One of the most exciting steps on your journey as a skier is the moment you ditch renting or borrowing skis, and invest in your first pair. There’s something really special about doing the research, shopping around, learning what you want from your skis, and finally committing to your first pair of your very own skis.
And then, once you’ve made that choice, there’s nothing better than prepping for a day of skiing, knowing that you don’t need to worry about how crappy the rentals are, or how recently they’ve been waxed, because you’re showing up with your own skis, and you know exactly how they perform.
But that journey to ski ownership can be fraught. There’s a lot that goes into making this really important decision, and beside your boots, your choice of skis is one of the most personal decisions around ski equipment you can make.
So we’re here to guide you through the process, and help you figure out what the recipe for your perfect pair of first skis will look like.
When we talk about skis there’s a series of parameters and dimensions we use to draw distinctions between different types of skis, and help define how a ski will feel on snow, and what kind of skiers will get along with it.
We’ll break down each of those categories, with general examples to help you figure out what specific stats you should be looking for as you shop for skis. So grab your ski helmet and make sure it’s buckled, we’re dropping in!
The first, and most obvious characteristic of a ski is length. Generally, the length of a ski will define what height of skier it will fit, but it’s not a classic fit scale, like with a ski jacket or some other apparel.
Instead, it’s a little more nuanced, based on what you want the ski to do. In general, longer skis are more stable at speed, but take more work to ski, especially in tight terrain.
Shorter skis are more agile and nimble, but don’t allow you to plow over everything in sight. For a general reference, you can look at a ski size chart.
If you’ve rented skis before, you probably have a good idea of what length ski you should be looking for. In general, the ski should fall somewhere between your chin and forehead if you’re standing next to it.
Weight can play into it as well, if you’re taller, but very skinny you may be ok sizing down, whereas larger folks can often size up to skis that are even taller than they are. With your first pair of skis though, just look for something that falls somewhere in the middle of your face, and don’t get caught up in the details.
For instance, on snow, you probably won’t notice the difference between a 174 cm ski and a 176 cm ski, so don’t get too caught up in that number, and instead get the ski that fits the rest of the criteria.
If length determines what size skier the skis are for, width defines what sort of snow they’ll excel best in. And ski width is pretty simple, the spectrum of narrow to wide lines up perfectly with snow, from firm to soft.
So generally, the wider your skis are, the better they’ll do in deeper, softer snow, while the narrower they are, the more aggressively they’ll let you ski on firm groomed snow and ice. In general, for your first pair of skis, we recommend something between 95 mm and 105 mm wide underfoot.
If you live on the west coast at a mountain that gets a lot of snow, get something closer to 105, if you live somewhere where powder days are fewer and far between, go narrower.
It’s also worth noting that with modern skis, you can often get away with a wider ski on firm groomer days, with less trade offs than in the past. So while a 105 mm ski may be overkill on some days, you probably won’t hate it, even when there’s no fresh snow to be found.
And you’ll definitely appreciate it on deep days where narrower skis may get overwhelmed. Just like with length, don’t get hung up on a few mm here or there.
It would be nearly impossible to tell apart a 105 mm and a 108 mm ski in a blind test, 1.5 extra mm on each edge of the ski is a tiny difference.
Flex is a little harder to define since there isn’t a standardized test in the industry, so we’ll just give you some general parameters.
Softer skis are easier to bend into a turn, so there less work to ski at slow speeds, and are often more agile in tight terrain, and are more forgiving. Stiffer skis are more work to ski, but pay you back with higher performance when you want to go fast in bad snow.
For most folks first pair of skis, something with a medium to soft flex will work well. But weight also plays a factor, heavier people will flex a ski with more ease, and can get away with stiffer skis.
The “profile” of the ski is what it looks like from the side, the combination of rocker and camber that help it plane in soft snow, and bite in firm snow. There’s a lot of science that goes into this, but in general, you should be looking for a ski with a little bit of tip and tail rocker, and camber underfoot.
The rocker will help keep it loose and fun in powder, and will help you make turns, but the camber gives you great edge grip when the snow is firm and steep. So look for something with a rocker/camber/rocker profile.
Every ski can be defined by the combination of its length, width, flex, and profile. So start thinking about what you want from each of those characteristics, and where you fall on each spectrum.
Once you’ve got a general recipe for the sort of ski you want, you can go shop for skis that fit that definition, and be confident that you’ll love your first pair of skis.
All images and content provided by evo