5 Common Mistakes When Buying Skis

In the market for skis this season? Wait! First check out this list of avoidable, yet common mistakes people make when purchasing skis!

Two pairs of skis sitting next to each other.

Two skis I should have NEVER been on as an adult. All photos courtesy of Lauren Dobbins

Have you ever experienced buyer’s remorse when purchasing your ski gear? I know I have! After mistakes with rentals and my own purchases over many years, I finally have my perfect pair of skis. As a Ski Expert here on Curated, I try to help fellow skiers to not make the same mistakes I have made. Choosing skis is no easy task, and ski companies make options that cover a large range of shapes and sizes.

There is no perfect solution to making sure you are happy every time you purchase a ski. While a Curated Expert will help you pinpoint what you are looking for, it’s important to understand common pitfalls to avoid when telling your Expert what you need in your skis. Here are five mistakes commonly made when buying skis (plus one gear bonus) that either I or my husband—fellow Ski Expert Raphael Alland—have made.

1. Buying the Wrong Length

Two skiers standing on a ski run. There is a snowy mountain in the background.

My 2005 Blizzards paired with my 2005 blue boys jacket (photo from 2019).

Choosing the appropriate length of ski can be difficult because it involves so many different factors. The main factor when choosing length is ability level. The general rule of thumb is to use your own height as a marker. Skis that come up to your chin/mouth are an appropriate beginner length. Skis up to your nose are for intermediates. Eyebrows are the marker for advanced skiers. Once you are crushing double-black terrain, it’s time for skis that hit the top of your head or even a bit taller.

Although this is a good starting place, keep in mind other factors about yourself that may narrow down the length options for you. If you are very lightweight for your height, choose a shorter ski. The opposite is true if you are heavier and need more stability. Consider how you want to progress your skiing. If you plan on skiing frequently and want to advance to tougher terrain, opt for a slightly longer ski that will support you as you advance.

2. Buying the Wrong Waist Width

Top down view of a pair of skis as seen from a chairlift above a snowy/dirty ski trail.

Don’t even get me started on all the things wrong with these rental skis

Skis come in a huge array of widths: from 60mm to 130mm. Waist width refers to the narrowest point of the ski under your foot. While waist width always comes down to personal preference, there are specific ski dimensions to target in your search based on how you want to use the ski. The list below provides the waist width categories for different uses. Keep in mind that within each range, the lower and upper portion will have very different styles of skiing. We can use me as an example. My Nordica Santa Ana 93s and 98s are both considered all-mountain skis. However, I retired my 93s in favor of the 98s because I started to spend a greater portion of my time off-piste (not on groomers).

One other factor to consider is gender. Typically, women’s skis are narrower than men’s to account for foot size and muscular differences. While women’s ranges are essentially the same as these below, please note that you may want a slightly narrower ski than a range suggests. In fact, many ski manufacturers take this into account when developing their skis. For example, Icelantic’s backcountry collection for men comes in a 101mm and 111mm, whereas the women’s option comes in a 97mm and 107mm.

Type of SkiWaist Width
Race/Carving> 70mm
Beginner70-80mm
Groomer/East Coast All-Mountain80-90mm
Rockies/West Coast All-Mountain90-105mm
Freeride/Powder105mm +

3. Not Considering Ski Profile and Construction

Two people on a snowy ski trail, one is wearing skis and hugging the other.

93s were not for me (I also rhyme in my free time) 

Ski length and waist width are usually an easy metric to see when looking at a rack of skis. So if you find your preferred length and width from many ski manufacturers, how do you choose which of those is right for you? At this point, you need to look into the profile of a ski and how it is constructed. Ski companies put a lot of thought and effort into the specific design of each ski beyond just length and width. Below are a few examples of differences in construction to consider when looking for a pair of skis.

Core Construction

Almost all skis have a wood core, but different types of wood ski very differently. Some cores are designed around light wood to have better flotation for powder skis, while others have very springy wood in freestyle skis to increase pop in the terrain park.

Metal Layers

While skis have metal edges, the metal layering inside the ski can greatly vary. Some skis will have no metal layers to maintain a light, playful feel. Skis that are meant to charge down groomers will have two layers of metal. Ski manufacturers often target where the metal sits in the ski to provide reinforcement where needed for various snow conditions.

Camber/Rocker Profile

Very generally speaking, there are three different camber profiles that determine how a ski touches the snow. The traditional profile is known as camber. If you picture a ski to be a very flattened letter “U,” a camber ski touches the snow at both ends of the U. These skis are targeted towards groomers and all-mountain conditions.

The next common profile is rocker (also called reverse camber). If you picture the letter “U” again, this ski touches the snow in the middle of the “U.” Rockered skis are meant for park and powder.

Lastly, skis also come in a flat profile, where the whole length of the ski touches the snow. This profile is uncommon in skis and is typically seen in snowboards.

Sidecut

The sidecut of a ski will determine the turn radius a ski can make, which sets up the size and shape of a turn. Skis with a long turn radius are targeted to wide, open bowls—think big-mountain freeride skis. Skis with a short turning radius will perform best in moguls and tight trees.

Tip/Tail Design

There are various ways a ski manufacturer can design the tips and tails of their ski. They may be shaped to target a specific type of terrain, or the materials may be different from the rest of the ski in order to improve playfulness in soft snow. The tip/tail design will also dictate if a ski is directional or not (i.e. if you can ski it backwards, or “switch”).

4. Wanting Whatever Someone Else Has

A skier smiling as he turns down the mountain. There are snowy mountains in the background.

I saw Regina George on Bent Chetler 100s, so I bought Bent Chetler 100s

When my husband was in the market for skis, he had numerous friends who used Atomic Bent Chetlers and who insisted he buy the same. As a fan of peer pressure, he gave in and bought a pair. While these are great skis, they didn’t match the type of skiing he enjoyed. He quickly traded them in after less than a season for a ski that did match his needs: the Nordica Enforcer 100. Yes, I know … This is the men’s version of my ski, but I swear this wasn’t peer pressure (he’s just my six-foot clone).

While friends are a good resource for opinions on skis, what they like isn’t necessarily what you will like. This mistake also stretches to family members and celebrities. Just because Mikaela Shiffrin has Atomic skis doesn’t mean you should only consider Atomic skis.

5. Using the Wrong Source to Purchase

Three skiers standing on a ski run and smiling at the camera.

Raphael’s neon-green eBay boots lasted approx. 2 uses before a buckle fell off

Buyer beware: Do not buy skis from Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. While you can find cheap gear this way, you have no way of knowing the history of the gear. It may look fine, but you never know what has been repaired or if there is damage you can’t see.

I always recommend spending the extra money to buy your gear from a reputable source. Ski and/or binding failure can result in life-altering injuries. Please, for the love of your knees, only buy from a verified online retailer (like us here at Curated) or your local ski shop. If you really need to save money and want a used ski, check out on-mountain ski shops to pick up an end-of-season pair of demo skis. These shops can verify that the demo bindings and skis are safe to use.

Bonus Mistake: Having Gear That Hinders Ski Performance

Top down view of some Nordica skis with bindings. They are laying on top of snow.

My shop guys say that demo bindings aren’t supposed to wiggle laterally…

Before assigning blame to your skis, consider the fact that your other gear might be a problem. Don’t worry, I’ve made this mistake, too. I’ve had ski boots that had too much flex, boots that were too big, poles that were too long, and bindings that had too low of a DIN setting. Review all of your gear to ensure there aren’t multiple issues going on. A ski that is a perfect match for you will not feel so great in the wrong boots!

Final Thoughts

A selfie of two people on a snowy ski trail. They are both wearing helmets and goggles and smiling at the camera.

All smiles on the slopes with the right gear!

There is no perfect formula to buying the best ski for you. The most important things to keep in mind are: What’s your body type? Where do you ski? What are your goals? What terrain do you enjoy? Make sure you know how to answer these questions before starting your search for new skis. Bring those answers to a Ski Expert here on Curated, and we will find that perfect ski you’ve been looking for!

Ski Expert Lauren Dobbins
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Lauren Dobbins
Ski Expert
Lauren here! How can I help?
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I learned how to ski before I learned how to ride a bike! I grew up shredding my local hill at The Grand Geneva in Wisconsin, but I always had dreams of moving to the mountains after every family ski trip. I made my dream a reality when my husband and I moved to Colorado in 2018. We are the definiti...

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