Everything You Need to Know About Ski Turn RadiusPublished on 09/30/2022 · 7 min readWhat factors determine a ski's turn radius, how does the radius affects you on the slopes, and how do you choose the best radius for you? Read on to find out!
Photo by Bradley King
Skis today are extremely versatile. Many skis can ski powder and groomers, turn tight and wide, and carve and slarve. Ski manufacturers have figured out how to make skis stiff underfoot while remaining soft enough in the tip and tail. They add metal underfoot as well as dampening material at the tip and tail, and they even have camber underfoot and rocker in the tip and tail. So much versatility has made skis blur their categories more than ever and produced super categories that are so broad the user isn’t sure of their intended use (all-mountain, anyone?).
With all this tech and refinement in ski design, there are still some fundamentals that make a ski better or worse in certain situations. Ski profile, core makeup, sidewall type, and ski radius are the primary characteristics of skis, and their differences — and combinations of differences — are what give skis their unique character. This article is going to focus on ski radius, or the sidecut of the skin, and how that affects the way a ski feels on the snow.
Radius vs. Sidecut
Ski radius and ski sidecut are often used interchangeably when talking about skis. During the historical beginnings of skiing, skis were basically just straight planks with an upturned tip to keep the ski afloat in the snow. With no shaping to the side of the skis, the ski naturally did not want to turn when put on edge and was difficult for the skier to control. That was until early skiers realized that “pinching” the center of the ski closer together (done by carving the wooden ski) allowed the ski to naturally want to turn when up on its edge. The “sidecut” generally refers to the shape of the parabolic curve of the side of the ski, as this was originally cut into the ski.
The sidecut of the ski generally measures the distance the ski pinched inward from the tip and tail. This could be measured by placing the ski up on its edge on a table and measuring the gap in the middle of the ski. (Note: Skis also would often have a variation in tip and tail width as well.) But as ski technology progressed, skiers demanded more performance from their skis and in turn wanted a “deeper” sidecut. They wanted a bigger gap from the table to the middle of the ski.
Flash forward a few centuries, and race skis were made with a deep sidecut. This was often measured by the radius of the circle that would determine the turn shape of the ski — hence the term “ski radius.” Skis with a larger radius were made to ski faster and with wider turns. Skis with a shorter radius were made to ski slower and with quicker turns. The ski radius became a way to evaluate how a ski would compare to its competitors and what type of turns the ski would be best at making.
Ski Radius Types
Usually, skis with a short turn radius feel more hooky and snappy, whereas skis with a long turn radius feel more stable yet less maneuverable. Choosing the best ski radius for you definitely depends on your intended type of skiing. Ski radius and the way it affects ski feel depends on a number of factors including ski length, ski profile, and ski flex, but generally speaking, the ski radius of a ski puts it into one of three categories:
Short Turn Radius (10–15m)
Skis with a turn radius of 15 meters or less generally have a hooky feel and like snappy turns from edge to edge. These short-radius turns are best for skiers hoping for quick maneuverability from edge to edge. A smaller turn radius is typically found on a slalom ski, groomer ski, shorter skis, or skis with a shorter effective edge.
Medium Turn Radius (15–20m)
Skis with a medium turn radius are the most common. Typically, all-mountain skis have radii that fall within 15–20m, as that is best suited for most skiers in most conditions.
Long Turn Radius (20m+)
Skis with a longer turn radius are more common in big mountain skis, GS and downhill skis, and skis made for faster skiing. It is more common to find a long turn radius on skis intended for aggressive, high-speed skiing, although some brands favor skis with a long turn radius in most of their models.
Some skis incorporate multiple turn radii throughout the length of the ski to create a ski that can make tight turns or long turns depending on how hard the ski is driven. Often referred to as multi-radius skis or skis with an elliptical sidecut. Different brands have different versions of this technology, but generally, the idea is the same — the ski has a tighter turn radius in the middle of the ski, and a longer turn radius at the tip and the tail of the ski. This makes the ski capable of long, high-speed turns when skiing fast, and shorter, tighter turns when flexed hard and really put on edge.
Ski Radius & Other Characteristics
Ski radius is also affected by other characteristics of the ski’s design. Ski flex, ski profile, and ski shape all play a role in the way the ski radius changes the feel of the ski.3
Ski Radius and Flex
Some ski manufacturers design the ski flex and the radius with each other in mind. That is, the ski manufacturer not only chooses a ski radius as a way of affecting the turn shape, but it also utilizes the ski flex itself to determine the shape of the turn. Despite common belief, the ski having a radius cut into the side of it is actually not the driving force of the turn. In fact, because the radius circle is cut into the side of the ski, without flex the ski would technically not turn. Flexing a ski gives the edge full contact with the snow and allows the skier to drive it through the turn. With flexier skis, it is easy to initiate turns, whereas stiffer skis require more effort to turn.
Ski Radius and Ski Profile
Ski profile also greatly affects the way a ski radius changes the turn shape of a ski. Skis are turned through a combination of edge control and arc (which is determined by flex and ski radius) as well as a skid or slide commonly known as a slarve. A cambered ski is more reliant on the turn radius while skis with a rockered tip and tail are easier to slarve. This makes them easier to control in tight terrain and less reliant on ski radius for turns. These skis typically naturally have a tighter turn radius.
Carving skis with more camber and a longer effective edge (meaning contact points are closer to the tip and tail of the ski) typically requires a more dramatic shape to accomplish a narrower turn radius. Full rocker or reverse camber skis that are designed for better flotation in deeper snow do not require a tight turn radius, as there is only one main contact point with the ski. This makes them easier to pivot and less reliant on the edge to turn.
Ski Radius and Ski Shape
Lastly, some skis are designed with the shape of the ski to alter the turn radius. The ski’s dimensions — the tip width, waist width, and tail width of the ski — also go hand-in-hand with the turn radius. The more difference between the middle width and the tip and tail width, the narrower the turn radius. Powder skis have tapered tips and tails, which move the widest points of the skis closer toward the center of the ski. They then effectively shorten the turn radius.
The Best Ski Radius for You
The best ski radius for you is often determined by personal preference. However, beginners are generally more comfortable on skis that are easier to control and thus have a tighter turn radius. Intermediate skiers who want to add a bit more speed into their skiing typically want to consider a ski with a medium turn radius. And advanced skiers who are looking for higher-speed skiing typically want a ski with a longer turn radius for added stability at speed. Ski radius is typically more important in harder snow than in deep snow, so skiers who find themselves on-piste more often should add more weight to their ski radius decision.
To determine the best turn radius of a ski for you, reach out to a Ski Expert here on Curated and explain your unique situation and needs as a skier. Skiers are like snowflakes; no two are the same, and everyone needs a ski catered to their specific needs.