How to Choose your Alpine Skis

Race, All Mountain, Freeride, sidecuts... Having trouble choosing alpine skis? In this article we help you understand the different types and how to choose the right ones for you.

Skiing at Cerler, valle de Benasque, Pyrenees. Photo: Aramon Cerler

If you need to change your skis this season, or maybe buy your first pair of skis, check out this article!

The Eternal Doubt when Choosing your Skis

For some skiers, buying a new pair of skis is simple

  • They are well-informed of new developments
  • They have a pre-defined criteria and know what they like.
  • They are aware of their level, physical shape and expectations of progression.
  • When it's time to change skis, they are willing to try the latest technical developments of each season.

For these buyers, it's a no-brainer. They know what they want and they'll get it right whether they purchase on-line or at a shop.

But if this is not your case... get informed! Don’t let yourself get into panic mode when you start comparing new technologies and materials or thinking about bad past purchases...and above all, always let yourself be advised by experts.

At our stores and on-line our professional staff will be glad to help you with any queries on which skis to choose.

Know Yourself

The clearer you are about how you ski, your physical condition and your real expectations, the easier it will be to make an appropriate choice.

  • Has your level of fitness seen better days or are you at your peak this season?
  • Do you want just one pair of skis or are you looking for a ski for a specific type of snow?
  • Do you dream of freshly groomed pistes or is powder your thing?
  • What is your level (be honest) and what expectations do you have to improve?
  • Are you fast or slow skier?
  • Is your attitude on skis relaxed or do you edge into each turn as if it were your last?

If you have a moment, think about what interests or worries you, as a skier. Even if you plan to get advice from our staff, it helps to consider your needs beforehand and this can be the difference between a ski that feels suitable or a ski that feels as if it is designed just for you.

If you have done your homework on your situation, characteristics and expectations, you can go into more specific details:

  • How much do you weigh?
  • How tall are you?
  • What is your ski level?
  • How often do you ski and where?
  • What skis and boots do you have?

We are here to help you, so that the huge number of brands, categories and types of skis are not overwhelming. And remember: if you have any queries, we will be glad to give advice at any of our stores or on-line shop.

First, a Couple of Tips

  • It is important that your skis and boots are harmonious, especially if the skis are heavy. Remember the phrase: “Hard ski, hard boot”
  • When in doubt, buy All Mountain! This is the modern term for versatile skis, and they have evolved excellently.

Skiers at Cerler. Photo: Aramon Cerler
Skiers at Cerler. Photo: Aramon Cerler

Ski Length

We see many people worrying over the question of height when choosing new skis. For this reason we recommend you forget about height until the end.

  • Choose a ski, based on your style and preferences of terrain, snow, speed, etc.
  • Think about your preferred type of turns and what you still struggle with.
  • Then check the length of ski recommended by the manufacturer and choose the skis that are most suitable for your needs.

We often hear customers say “I want short skis” when what they really mean is “I want easy skis.” Easy skis no longer have to be “short” thanks to the rocker and wide waist.

And yes, there are all kinds of laws, rules, tables and diagrams about ideal ski lengths. “Long ski = long turn radius, short ski = short turn radius” is a widely used rule of thumb with the fewest exceptions. But it has some.

Remember, choose the length of ski recommended for your height by the manufacturer.

Versatility: the All Mountain spirit

Before looking at the different types of skis, bear in mind that nowadays, all skis are designed with versatility in mind, with the exception of race skis (on-piste competition) and freeride (off-piste) skis.

  • On-piste skis promise to do reasonably well off-piste.
  • Freestyle skis promise to turn well out of the snow park.
  • Freeride skis promise to be light enough to use with skins.

Specialisation is becoming less and less popular!

Categories of Skis

The categories alpine skis are commonly divided into are:

  • Piste
  • All Mountain
  • Freeride
  • Freestyle

It is true that the dividing lines between categories are blurred, as sometimes a piste ski can look similar to an All Mountain ski and an All Mountain can seem similar to a ski for Freeride.

Now we will look at the details of each category more in-depth so that you can make the best possible decision.

1. On-piste Skis

Within the category of on-piste skis there are two subcategories: one is for most skiers, while the other is inspired by competition skiing, and these are called Race skis.

That does not mean, however, that the range for most skiers does not include some very high performance designs, for demanding users.

1.1. Race Skis

Or better "race inspired" as it will be difficult to find certified racing skis in an average ski shop (apart from SL -Slalom- skis).

Race Carvers and SL skis are the norm in ski shops:

  • Race Carvers: are for medium/long turns. This is the tamed version of the competition Giant skis. They put the sensation of the GS turn within the reach of mortals by means of a contained turn radius so that you can share the piste with the rest of humanity.
  • SL (slalom): due to the grip on steep slopes and hard snow and its reduced radius (around 12 meters) it remains the favourite choice for fans of short turns.

Current SL or Race Carvers seem to be the category that has changed the least in recent times. But, the rocker has arrived here too, with the promise of easing transition between turns.

Regarding the geometry and performance, it's sometimes difficult to distinguish a race ski from a high-end piste ski. One thing that makes the Race skis unmistakable is that they feature racing team colours and graphics inspired by World Cup skis.

This category only features top of the range skis. They are all high performance designs.

These skis are for you, if:

  • You like to go fast on your edges, on groomed slopes.
  • You are looking for skis that finally allow you maximum performance on hard snow.
  • You have perfected your short turns or are working on it (SL).
  • You have mastered the secrets of carving a medium/long turn on all slopes (Race Carver).

These skis are maybe not for you, if:

  • You are not in great physical shape.
  • You enjoy relaxed skiing.
  • You just need a pair of skis, so you can rush into the mountains every time there’s fresh snow.
  • You have a limited budget.

1.2. On-Piste Skis

The more relaxed geometry and construction makes them more versatile than Race skis. They are easier to handle outside their turn radius, which makes them enjoyable for both short and long turns.

Although this category includes a high range, designed for seasoned skiers who like to push their edge angle, this type of ski will always be more versatile than a Race ski, allowing you to slow down the pace when your legs ask for a break or when it's time to ski with the family (they are more permissive).

In this category you will find a range of products according to your budget and level. From beginner to high performance skis.

These skis are for you, if:

  • You have a very good technique but your level of fitness has seen better days.
  • Groomed pistes are your terrain.
  • You are looking for a ski that allows you to progress technically.
  • You are looking for a ski that gives you security on hard snow.
  • You are a beginner

These skis are maybe not for you, if:

  • You always ski on piste but spring snow terrifies you.
  • You only want to own one pair of skis but you think it's time to take a leap off-piste.
  • You're love to get into the mountains every time there's a snow pack.

Skiing in Cerler, Valle de Benasque. Photo: Aramon Cerler
Skiing in Cerler, Valle de Benasque. Photo: Aramon Cerler

2. All Mountain Skis

Nowadays, the All Mountain concept is the all-purpose category. The basic features of an All Mountain ski are:

  • Rocker to facilitate turn initiation, pivoting and side slipping at low speeds or in deep snow.
  • Waist width varies from around 75 to over 90mm and the wider the waist, the greater the floatability in deep or spring snow.
  • The sidecut maintains the balance between sporty, on piste performance and off piste functionality. They sacrifice some edge handling but don't catch when the snow gets difficult.

Many brands categorise their All Mountain skis in different ways. The most widely used rule of thumb is "the wider the ski and greater the rocker, the less suitable it is for on-piste".

At first sight, this is perfectly logical, as the skis with the narrowest waists on the market are purely for on-piste, while those with the most rocker are Freeride skis

But there are some exceptions:

  • Brands are putting more effort into waists from 80mm upwards and here is where you will find the best materials used for reinforcements, cores and plate/binding systems in most collections. This means that the narrower waists are from the lower end of the range.
  • That is to say: just because a 88mm waist is rated by the manufacturer as more off-piste than those with narrower waists, it does not mean that it will perform less well on-piste. In most cases the opposite is true, due to the quality of construction.
  • Skis with waists from 70mm and over usually incorporate a wider binding-plate system so that edge to edge (the time it takes to get the ski from one edge to the other) is quicker and easier. A ski with an 80mm waist and 80 mm binding provides quicker edge to edge than a ski with an 80mm waist and 60 mm wide binding.
  • The logic of "the wider the ski, the less suitable for on-piste" is evident, almost without exception in skis with 90 mm waists and over . These All Mountain skis are more reminiscent of a Freeride ski and many feature bindings that are screwed directly to the ski, without a plate, just like most Freeride skis.

Broadly speaking, (and exceptions aside), we can say that the following types of skis are included in the All Mountain category:

  • Skis with waists from 70mm to over 80mm: For intermediate skiers who prefer on-piste and don't mind sacrificing power in exchange for comfort in deep or spring snow or on days of continuous snowfall when the limit between the piste and the off-piste is blurred.
    Also for piste skiers who occasionally like to ski off-piste, when the weather and the snow permit.
  • Ski waists between 85mm and 90mm: For skiers who use just one pair of skis and who enjoy edging on the piste, but never miss a day of sun and powder off-piste. Here we usually find the crown jewels of the brands.
  • Ski waists over 90mm: With a very Freeride character in most cases.

These skis are for you, if:

  • You are looking for a single pair of skis but don't want to renounce any kind of terrain, slope, turn radius or snow type, whatever your level.
  • You find spring snow scary or you love it, whichever – they are great on web snow
  • You are looking for a quiet and smooth ski experience.

These skis are maybe not for you, if:

  • We don't really know. It's hard to find a reason not to jump on the All Mountain bandwagon. They are certainly “the skis” of the moment.

3. Freeride Skis

Few skiing experiences can beat a day in the sun, with a nice layer of powder under your skis, far from the hustle and bustle of the slopes.

If freeriding isn't your thing, beyond the occasional foray off-piste when snow and weather permit, then All Mountain is likely to be your best option.

However, if your idea of optimal off-piste conditions is much more indulgent, or if you are one of those who are still searching the resort for untouched powder descents at five in the afternoon, don't hesitate: you need a freeride ski.

Freeride skis have the following features:

  • Waist from 95 mm upwards.
  • Generous rockers, double rocker or full rocker.
  • Turn radius that is long in most cases.

But, of course, once again the boundaries between categories are blurred: Skis with a 100mm waist can be sold as half Freeride, half All Mountain, while wide, ultra-light Freetouring skis can be categorised halfway between freeride and touring.

It sounds a mess, but think of each range as slightly overlapping, so that the last in one category (All Mountain) and the first in the next (Freeride) are in mixed territory and are very similar.

In this way, it is easier to differentiate which are the ones you need according to your skiing style.

These skis are for you, if:

  • You're an avid fan of Freeride.
  • You're looking to expand your off-piste repertoire
  • You don't want to expose your on-piste skis to rough and tough off-piste conditions. Remember that off-piste, nobody picks up any rocks or plants grass in the summer.

These skis are maybe not for you, if:

  • Your level is not good enough.
  • You don't like to ski fast. Yes, they are very easy and allow short turns... but they sail better with a little bit of speed.
  • Your ventures off-piste are few and far between and are limited to good powder days.
  • You're a regular off-piste skier, but you don't want to own more than a couple of pairs of skis.


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