Ski Length 101: How to Choose the Right Size for Your SkisPublished on 06/28/2023 · 8 min readWondering 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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These days, ski manufacturers make downhill skis in all different shapes and sizes, and it can be overwhelming filtering through all the various factors that make up the different types of skis: waist width, camber profile versus rocker profile, and core layup all can affect the way a ski is sized. While there is no exact formula for determining the perfect ski length, there are many tips and tricks to help find the right skis for you.
How Do Height, Weight, Gender, and Age Affect Ski Length?
Although there are many factors that come into play when determining where you fit in the ski size range, the best place to start when choosing the right ski length is with your height and weight. At its most basic, shorter people generally want shorter-length skis, while taller people want longer skis.
As a rule of thumb, skis should generally line up somewhere from your chin to the top of your head when held up beside you. If looking for skis online, it's best to approximate your ski length by converting your height to cm and subtracting approximately 10cm.
Heavier people apply more force to a ski than lighter people and should keep that in mind when selecting a ski length. A heavier skier may want to choose a longer ski, but also a wider one with a stronger wood core, a sandwich sidewall construction, and/or metal in the layup of the ski so that they do not easily over-power the ski. Similarly, skiers with less body mass will benefit from skis with softer wood cores or even foam cores. This is because light skiers put less leverage on the ski and thus less force is applied when attempting to flex the ski. Some lighter skiers and younger skiers also prefer skis with narrower widths or cap sidewall construction as these can be easier to flex.
Many brands also differentiate between men's skis and women's skis in terms of construction as well as size offerings. It is important to take gender into consideration when choosing ski length as women usually have a lower center of gravity. Sizing is generally similar, but flex can be very different in women's specific skis.
When selecting a correct ski length for kids' skis, it is best to aim for the ski to be somewhere from the child's chest to the middle of the face. You can similarly take a child's height, and subtract about 15cm to determine the best fit. Also, you can use a ski size chart, as most kids' skis are very similar in profile and construction, so the biggest factor is the ski length.
How Does My Ability Level Affect The Ski Length I Should Choose?
While the skier attributes above 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 of 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, a softer flex, are easier 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 and offer smoother turns when skiing fast. So generally speaking, beginner-level skis are shorter while expert-level skis are longer.
As a rule of thumb, beginner skiers should have an expert level 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 their head. You can easily approximate your ski length by taking your height in centimeters and subtracting 20cm for beginner skis, 10cm for intermediate skis, and choosing near your height or below for advanced skis.
How Does My Snow and Terrain Type Affect The Ski Sizing Process?
Just as important as how you ski, is what you ski. Whether you are carving railroad tracks on the groomed runs with piste skis, hitting 720s on pipe skis, or dropping cliffs in the back bowls on a freeride ski, the type of terrain you ski has vast implications on not only what ski category you should consider and how it should be sized.
If you are regularly ducking into the trees or tight spots, you may want a shorter ski with a shorter turn radii for better maneuverability. But, if you like to rip longer turns down groomers, a longer ski will give you more stability at high speeds.
And how about different snow conditions like powder, groomers, or parks? Despite the wider waists of powder skis, it is also a good idea to size your powder ski a bit longer in order to provide better floatation in deep snow. Many also have rocker incorporated into their ski profile to allow for some upsizing.
When it comes to skiing in the terrain park, there are competing theories; while some argue for a shorter ski in order to easily throw spins and rail tricks others argue for longer freestyle skis in order to provide more stability in the air and a larger platform for landing from a big jump or in the pipe. Generally, it is best to stick around the traditional ski lengths when selecting a park or twin-tip ski.
For backcountry skis, also known as alpine touring skis, it is also best to start with the standard sizing formula used above. Some skiers chose to size down for easy of maneuverability during kick turns, while others size up for better glide when touring over a long distance.
Camber, Rocker, and Effective Edge: What Do All Of These Mean?
Ski technology has changed drastically since the inception of shaped skis, and it can be hard to keep up will all the terminology. Rocker, camber, and effective edge are all terms that are thrown around constantly when shopping for skis online, but what do they mean?
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. Full 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.
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, in combination with much wider skis. Inspired by water skis, 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 with a wider ski waist width.
If you lay down a full rocker 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?
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. As such, the camber of a ski directly affects the turning radius of the ski. Skiers who use dedicated carving skis for quicker turns generally ski on shorter to medium-length skis for their height.
Rockered skis, on the other hand, have a shorter effective edge, meaning that the midsection of the ski that is gripping the slope is much shorter. This shortened effective edge can decrease the turning radii of the ski by several meters and make the ski feel shorter. People riding a ski with a lot of rocker 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 the right size ski length for you. Your height, weight, skiing ability, as well as ski dimensions, all play a large part in deciding what ski length to purchase. But don't ever overlook the most important factor in choosing a ski length: personal preference. If you want to ski shorter or longer than recommended, and that's where you are most comfortable, then you go for it! In the meantime, feel free to 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.