The Best Skis for Intermediate SkiersPublished on 09/27/2023 · 11 min readIt's finally time to upgrade from those beginner skis! But which skis should you upgrade to? Ski Expert Luke Hinz lists the best intermediate skis.
Photo by Fede Roveda
So it turns out this past winter season was crucial for your skiing progression. You’ve mastered the art of the parallel turn, you can come to a full stop without completely scaring the gaggle of kid skiers below you, and you’re skiing comfortably and gracefully on blue runs and dabbling on black. And now as a new winter season approaches, you start thinking maybe it’s time you graduated from rentals, or maybe you should finally ditch that antique pair of straight skis your uncle gifted you. But when you look at new skis online, you are overwhelmed.
Skis come in many different shapes, sizes, and lengths and can be aimed at beginners, intermediates, and experts. That makes for a lot of variables to keep track of. And truth be told, it can be a bit much, even for grizzled veterans. The breadth and scope of skis for intermediate skiers, in particular, can be downright labyrinthine. In this article, we want to break down what makes for an intermediate-level skier and highlight some of the best skis to fit every intermediate style—including yours.
Am I an Intermediate Skier?
Intermediate skiers no longer depend on the ‘pizza wedge’ to control their speed and stop on the slopes. Instead, intermediate skiers can perform turns with their skis parallel to each other throughout the entire length of the turn. They also maintain complete control while coming to a stop, and they are comfortable cruising along greens and blues and might even be venturing onto black runs. And they just might be ready to explore off-trail, otherwise known as off-piste. If you’ve mastered or are mastering, it’s time to start considering an intermediate-level ski.
Decide What You Like to Ski
The most important part of buying a ski is matching with a ski that is best for how you like to ski. For example, if your favorite thing about skiing is cruising blue runs, you’re not going to be looking for a wide powder ski. Likewise, if you’re itching to find the secret powder stashes off in the trees, you probably don’t want a narrow carving ski. Therefore, it can be best to break down the different types of skis: frontside/carving skis, powder skis, and all-mountain skis.
Frontside/carving skis tend to be geared strictly for on-trail or on-piste skiing. They often boast a rather aggressive parabolic shape, meaning they are narrow at the point underneath the boot, typically anywhere from 65-85mm, then widen considerably in the tip and tail. They also tend to be shorter skis than other options and have a shorter turning radius. This design allows the ski to initiate turns easily and makes for quick, energetic turns on groomed runs. They also sport a camber design, meaning the ski arcs up from the tip and tail, with the highest point under the bindings. This creates pressure at the tip and tail, making it easier to hold a strong turn on hardpack and groomed runs. But while these skis perform great on-piste, they tend to struggle when they find their way into powder or off-piste skiing, such as in trees. With such narrow waists, they get bogged down in deeper or more demanding snow.
In contrast, powder skis tend to be very wide underfoot, anywhere between 100-125mm, to float effortlessly through deep snow. These days, most powder skis are constructed with a full rocker design, meaning the tip and tail are upturned to allow them to rise over deep snow and float. Powder skis are usually not as stiff as other skis and can feel more playful, but the drawback is this is not a good character to have on groomed runs and ice. Such wide skis don’t hold an edge as well as frontside skis on hardpack runs and can feel chattery and unstable.
So you can see the problem: a ski designed to perform well in powder will not perform great on groomed runs, and vice versa. So what’s the answer? Enter the all-mountain ski. All-mountain skis bridge the gap between the specialized skis and generally are anywhere from 85-105mm underfoot. Almost all of them are parabolic in shape as well, but the figure is not as aggressive as a frontside ski. Likewise, many all-mountain skis will have a shallow rocker design in the tip and tail. Still, they are not as aggressive as a dedicated powder ski, and they will have a regular camber design underfoot.
All-mountain skis are designed to tackle all aspects of the mountain, from carving on groomers to plowing through deep powder. In essence, these skis embrace the idea of ‘Jack-of-all-trades, master of none’ philosophy and boast the most versatility among skis. They can be the best options for a burgeoning intermediate skier.
The Most Recommended Intermediate Skis
Whew, that was a lot of knowledge. But it sets the foundation for what to look for. So with that out of the way, let’s dive into the most recommended skis for intermediate skiers.
The Nordica Enforcer has developed quite the cult following over the last few years, for good reason. Known for its approachable yet hard-charging style, the Enforcer is one of the best-selling all-mountain skis on the market. Although it comes in a 110 and 104mm waist, the 94 hits the sweet spot by being able to grip hard on groomers and hardpack, but rocker in the tip and tail help it float playfully through powder and packed powder. Whether railing down groomers or blasting through crud, the Enforcer has a very intuitive feel and will have intermediate and even advanced skiers across the spectrum, making turns with the utmost confidence.
This one is for the women ready to conquer the mountain! Blizzard’s Black Pearl is one of the best-selling skis of all time and gets rave reviews as being highly versatile across all kinds of terrain and conditions. Blizzard built the ski with their patented Flipcore design, resulting in a very natural and progressive flex across the length of the ski. What does that mean? It means the Black Pearl has superior edge grip, sticking to hardpack and groomers like white on rice. These are confidence-inspiring skis. And while 88mm underfoot don’t make these the best skis in deep powder, they do sport a slight rocker profile in the tip and tail, allowing them to surf over deeper conditions.
The Völkl Mantra has been a mainstay on the all-mountain scene for a long time. Still, Völkl tweaked their best-selling ski, shortening the lengths of metal inlaid with the core, resulting in a much more approachable and manageable ski than earlier iterations. That being said, the Mantra still retains its reputation as a very precise but demanding ski. The M6 is definitely on the stiffer end of the spectrum and likes to make bigger turns at higher speeds on groomed runs. At 96mm underfoot, it can still float through powder conditions, but it won’t be quite as playful as the Enforcer above. But for skiers who demand stability above everything else, the Mantra M6 is as solid as a rock.
For female skiers who have exhausted the groomers and frontside trails and are looking to dip their toes into the off-piste trees and steeps, the QST Lux is their ticket to the wild side. The QST Line is Salomon’s more playful and versatile line of skis, and they are built to explore the whole mountain. The QST Lux boasts a poppy and flexible Poplar wood core that gives the ski a responsive and energetic feel, but a Titanal metal insert under the foot keeps it honest on groomers. Salomon goes a step further by using a cork “damplifier” in the tip, which keeps the ski's swing weight low without sacrificing stability. A healthy amount of rocker in the tip and tail lets the Lux sail easily off the trail into brand new adventures off-piste.
5. Head Kore 93
The Kore series by Head is an enigma in the all-mountain category. How does a ski that weighs so little perform at such a high level? The answer lies in its construction. In place of metal, which most brands use to stiffen their all-mountain skis, Head uses a mix of Koroyd, a light honeycomb-like material, along with graphene, carbon, and karuba for its core. The result is a stiff, no-nonsense ski that can keep up with much heavier all-mountain skis but is light and intuitive enough to appeal to a large range of intermediate skiers. That being said, such a light design can’t match an all-metal ski, so the Kore tends to chatter more at high speeds.
I know what you’re thinking: Nordica gets two mentions on this list? That’s how successful Nordica has been over the past decade, and the Santa Ana is their women-specific all-mountain charger. Nordica uses one sheet of metal in the Santa Ana instead of two in the Enforcer. The result is a damp and stable ski that likes to rail on groomers, but a carbon layout throughout the ski keeps it playful and approachable for all-mountain use, while rocker in the tip and tail make it soft-snow friendly. The Santa Ana isn’t quite as stiff as the Black Pearl above and will shine more in soft-snow conditions.
While Blizzard is best known for the best-selling Brahma series and the hard-charging, race-like Bonafide, the Rustler has quietly been making a name for itself as a softer, do-it-all all-mountain alternative. While the Rustler has metal in its construction, much like other Blizzard designs, the metal in the Rustler tapers as you get closer to the tip and tail, giving the ski a softer flex. The length of metal in the ski also varies depending on your particular length, meaning shorter versions of the Rustler have a softer flex than longer lengths, tailoring the ski to the particular skier.
In brief, the Rustler is where Blizzard shows its soft side. This ski is right at home in soft snow and fluff and loves to reward the playful skier. If you emphasize fun while skiing (which, let’s face it, everyone should), the Rustler will keep a smile on your face from first lift to last.
The Pandora 94 is the middle-tier width in Line’s very popular Pandora series, with the 104 being more of a powder-focused ski and the 84 being a very reliable beginner ski. The 94 aims to combine the best of both as a softer flexing ski that makes for easy turning and high maneuverability in bumps, trees, and more technical terrain. Line uses Carbon Fingers to stiffen the ski in place of metal, keeping the Pandora light and responsive. To finish it off, the Pandora benefits from Line’s 5CUT Multi-Radius sidecut, which promises five different turn radiuses within the ski, meaning lady rippers can trust the Pandora to make large, effortlessly, high-speed turns as easily as slower, smaller turns.
Rossignol is the architect behind the Soul 7, arguably the best-selling ski of all time. Their honeycomb tips and tails were common sights at ski resorts worldwide for the better part of the last decade. With such a positive response, what did Rossignol do? They tossed everything out the window and rewrote the playbook. Enter the Rossignol Sender 94 Ti. Built with the same shape and profile as the old Rossignol Escaper, as well as a lightweight paulownia core, Rossignol ratchets things up a notch with the introduction of a Titanal metal layer to make the ski more damp and stable when carving up groomers at higher speeds. This means that the notorious chatter for which the old Soul 7 was known for is now a thing of the past. One popular carryover from the older models is the iconic Airtip, which keeps the weight of the Sender down, resulting in some impressive maneuverablity for a ski with metal in it. And with a midfat 94 mm waist, the Sender is not only primed for groomers and the frontside, but also ready to tackle the occasional powder day.
Two consecutive Rossignols round out the list of most recommended skis for intermediate skiers, and the Rallybird 92 is aimed at women skiers who want one ski to do everything. The waist width fluctuates with the length, with the 162cm ski bearing a 92mm waist, while the 170cm has a 94mm waist. The Rallybird 92 also has a lightweight paulownia core and Diago fibers inlaid in the core for stability. The Rallybird 92 is for women who don’t want an overly demanding ski that can still ride groomers but will be playful and fun in groomers and off-piste. It certainly isn’t the most hard-charging ski, but sometimes skiers don’t need that—sometimes, skiers just want to have fun.
There is no doubt that a vast range of options exists for intermediate skiers looking for that perfect ski, but with a little research, you can find the ideal ski. And if you pick the right intermediate ski, then the next time you search for skis, there’s a good chance you’ll be looking for an Expert ski.
If you want to continue your search, check out the 10 Best All-Mountain Skis and the 9 Best Intermediate Skis. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or any of my fellow Ski Experts on Curated to help you pick out the best ski for you.