All-Mountain Skis: What to Know Before You Buy

Published on 04/14/2023 · 11 min readFor skiers who want to ski a little bit of everything, all-mountain skis are a perfect choice! Learn how to choose the best all-mountain ski for you in this guide!
Adam St. Ours, Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Adam St. Ours

Photo courtesy of K2 Skis

Tl;dr: The term “all-mountain” has become a catch-all phrase used to describe the most versatile skis that can comfortably perform in a range of conditions—from firm groomers to soft powder and everything in between. Though within the all-mountain category, skis can run the gamut from playful skis to strong directional chargers to freestyle machines that love to jump, spin, and bounce around the mountain. Many of the skis don’t fit comfortably in just one categorization and feature multiple characteristics that blur the line between the different styles. In this guide, we will identify the different types of all-mountain skis, then think about the type of skier you are, and where you typically ski, to narrow down the best option for you.

As a Curated Expert, I’ve helped thousands of customers sort through the myriad skis on the market to find the right pair for their individual styles and preferences. I’ve been skiing for over 35 years, and I know what it’s like to struggle with gear that’s inappropriate for your style. As such, I’m passionate about helping people find the right gear to get the most enjoyment out of their time in the mountains.

What Is an All-Mountain Ski?

Photo by Adam St. Ours

An all-mountain ski is a versatile type of ski designed to perform well in various snow conditions and terrain types. These skis typically have a medium width, enabling them to handle groomed slopes, crud, and light powder. All-mountain skis are popular among recreational skiers seeking a single ski solution that adapts to different conditions, offering a balance between carving, stability, and floatation. It’s a ski that you can reliably grab every day, regardless of the conditions, and be happy with its performance.

What to Consider When Choosing an All-Mountain Ski

Photo by Adam St. Ours

What Style of Skier Are You?

Imagine yourself at the top of a ski run, and it’s filled with little piles of pushed-around snow. They’re not quite moguls yet—more like how the trails look in the late morning of a powder day. How are you skiing that run? Do you use the ruts from other people’s runs to turn in, or do you aim for the soft piles of snow as targets to turn on? Or, do you ski down the same as you do on any run, making your turns where you want as if the piles of snow aren’t there?

There is no right answer to the above scenario. In fact, it’s common to change your answer depending on your mood, the difficulty of the trail, who you’re skiing with, etc. But it’s a helpful hypothetical to get you thinking about how you ski—which can help you narrow in on the correct type of ski for you.

Playful: For those who prefer to make lots of short, quick turns, I recommend a more playful ski with a lot of taper and sidecut to help turn initiation and increase maneuverability. Typically, these skis limit the amount of metal they use—or forgo that material completely—to provide more flex and make it easier to bend them in turns, especially at slower speeds.

Freestyle: If you enjoy slashing your turns and rapidly pivoting sideways to spray pockets of powder, it’s a good sign that you prefer a freestyle-oriented ski. Perhaps you also look for cliffs to jump, or natural hits to pop off of—such as a windlip or cattrack. A freestyle ski features a lot of tip and tail rocker profile to keep it on top of loose snow and give it a more surfy feel. They’re also generally on the lighter side of the ski spectrum, making them easier to control in the air.

Hard Charging: Do you want a ski that will drive fast and straight, and remain stable at high speeds, regardless of what snow, crud, bushes, or bumps are in front of you? If so, I’d recommend a strong ski that’s reinforced with stiffening agents in the core to absorb the energy and not deflect you from your line.

The most common material used to stiffen a ski is titanal metal alloy, though some manufacturers employ carbon fiber or Graphene (specifically, Head). These skis usually feature less taper than more playful options for a more precise feeling and greater edge hold throughout a turn.

What Type of Terrain Do You Ski?

Photo by Adam St. Ours

Because most ski models are available in a variety of widths to suit varying snow conditions, it’s important that you find a ski for the conditions you typically find yourself in. But remember, this does not mean the conditions you wish you were in.

You may love going off-piste into deep snow and steep ungroomed bowls—which would warrant a wide powder ski with lots of surface area to float on. But if you live in a part of the country that relies heavily on man-made snow and rarely sees deep powder, you are better suited with a ski with a narrow waist width to take advantage of the firm snow conditions you’ll likely see.

Personally, I live on the East Coast and have a strong preference for soft, ungroomed snow. But despite this preference, I don’t use a 110mm ski as my everyday setup in Pennsylvania—as I would if I lived in a high-snow area and needed the width for flotation on a regular basis.

How Much Does an All-Mountain Ski Cost?

All-mountain ski prices can vary significantly depending on the brand, materials, and level of performance. Here are some common price points and what to expect at each level:

  • Entry-level ($300 - $500): These skis are suitable for beginners and intermediate skiers. They usually offer softer flex, user-friendly turn initiation, and are made from more basic materials. These skis are forgiving and focused on building skills rather than high performance.
  • Mid-range ($500 - $800): Aimed at intermediate to advanced skiers, mid-range all-mountain skis typically offer a better balance of performance and comfort. They often feature higher-quality materials and construction techniques, delivering improved edge grip, stability, and responsiveness compared to entry-level options.
  • High-end ($800 - $1,200+): Targeting advanced and expert skiers, high-end all-mountain skis boast premium materials, such as carbon fiber or metal alloys, and cutting-edge technologies to maximize performance. These skis provide excellent stability at high speeds, precise carving, and enhanced versatility across varying terrain and snow conditions.

Remember, these price ranges are approximate, and it's essential to consider your skill level, skiing goals, and budget when selecting the right all-mountain skis for you.

What Are the Different Types of All-Mountain Skis?

While there are three main types of all-mountain skis, it’s important to keep in mind that these categories aren’t etched in stone; they’re simply a way to help differentiate between ski models. Just because a ski is listed as a directional charger, for example, doesn’t mean it can’t be skied in a playful style, or vice versa.

Charging (More Stable)

As the name implies, a charging ski is meant for a more aggressive approach to skiing—typically one that attacks the fall line directly, and builds a lot of speed with big, long turns. These skis are generally stiffer flexing than other options to reduce tip chatter in order to remain stable and composed at higher speeds and in variable conditions. Skis like the Nordica Enforcer/Santa Ana, Volkl Mantra/Secret, and Rossignol Sender/Rallybird are all examples that use layers of titanal metal over the core to provide that extra stiffness and stability.

Benefits:

  • Stiffer flexing to reduce chatter
  • Increase stability at high speeds

Be Aware:

  • Can be more demanding to ski, especially in variable snow conditions and tight spaces

Playful (More Forgiving)

Skiing in a playful style is a wide-ranging term that implies skiing with a more active or dynamic style. These skiers generally prefer to make many turns and find features to incorporate into their ski run. This sometimes (but not always) means incorporating certain freestyle elements and finding ways to get into the air. Skis like the Salomon QST and Blizzard Rustler/Sheeva are playful skis that perform capably across the whole mountain.

Benefits:

  • Easy to turn
  • Forgiving of technical mistakes, like skiing in the backseat

Be Aware:

  • May not be as stable or hold an edge on firm trails as well as a stiffer ski

Freestyle

While an all-mountain freestyle ski is certainly comfortable taking park laps, for the purposes of this article, we will think in terms of taking that playfulness and style outside the park and making the whole mountain your playground. An all-mountain freestyle ski has a more symmetrical twin-tip shape and a progressive mount, with the bindings more centered than a directional ski. This gives the skis more balance in the air and when skiing switch. The Faction Mana and Dynastar M-Free series are great examples of freestyle all-mountain skis that are equally at home spinning in the air as they are slashing powder stashes in the trees.

Benefits:

  • Loose, lively, and energetic
  • Lightweight and balanced for jumps and spins

Be Aware:

  • Looseness may feel vague and unreliable when carving on firm snow
  • Lightweight may feel less stable in mixed snow conditions

Features to Look Out for When Choosing an All-mountain Ski

The two most common features that all-mountain skis contain are rocker profile and flex. While there is plenty of innovative technology that goes into each ski, these two play a significant part in how it feels on the snow.

Rocker Profile

Just about every all-mountain ski these days comes with a combination of rocker and camber profile. This technology allows the ski to turn more easily and stay on top of soft snow while also providing solid edge hold and grip on firm snow.

There is a significant difference in the amount and size of rocker used in each model of skis, depending on the intended usage and the unique feel each manufacturer is aiming for. Generally, more directional chargers feature less rocker and more camber to provide better grip and stability. Whereas more playful and freestyle skis offer more rocker for quick turns and pivots.

Flex

Flex affects a ski’s ability to power through crud and chopped-up snow and generally remain stable at higher speeds. A stiffer-flexing ski is less likely to be deflected in mixed snow conditions. Conversely, a softer-flexing ski is easier to bend in turns at slower speeds.

How to Choose the Right All-Mountain Ski for You

Photo by Adam St. Ours

While you may not be able to get your unicorn of a ski, if you’re thoughtful and honest with yourself about what you need, you’ll be able to get a ski that’s an appropriate fit for you. In order to help you identify what option may be best for your needs, I’ve outlined below three sample customers, and what they should look for when choosing their next all-mountain ski.

Bob: A New England Powder Chaser

Bob lives in New England, where he loves seeking out soft snow on the mountain. Whether it’s in the trees or the sides of a groomed run, he prefers to ski where nobody has been yet. He likes to go fast when he can, but also needs to make short, quick turns because it can get tight between the trees.

Features Bob should look for:

  • Skis that don’t have a speed limit in variable snow
  • Rocker-camber-rocker profile for both stability in mixed snow and grip on firm snow.
  • A stiff ski to support high speeds

Ski examples include: K2 Mindbender Ti (89/99), Head Kore (93/99)

Jane: A Beginner Outgrowing Her Setup

Jane lives in Colorado, and recently got into skiing as a young adult. She’s comfortable on most blue and easy black trails, and would like a ski to help her continue to progress—as she feels her current beginner set up is hard to excel with on more difficult terrain. Her biggest concern is controlling her speed when turning on steep runs.

Features Jane should look for:

  • Skis with a short turning radius
  • A medium-stiffness ski, something that is somewhat forgiving, but still confidence inspiring

Ski examples include: Elan Ripstick 94W, Salomon QST Lumen 98

Tanner: An All-Mountain Trickster

Tanner loves throwing tricks in the park, but his current skis feel flimsy and inadequate when he takes them to the back bowls on a powder day. He wants to be able to use his skis all over the mountain, including runs through the terrain park.

Features Tanner should look for:

  • Generous rocker profile that makes pivoting and slashing easier
  • Twin tips to land and ski switch

Ski examples include: Faction Prodigy, Line Blend

Chat With a Real Expert

After reading this guide, you should be more familiar with the process of selecting the appropriate all-mountain ski for you. Though if you still have questions on the best fit for your individual needs, try reaching out to a Curated Ski Expert, like me. Our team of knowledgeable specialists would be happy to take the work off your plate and present you with a list of free, customized gear recommendations.

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

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