How to Choose the Right Ski Length

Wondering how long your skis should be? Ski expert Nicholas Sramek overviews what factors to consider when choosing the optimal ski length for you.

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Deciding what length to look for in a ski can often be a difficult process. While there is no exact formula for determining the perfect length, there are many tips and tricks to make the search easier.

Height And Weight

Everyone has different recommended ski lengths due to their height and weight. Shorter people generally want shorter length skis, while taller people should use longer skis. The same goes for weight. Heavier people apply more force to a ski than lighter skiers, and should keep that in mind when selecting a ski length. A heavier skier may want to choose a stiffly-built or longer ski, so that they do not easily over-power the ski.

How Does My Ability Level Affect The Ski Length I Should Choose?

Nick Sramek skiing powder on his 188cm Armada Tracer 108s at Whitefish Mountain, Montana.
Nick Sramek skiing powder on his 188cm Armada Tracer 108s at Whitefish Mountain, Montana

While skier height and weight play an important role in determining ski length, they are not the only factors that go into the search. Skill level is one of the largest determinants for ski length. Skiers of the beginner ability level generally want their skis to have more control for lower speeds, while advanced skiers want stability for higher speeds. Shorter skis offer better control, are easy to turn, and are a great platform for beginners to start out on. Long skis are tougher to turn at lower speeds, but provide more stability when skiing fast.

Everyone’s skill level is slightly different, so there are certain ranges of ski lengths that skiers should look at. A basic rule of thumb is that beginner skiers should have a ski below or at chin height, intermediate skiers should have a ski between chin and nose height, and advanced skiers should have a ski between nose height and the top of the head. Many advanced and expert skiers prefer skis taller than them due to rocker, but we will get into that later in this guide. You can approximate what length of ski you should be looking for by measuring those heights in centimeters with a tape measure.

Table: The recommended ski length for beginners is at or below chin height. The recommended ski length for intermediates is chin to nose height. The recommended ski length for advanced skiers is nose to top of head height. The recommended ski length for experts is top of head or taller.

Camber, Rocker, and Effective Edge: What Do All Of These Mean?

Rocker, camber, and effective edge are all terms that are thrown around at the ski shop when discussing ski constructions, but what do they mean?

Camber

Graphic depicting the traditional camber snowboard shape - imagine a mustache that bends up like a rainbow in the middle and curves up like half a smile on the sides.

Camber has been around for as long as alpine skis have existed. When you lay a ski flat on the ground, you will see that there are two contact points at which the ski is touching the ground, near the tip and the tail. This “arch” that is formed in the midsection of the ski creates “pop” and liveliness in the ski, allowing for aggressive carving and undemanding control. Camber also creates more edge contact with the snow, meaning that the edge of the ski is firmly gripping or biting into the surface being skied on. Cambered skis are popular for hard snow and groomed surfaces.

Rocker

Graphic depicting the rocker snowboard shape, which looks like a smile.

To put it simply, rocker is the opposite of camber. It is the early rise in the tip and/or tail of a ski. An easy way to think about this is to look where the tip of the ski begins to curve upwards. In fully-cambered skis, that curvature will start very close to the tip of the ski. In rockered skis, it will start closer to the midpoint of the ski.

Two decades ago, rocker didn’t exist. Most skis had abrupt curvature in the tips, with lots of camber. In 2002, several ski brands introduced “reverse camber,” another term for rocker, to the ski industry. Inspired by surfboards, the goal of this tip rocker was to make a ski that could initiate turns easier, and float better in deep snow. This unique design ushered in the era of powder skis.

If you lay down a fully rockered ski on the ground, there will be only one point of contact. This point of contact will be at or near the center. Luckily, you don’t have to choose pure rocker or pure camber in a ski. Numerous skis on the market today have a great combination of both.

What Is Effective Edge, And How Does It Affect The Length Of Ski I Should Choose?

Graphic depicting camber with tip and tail rocker.

Effective edge is the amount of contact that the metal edge on the midsection of the ski has with the snow surface when making a turn. Cambered skis have lots of effective edge to provide grip and power throughout the turn. Skiers who use dedicated carving skis with lots of camber generally ski on shorter to medium-length skis for their height.

Rockered skis, on the other hand, have a short amount of effective edge, meaning that the midsection of the ski that is gripping the slope is much shorter. This shortened effective edge will make the ski feel shorter. People riding rockered or partially-rockered skis often choose to go for longer lengths because of the shortened effective edge.

The Bottom Line

As you’ve learned in this article, there are many factors that go into selecting a ski length. Your height, weight, skiing ability, and type of ski all play a large part in deciding what length of skis to purchase. Chat with me or one of my fellow Ski experts here on Curated for free advice and recommendations. We are happy to help you find a ski length that is perfect for you and your ability.

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Written By
At the age of 3, I began my life-long passion in the sport of skiing, and haven't stopped since. Growing up racing at a small ski area in Wyoming, I hadn't ever been fully exposed to a full season of big-mountain skiing until 7 years ago, when I relocated to northwest Montana at age 12. Whenever I w...

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