If you’re like most skiers, you’d like your next pair of skis to do everything well. Even if you aren’t the master of all terrain and surface conditions, you want your skis to be. So what’s the perfect ski for you? The answer depends on several factors including where and how you ski. There is no single right answer but our Salter’s expert staff can help guide you to the design type best suited to your needs.
Ski design used to be race-driven, so everyone skied on slalom or giant slalom skis. Ski technology advanced dramatically during the mid-90s when new materials and construction came together in easy-to-use, high-performance skis. This rapid pace of development continues today, largely driven by free skiers, with innovative shapes and rocker profiles leading to a wide variety of ski types suited to different purposes.
Frontside or carving skis is the category where almost all skiers, regardless of gender or age, begin their ski careers. The first-time ski buyer, the ex-renter, the longtime drop-out and those for whom skiing is a social event as much as a sport share an affinity for smooth terrain and, generally speaking, need all the help they can get. As a result, a large percentage of the skiing population will begin their ski experience on a ski designed to perform at its best on groomed terrain.
They’re great for eastern runs, with the hourglass shape of the skis making it easy to turn. They tend to be 70-80mm wide underfoot with tips and tails around 110mm wide. Some frontside skis will be softer flexing and more forgiving, making them ideal for intermediate skiers cruising the slopes. Higher end models will have sturdier construction are built to handle high speeds and hold an edge even on firm snow.
As skills develop, many skiers want their next pair of skis to do one of two things: either make them a better hard snow skier by providing better edge grip and speed stability, or make it easier for them to ski off-trail as well as on-trail. The fact that many skiers want the best of both worlds has driven the increased popularity of All Mountain models.
All Mountain Skis
As the name suggests, these are skis that aim to go anywhere. With a shape similar to that of a carving ski they are still great when skiing on groomed snow, however they are wider, particularly under the foot. Most true all mountain skis are 80-90mm underfoot, giving them increased float if you want to take them off piste and into the powder. There are lots of different kinds of all mountain skis, varying in shape and stiffness. Some are the same shape as regular piste skis while others take more of a freeride ski shape, including a 'rockered' tip that helps float in powder.
Powder skis tend to be wider, and generally longer, than piste skis. The flex pattern is often softer, which makes them perform better in deep snow. Powder skis range from 100mm in the waist right up to 140mm. Most powder skis now utilize a camber profile that improves float and ease of use in powder, such as rocker/early-rise tip and tail, or even reverse camber.
Big Mountain Skis
Big mountain (or freeride) skis are similar to powder skis, but not as fat. They’re designed to be used primarily off piste but they also perform adequately on piste too when required. They tend to be a little wider than all mountain skis, with an underfoot with of 90-105mm. The majority of big mountain skis also now have at least some sort of tip rocker, where the ski curves up slightly before the shovel. This help the ski to float in variable snow, as well as making them easier to change direction with while still allowing the ski to grip on groomed snow.
Similar in shape to frontside carving skis, but generally much stiffer to handle faster speeds and lots of pressure. Slalom skis are much shorter than they used to be, with the top racers in the world commonly use skis of about 160cm, while a few years ago they would consider nothing less than 205cm. Flexible and responsive, they offer incredibly quick turning on firm snow, but they lack versatility. GS skis are stiffer than slalom skis and have a longer sidecut radius, and therefore a longer turn radius. These skis tend to be skied on hard packed snow at speed so the skis are used in longer lengths than slalom skis to aid stability and grip. Skiers without a race background will generally find GS race skis very hard work.
The ski of choice for those who venture into the halfpipe or snow park, freestyle skis, also known as twintip skis, are very soft and forgiving. They have a turned-up tail to take off and land jumps backwards. Bindings are mounted farther forward than normal, and some skis are completely bi-directional. Twin-tip skis can be skied in the same length as all-mountain skis, or slightly shorter, depending on preference. Some freestyle can make good all mountain skis; however others perform poorly outside of the park.
The lesson of this post is that the first step in selecting your next ski is to understand which design category best matches the description of where and how you want to ski. Most skis within that genre are potential winners; which one you’ll prefer is more a matter of performance, budget, and taste than design category. Salter’s experienced staff is here to help you find your perfect ski.
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