Carving vs. All-Mountain Skis: Which are Best for You?Published on 05/06/2023 · 13 min readNot sure what type of ski to get this season? Check out this guide on carving skis and all mountain skis to get a better idea of which is right for you!
Photo by Nick Gosset
Deciding between an “all-mountain” and carving ski can be difficult to understand. There are so many variations and options for skis these days. Understanding what type of skier you are and what you want to prioritize in a ski should be your first steps when deciding what is right for you. Your ski type also should be reflective of the types of terrain and snow you will be skiing.
To oversimplify things, if you are someone who skis almost entirely groomed terrain and hard snow, a carving ski is probably right for you. If you find yourself skiing many terrain types throughout your day or season, an all-mountain ski is likely a better fit.
I grew up ski racing on traditional, stiff carving skis. Now I am more of a big mountain/freeride skier, and I ski an all-mountain ski. I truly believe that finding the right ski for you can make the sport so much more enjoyable, so in this article, I’ll break down carving versus all-mountain skis for you to decide which will maximize your sport experience.
What Is a Carving Ski?
A carving ski is designed for someone who spends all (or almost all) of their time on groomed terrain. Carving skis are going to be stiff, giving them a very stable and smooth feel on groomed snow. They also typically have a shooter turning radius meaning they will carve well when making smaller, quicker turns. Carving skis will typically have a camber profile meaning when lying flat, the middle of the ski does not touch the ground. When the skier's weight is applied to the ski it will bend. This shape is part of what gives a ski stability at high speeds and a responsive “springy” feel.
Due to the very stiff nature of a true carving ski, these will be difficult to use in any kind of off-piste terrain. They are not forgiving when you get into moguls, trees, or powder. These skis are designed to “hook up” and will not pivot or slide very well.
What Is an All-Mountain Ski?
An all-mountain ski is a very broad category and can include many different types of skis. A common misconception about all-mountain skis is that they are always wider than a carving ski. This is typically the case, but not always. There are some mountain skis that are as narrow as 80mm underfoot. An all-mountain ski is best for anyone that finds themselves skiing ungroomed terrain. This being said, there are variations of all-mountain skis that will perform better on groomed terrain and others that will be better for off-piste skiing.
All-Mountain With a Carving Emphasis
Does this look like the type of terrain you ski on? If so you should look for an all-mountain ski with a carving emphasis. Here I am on a narrower all-mountain ski, that is great on hard-pack and off-piste terrain. The ski pictured here is the Dynastar M-Free 90 Open Ski.
This type of ski will typically be somewhere between 85mm and 95mm underfoot. This width is very versatile and can be taken in varying terrain types. The turning radius on these skis can vary, but typically will be somewhere between 14m and 20m. Some of these types of skis can have a layer of Titanial (metal) which makes the ski a bit stiffer and better on hard groomers.
Some will have a wood core, or even foam making them a bit softer and more forgiving, this type of ski would be better for beginners or intermediates.
- K2 Mindbender 88Ti Alliance: This is an example of a women's-specific all-mountain ski with a carving emphasis. It does have Titanial which makes it a stiffer ski, probably better for an expert. In the 163cm length, this ski has a 15m turning radius. It is 88mm underfoot and has a rocker/camber/rocker profile. The rocker on this ski is very subtle, the camber is slightly more aggressive.
- Rossignol Experience 86: This is another great all-mountain ski with a carving emphasis. The Rossignol Experience does not have any metal making it a bit softer and more forgiving. This ski will perform a bit better in moguls and trees and maybe not as well on ice. This ski is 88mm underfoot and has a 16m turning radius in the 176cm length.
All-Mountain With a Powder or Off-Piste Emphasis
This type of ski will typically be a bit wider underfoot when compared to carving all-mountain skis. They will typically fall between 95mm underfoot to 110mm underfoot. Anything above 100mm underfoot would be considered a more powder-specific ski. An all-mountain ski with a powder or off-piste emphasis will typically have a bit of a larger turning radius, typically in the range of 16m to 25m. These types of skis are typically better for more experienced, strong skiers. These skis can have a layer of Titanial for added stability at high speeds, but more frequently are made of wood.
- Fischer Ranger 102 FR: This is a great, stiff all-mountain ski with more of an off-piste emphasis. It has a rocker/camber/rocker profile and is 102cm underfoot. It has a layer of metal giving it a bit of a stiffer more stable feel. The 177cm size has an 18m turning radius, a bit shorter for an off-piste ski. This ski is great for hard-charging off-piste skiers who also love to rip some groomers.
- Moment Wildcat 101: This is an example of an an-mountain ski with more of an off-piste. There is no Titanial in this ski giving it a more forgiving feel. It is 101mm underfoot making it better for deeper snow. It has a twin-tip profile making it suitable for tricks or park skiing as well. This ski has a larger, 20m turning radius in the 179cm length. This ski has a rocker/camber/rocker profile. The rocker will allow the ski to pivot and make smaller turns when in tight trees and chutes. The camber will ensure a good edge hold when skiing groomers.
Features to Look For in Skis
I don’t love the term “all-mountain” because this is such a broad term, and there are so many variations within that category. On the other side of things, carving skis have many points to consider as well. There are many terms you may hear thrown around when researching skis. Here are some basic terms described which should help you understand what to look for in a ski.
Rocker / Camber
Rocker and camber are two things that are very important to understand when deciding on skis. These terms describe how the ski is shaped. However, many people don’t really understand what this means. There are many types of rocker and camber profiles. Here are the most common types explained:
- Traditional Camber: Carving skis have a traditional camber profile. This is the opposite of rocker. When you hold a pair of cambered skis together, the middle section of the ski will not touch each other. Camber gives the ski a responsive and explosive feel.
- Camber with Front Rocker: This type of profile means that the camber is only in the center of the ski and the tip of the ski has some rocker. This is intended to make turn initiation easier and help ensure the tip does not grab in choppy snow. This profile is great for someone who loves groomers and carving the ski but also finds themselves off-piste.
- Camber with Front and Tail Rocker: This is also known as rocker/camber/rocker. This type of ski has really taken over the off-piste ski market in the past few years. This type of ski will have camber in the center of the ski and rocker on both the tips and tails. This shape helps with turn initiation and allows the ski to pivot in softer snow.
- Full Rocker: The tips and tails of a full rockered ski come off the ground, while the middle of the ski stays in contact with the snow. This provides more float in powder and gives the ski more maneuverability. This type of ski will not perform as well on groomed terrain. Rockered skis tend to ski shorter because the tips and tails are not in contact with the snow. You may choose a longer length in a rockered ski than a cambered ski.
- Reverse Camber: This type of ski is primarily for powder-specific skis to ensure great floatation. You will typically only see reverse camber in very wide skis (greater than 110mm underfoot). This type of ski is not intended for groomed terrain.
All-mountain skis can range anywhere from 80mm underfoot up to 130mm. A narrower ski (less than 90mm) is great for groomed terrain, moguls, and packed powder. As you go up in the width of a ski, they will perform better in powder. The larger surface area gives the ski more float. A wider ski will not perform as well on groomed terrain because it will take more to get the ski on edge.
The turning radius of a ski is determined by the sidecut and shape of the ski and is measured in meters. In simple terms, this describes the size of the turn the ski is meant to make. Carving skis typically have a shorter turning radius (between 10m and 17m).
All-mountain skis can range anywhere from a 15m radius up to 25m or greater. Skis with a shorter radius are typically better for beginners. This being said, one should also think about their own skiing style when deciding on a turning radius.
There are many different types of materials that a ski can be made with. This impacts how the ski feels. Here are some of the most common materials you will see in ski construction:
- Wood: This is the most common material you will see in a ski core. There are many types of wood that can be used in skis to provide slightly different feels. A wood core typically gives the ski a responsive feel due to its ability to store energy.
- PU Foam: This is a cheaper alternative to wood-core skis. You will frequently see beginner skis made with PU foam. This material is less strong than wood. Skis made of PU foam are typically softer and tend to not hold up as well over time.
- Fiberglass: Frequently, wood core skis will also have a layer of fiberglass to add durability and stiffness to the ski.
- Carbon Fiber: This is a lighter-weight alternative to fiberglass. It is frequently used in touring skis to keep them lightweight. This helps add additional strength to the ski without the extra weight.
- Titanal: Stiff all-mountain skis or carving skis can have a layer of metal called titanal to add extra stability and help dampen the ski. Skis with titanal are stiff and very stable at high speeds. A ski with titanal will be harder to flex and have a less playful feel.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Deciding on a Ski
When making a point to pick a certain ski, regardless if it’s a carving or all-mountain, you should equally make a point to consider a few things first.
What type of terrain do you like to ski?
A. Only groomers: If you stick to only on-piste groomed terrain, a traditional carving ski is probably best for you. B. Mostly groomers but some off-piste terrain: If this sounds like you, you should look for an all-mountain ski that prioritizes groomers. This type of ski will typically have a narrower waist width (between 80mm and 90mm underfoot). C. Mostly off-piste: If you do most of your skiing on ungroomed terrain you should look for an all-mountain ski with a slightly wider width (90mm or greater).
Do you want rocker or camber?
A. Rocker: Rocker helps give the ski float and maneuverability. If you find yourself in off-piste terrain and deeper snow, you should look for a ski with some rocker. Carving skis do not have any rocker. B. Camber: This gives the ski a responsive and energetic feel. If you like to make fast, arcing turns, you should look for a ski with camber. All carving skis and some all-mountain skis will have camber.
3. What is your ability level?
A. Beginner: Beginners should look for a softer flex ski with a shorter turning radius. Beginners should avoid wide skis as they are designed for off-piste skiing. B. Advanced: As your skiing ability progresses, you can move towards a stiffer ski with a wider turning radius.
The Best Carving and All-Mountain Skis
Hopefully, at this point, you have a bit of a better idea of what type of ski is right for you. I have included top picks for each of the types of skis I have discussed. This is by no means an extensive list so talk with a Ski Expert here on Curated for personalized recommendations!
Fischer Progressor F18: Traditional Carving Ski
The Fischer Progressor is an example of a true carving ski. This would be a great ski for an intermediate or a more advanced skier who likes to stick to groomed trails.
- Turning Radius: Short 12m-15m
- Shape: Camber, Slight Front Rocker
- Construction: Wood
Volkl Kendo 88: All-Mountain With a Carving Emphasis
This is an example of an all-mountain ski that will perform well on groomed terrain but also can be taken off-piste. This is great for someone who likes to ski all around the mountain and enjoys carving on groomers.
- Turning Radius: 17m -25m
- Shape: Rocker, Camber, Rocker
- Construction: Wood, Titanial, Carbon
Atomic Vantage 97 C: All-Mountain With a Carving Emphasis
This is a great women's-specific all-mountain ski with great carving ability. Unlike the Volkl Kendo, the Vantage does not have metal, giving it a more forgiving feel. This would be a great choice for an intermediate or lower-end expert who does some on-piste and some off-piste skiing.
- Turning Radius: 18 m
- Shape: Rocker, Camber, Rocker
- Construction: Wood, Carbon
Salomon QST 106: Off-Piste, “Big Mountain” Ski
The Salomon QST 106 is a true all-mountain or big mountain. This is good for someone who does mostly off-piste skiing and rarely finds themselves on groomed terrain. This ski is also a great powder ski.
- Turning Radius: 20m
- Shape: Rocker, Camber, Rocker
- Construction: Carbon, Flax (natural fiber), Wood
Dynastar M-Free 108: Off-Piste, “Big Mountain” Ski
This is one of my favorite off-piste skis out there. It is super playful and easy to pivot underfoot. This being said, it also has great stability at high speeds. This ski is not great on-piste, but gets the job done. This is a great choice for someone who wants a playful all-mountain ski for off-piste skiing and powder.
- Turning Radius: 18 m
- Shape: Rocker, Camber, Rocker
- Construction: Wood, PU (plastic)
To Carve or to All-Mountain? That Is the Question You Must Answer
That was a lot of information to digest, so remember that making the decision between a carving or an all-mountain ski comes down to asking yourself some questions specific to your expectations or desires.
If you are someone who knows they will only be on groomed terrain, a carving ski is right for you. If you are a beginner, you may try to look for a carving ski that does not have titanal (whether with wood or a foam core). If you are more of an expert looking for a carving ski, you may enjoy something with titanal for a more stable ride at high speeds. If you are looking to explore the entire mountain and ski off-piste, some type of all-mountain ski is best for you.
If you are still unsure about what type of ski is right for you, I would recommend chatting with one of our Curated Winter Sports Experts. From there, you’ll be on your way to some fun skiing.