groomed slopes to be driven hard for advanced to expert skiers.

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Freeride Skis
Free ride are designed to be used off piste on virgin snow. The skis have a wider waist and a longer rocker giving us more float in ungroomed powder snow. This inevitably means that there is less edge in contact with the snow meaning that this kind of ski does not perform so well on hardpack or groomed slopes. Having said that a wider waist is interesting in spring snow as it gives more surface area to push the heavy water-laden snow, making this kind of ski an option for skiers who experience this type of snow in regions such as Italy, the Alps or Spain to name a few.

The category of free ride is being absorbed into ski touring as the latter has grown in popularity in recent times.
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Freestyle Skis
Here the order of the day is a ski that is a ski to be able to do jumps and tricks. Big rockers improve jump exit and reception. Wide waists are common with shallow sidecuts giving wide turning radius’. If you are looking for a ski to go and have fun in the snow park these are the skis you are looking for.
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Skiing in Cerler, Benasque valley, Pyrenees. Photo: Aramon Cerler
Women’s Skis
There is a common misconception that woman’s skis are not as good as their men’s counterparts. In fact this couldn’t be further from the truth. Woman’s models often have more attention to details and include exclusive technologies for the female physique. Women’s skis are slightly lighter and tend to have the binding mounted slightly further forward as they tend to have the centre of weight further back compared to men. They tend to be more slightly more flexible to compensate as women tend to be lighter than men. The tendency in style is to use black, as it is easy to combine with other colours.
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Kids Skis
Junior skis must be more lightweight and flexible than adult skis, as the users do not have the same strength or weight to be able to flex the ski. Most manufacturers have special technologies to make the ski more flexible (Xbend Atomic, Waveflex Elan, Easyflex Salomon).
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We hope this article aids you in knowing how to choose a pair of alpine skis. Check out our selection of Alpine skis in Barrabes and feel free to contact out technical team if you have any further queries.

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