So you've decided to invest in a new pair of skis or ski boots.. but there's so much choice it's difficult to know where to start!
Well, this is the perfect place to begin.
We've compiled a quick guide to the major types of skis which also answers some the most frequently asked questions: Which is ski for both on and off piste? What length ski should I get? If I am a low intermediate skier, is there any point in getting a top of the range ski? How do I look after my skiing equipment?
Don’t forget Ski Club members are entitled to some fantastic discounts with top retailers and ski specialists such as Ellis Brigham, Snow+Rock and Glisshop. If you're looking to buy some new skis this season check out Ski Club discounts.
Ski technology advanced dramatically during the 1990s when new materials and construction came together in easy-to-use, high-performance skis. The rapid development continued throughout the 2000s with innovative shapes and rocker profiles leading to a wide variety of ski types suited to different purposes.
Ski design used to be race-driven, so everyone skied on slalom or giant slalom skis. Today skiing equipment is largely driven by freeskiers who favour all kinds of terrain, from gently rolling pistes to steep and deep, powder covered mountain faces, plus everything in between. The difficulty in choosing skis can be that modern ski technology means that the skis now commonly defy easy categorisation.
Don’t be afraid to ask the staff in your local ski store for advice. They'll be only too happy to help you and it's in their interest to get you on the right skis for your needs. If you can, why not test the kit before you buy? You can often do this at UK indoor snow slopes, or see if there's a demo fleet of skis at your local shop in resort. Our own industry-leading Ski Tests have even more information to help you make the right choice.
Carving skis or on-piste carvers
Most recreational skiers will be accustomed to carving skis. They’re great for groomed runs, with the hourglass shape of the skis making them easy to turn. They tend to be 70-80mm wide underfoot with tips and tails around 110mm wide. Some carving skis will be softer flexing and more forgiving, making them ideal for intermediate skiers cruising the pistes. Higher end models will have sturdier construction are built to handle high speeds and hold an edge even on firm snow.
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.
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 freeride 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.
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 utilise a camber profile that improves float and ease of use in powder, such as rocker/early-rise tip and tail, or even reverse camber. Some very specific powder skis also have a reverse sidecut, looking more similar in shape to waterskis than traditional racing skis. This means the tip and tail are narrower than under the foot. Again, this is to aid flotation and maneuverability in deep powder snow.
Big Mountain skis
Big mountain, when compared to freeride skis, are usually wider, longer and stuffer. This is for added stability when skiing at high speeds off piste, in variable and choppy snow as well as powder. These are the skis of choice for competitors in freeride skiing competitions, and expert level skiers who have an aggressive riding style.
Similar in shape to recreational 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, twintip skis, also known as freestyle 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 twintips can make good all mountain skis, however others perform poorly outside of the park. Touring skis There's quite a wide range of choice when it comes to touring skis, especially with the proliferation of gear that's oriented towards the descent. Many manufacturers have a specific touring line, featuring skis with lightweight construction. However many skiers now simply mount touring or hybrid bindings on freeride skis, as these allow them ski on a wide variety of snow conditions - both in resort and in the backcountry. Backcountry skiers will also need skins for ascending, which attach to the bottom of the ski for uphill traction.
A telemark skier turns by sliding one ski forward, bending deeply at the knees, and arching both skis into a turn as though using one long ski. Unless you are a skilled, high-speed skier, a forgiving, easy-turning model will work best. Stiff or long skis are very challenging for a beginner telemark skier. Now many telemark skiers do not opt for a specialist telemark ski but choose a regular alpine model such as a freeride ski, which they mount their telemark bindings on. These are often referred to as free-heel bindings.
In general cross-country skis differ from alpine skis in that they're lightweight and designed for self-propelled travel over a wide variety of terrain, not just down hills. The bindings let your heels lift off the ski, allowing a normal striding motion. Wax-less skis are far easier to use and preferred by many. They achieve grip for forward movement by means of a texture set into the base of the skis. Wax-able skis require different wax for different snow conditions.
Cross-country racing skis
Fast, narrow skis intended strictly for use on groomed cross-country trails, racing skis are not for exploring untracked areas. Each of the two racing styles - skating and the traditional diagonal stride - have specialised skis. Your skiing style, weight and the local snow conditions will determine what ski is best for you. Only a local shop can evaluate all of these factors.
We know it can be confusing, so the Ski Club organises a team of expert testers to test the latest kit so you can find out what will be best for you. We have grouped the skis into types; freeride skis, big mountain skis, all mountain skis and piste performance. Our Ski Test pages are coming soon, but you can read more about this in the ski test section.