Ski Finder: How to Choose the Best Ski for You

Published on 12/08/2023 · 14 min readThere's no shortage of options when it comes to choosing skis. How can you sort through them all? This guide by Skiing Expert Lauren Dobbins will explain just that!
Lauren Dobbins, Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Lauren Dobbins

Embrace the mountains, conquer the slopes, and let your skis carry you to exhilarating new heights. All Photos Courtesy of Lauren Dobbins and Raphael Alland

When buying skis, consider your skill level, preferred terrain, and skiing style. Choose the right ski length, width, and profile for stability and control. Don't forget to match bindings and boots for optimal performance and comfort. Prioritize reputable brands and seek Expert advice as needed.

Ski Expert Raphael Alland on the DPS Pagoda 100 RP at Monarch. Photo by Lauren Dobbins

Feeling overwhelmed by all of the ski options out there? Don’t worry, we’re here to help! I’m Lauren, a Ski Expert here at Curated. I’ve helped hundreds of people find the right skis for them, and today I will help make the ski buying process a little easier. My husband (fellow ski expert Raphael Alland) and I hit the slopes about 70 days a season, so we know just how important it is to have the right pair of skis. Let’s walk through everything you need to know to make finding your match a breeze!

What to Consider When Buying Skis

Ski Expert Lauren Dobbins on the Nordica Unleashed 98 W at Monarch. Photo courtesy of Lauren Dobbins

Before you begin your search, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What Is Your Skiing Ability Level?

Consider your experience and skill level when choosing skis. Beginners should look for skis that are more forgiving and easier to control, while advanced skiers may want something more aggressive and specialized. The right ski will help you progress faster and enjoy your time on the mountain.

2. What Type of Terrain Do You Prefer?

Think about where you'll be skiing most often. Are you sticking to groomed runs or exploring off-piste terrain? Do you dream of powder days or perfecting your turns on hardpack? Identifying your preferred terrain will guide you towards the ideal ski type and profile.

3. How Important Is Weight and Maneuverability?

Lighter skis are generally easier to control and less fatiguing, making them great for beginners or those who prioritize maneuverability. However, lighter skis can be less stable at high speeds. Consider your preferences and whether you prioritize lightweight construction over stability and performance.

4. What Length and Width of Skis Do You Need?

Ski length and width affect stability, maneuverability, and flotation. Shorter skis are easier to control, while longer skis provide more stability at high speeds. Wider skis offer better flotation in powder, while narrower skis excel on groomed runs. Consult a ski sizing chart or Expert advice to find the perfect dimensions for your skiing style, height, and weight.

5. How Much Should Skis Cost?

Ski prices range from around $300 for entry-level models to over $1,500 for high-end, specialized skis. At the lower end, expect basic construction, less advanced materials, and a more forgiving ride. Mid-range skis ($500–700) provide a balance of performance and value, suitable for most skiers. High-end skis often feature advanced materials and technologies, catering to experts or those seeking the best performance.

6. Do You Need More Than One Pair?

If you enjoy skiing in various conditions and want to optimize your performance, having multiple ski pairs might be a good option for you. For example, you could own dedicated carving skis for groomed runs and powder skis for deep snow days. However, most recreational skiers can find a versatile all-mountain ski that suits their needs without having to purchase multiple pairs.

What Are the Different Types of Skis?

Raphael on the Nordica Enforcer 100 at Breckenridge. Photo by Lauren Dobbins

1. All-Mountain Skis

All-mountain skis are versatile and designed to handle various conditions and terrain. They typically feature a mid-range width of 85–100mm and a balanced mix of rocker and camber profiles. This combination provides good stability, edge grip, and flotation in different snow conditions. All-mountain skis are ideal for intermediate to expert skiers who want a single ski to handle groomed runs, moguls, and occasional powder days.

Benefits:

  • Jack of all trades—these skis can handle various conditions and terrain
  • Great for those who want to explore the whole mountain without switching gear
  • Suitable for a wide range of skiers

Keep in Mind:

  • Not specialized—may not excel in specific conditions like deep powder or the terrain park
  • Number of options can feel overwhelming

2. Powder Skis

Powder skis are designed to excel in deep snow and feature a wider waist (105–130mm) and significant rocker in the tip and tail. This shape provides excellent flotation and effortless turns in powder. Powder skis are best suited for advanced and expert skiers who frequently ski in deep snow. They are not recommended for groomed runs, as they can be challenging to control on hardpack.

Benefits:

  • Float like a butterfly—effortlessly glide through the fluffiest of snow
  • Great for off-piste skiing, opening up a world of exploration
  • Easier turns in deep snow, making them more forgiving in powder

Keep in Mind:

  • Niche use—not the best choice for groomed slopes or hardpack
  • Harder to control for weaker skiers

3. Freeride Skis

The freeride designation is an up-and-coming category of skis. Freeride skis are designed for freeriding (off-piste skiing). Think of them as a cross between an all-mountain ski and a true powder ski, with waist widths typically ranging from 95–115mm. They are made to be stable enough to handle choppy snow, yet floaty in soft conditions. Since professional freeriding often includes cliff drops and jumps, these skis are poppy and ready to take a hard landing. These skis are an excellent option for an upper intermediate to expert skier who wants to spend most of their time off-piste.

Benefits:

  • Versatility at its finest—these skis are ready to tackle anything from tight glades to open bowls
  • As a newer category, they often feature the latest in ski technology
  • Easier to maneuver in most situations

Keep in Mind:

  • Not for corduroy—weaker groomer performance compared to an all-mountain ski
  • Too specialized for beginners and lower intermediates

4. Carving Skis

Carving skis are designed for groomed runs and feature a narrower waist (65–85mm) and a deep sidecut. They have a traditional camber profile, which ensures excellent edge grip and quick, responsive turns. Carving skis are suitable for beginner skiers looking to improve their carving skills on groomed slopes. Many brands offer specialized carving skis designed after the professional FIS skis, so experts who love groomed runs will love these skis as well. On the downside, these skis will struggle in deep snow and off-piste terrain.

Benefits:

  • Razor-sharp turns—get ready to slice and dice groomed runs like a pro
  • Improved edge grip, making them ideal for icy slopes
  • Great for developing and refining carving technique

Keep in Mind:

  • Limited versatility—struggle in deep snow or off-piste adventures
  • Fewer options exist when comparing to the all-mountain category

5. Park & Freestyle Skis

Park and freestyle skis are designed for skiers who enjoy terrain parks, jumps, and performing tricks. These skis feature a symmetrical shape, a moderate waist width (80–100mm), and a twin-tip design for skiing forwards and backwards. They typically have a softer flex for better shock absorption and easier landings. Park and freestyle skis are ideal for intermediate to expert skiers who want a playful ski to express their creativity on the mountain.

Benefits:

  • Unleash your inner acrobat—perfect for jumps, rails, and all kinds of tricks
  • Twin-tip design allows for skiing switch
  • Softer flex for smoother landings

Keep in Mind:

  • Notoriously unstable—less suitable for all-mountain skiing and carving, as they prioritize playfulness
  • Can be more challenging for beginners due to the emphasis on freestyle performance

6. Touring Skis

Touring skis are designed for backcountry skiing and uphill climbing, focusing on lightweight construction and efficient uphill performance. These skis have a narrower waist (75–95mm), though wider options are available for those who only tour after a snow storm. They have a mix of rocker and camber profiles to balance uphill grip and downhill stability. They often feature skin attachment points for climbing skins. Touring skis are best for skiers who prioritize exploring the backcountry and earning their turns.

Benefits:

  • Be your own ski lift—lightweight construction for uphill climbing efficiency
  • Explore untouched backcountry terrain and find hidden powder stashes
  • Built-in skin attachment points make them perfect for uphill adventures

Keep in Mind:

  • Compromise on downhill performance compared to more specialized skis
  • Touring gear can be more expensive, especially when factoring in bindings and skins

Features to Look for in Skis

Raphael on the DPS Powderworks 100 RPC at Arapahoe Basin. Photo by Lauren Dobbins

Here are some key features and technologies to look for when making your choice:

  1. Ski Profile: Ski profile refers to the combination of rocker and camber. Rocker (upward curve) improves floatation and turn initiation, while camber (downward curve) enhances edge grip and stability. A mix of rocker and camber offers versatility, while full rocker excels in powder and full camber is best for carving.
  2. Sidecut: Sidecut is the ski's curved shape, which determines how it turns. A deeper sidecut allows for quicker, tighter turns, whereas a shallower sidecut provides stability in long, sweeping turns. If you're into carving or making short, quick turns, opt for a deeper sidecut. For more stability and off-piste exploration, a shallower sidecut might suit you better.
  3. Flex: Flex refers to the ski's stiffness; it can be soft, medium, or stiff. Soft flex is more forgiving and easier to control, making it ideal for beginners. Stiff flex offers better stability at high speeds and on harder snow, suited for advanced skiers. Medium flex is a versatile choice, appropriate for various skill levels and conditions.
  4. Construction: There are two main types of ski construction: cap and sandwich. Cap construction features a lightweight, one-piece design that wraps around the ski's core, providing a forgiving and easy-to-control feel. Sandwich construction layers materials offer better edge grip and stability, which is ideal for advanced skiers.
  5. Core Material: Ski cores can be made from various materials, including wood, foam, or a combination. Wood cores provide a lively and responsive feel, while foam cores are lightweight and more affordable. Some high-end skis also incorporate materials like carbon, titanium, or basalt for improved performance.
  6. Waist Width: The waist width is the narrowest part of the ski, affecting floatation and turning ability. Narrower skis (65–85mm) are quick edge-to-edge and better for carving. Mid-range widths (85–100mm) offer a balance of performance on groomed runs and powder. Wider skis (100mm+) provide superior floatation in deep snow.
  7. Gender Specificity: Skis are designated as men’s, women’s, or unisex. Skis designed for specific genders are constructed to meet the unique physiological needs of a man or woman. While shopping for a men’s ski is more straightforward, finding women’s skis is a different story. If you are unsure if a women’s ski is right for you, check out this guide about the different factors to consider when looking for women’s skis.

Remember, the perfect ski for you is the one that aligns with your skill level, skiing style, and preferred terrain. It's always a good idea to consult with an Expert or demo skis before making a purchase.

What Other Ski Gear Do You Need? Compatibility Between Skis, Bindings, and Boots

Now that you have a better understanding of skis, let's discuss the other essential components of your ski setup: bindings and boots. These items are equally important in ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable skiing experience.

Compatibility between skis, bindings, and boots is essential for safety, performance, and comfort on the slopes. Let's break down each component's compatibility requirements:

1. Skis and Bindings Compatibility

Skis and bindings need to be compatible to ensure a secure connection and proper power transfer. While there are different types of ski-binding systems, not all will fit every ski.

  • Flat Skis: These skis do not come with integrated bindings or mounting plates. You'll need to purchase separate bindings, making sure that the binding brake width matches the waist width of your skis. Brakes should be slightly wider (usually 2–15mm) than the ski waist to prevent interference during turns.
  • System Skis: These skis come with integrated binding plates or rails, designed for specific bindings from the same manufacturer. These bindings usually offer a tool-free adjustment, making it easier to accommodate different boot sizes. System skis often are sold with compatible bindings.

2. Bindings and Boots Compatibility

Bindings must also be compatible with your ski boots to provide a secure fit, proper power transfer, and reliable release during falls. These are the three common types of boot soles and bindings:

  • Alpine (Downhill): Most alpine boots and bindings use the same standard (ISO 5355), making them generally compatible. However, some high-performance race bindings may have specific requirements, so it's important to double-check compatibility.
  • Gripwalk: Gripwalk boots are designed with a specialized sole to make walking in ski boots significantly easier. Gripwalk boots and bindings (ISO 23223) are compatible, and all alpine boots can be used with Gripwalk bindings. Although there is currently a shift for this technology to become more universal, alpine bindings are not compatible with Gripwalk boots.
  • Alpine Touring (AT): AT boots and bindings have their own standard (ISO 9523). AT boots typically feature rockered soles with rubber grip for walking, and tech inserts for pin-style (tech) bindings. Make sure your AT boots are compatible with your chosen AT bindings—whether they are frame, hybrid, or tech bindings.

In summary, it's crucial to ensure compatibility between your skis, bindings, and boots for the best skiing experience. Always double-check compatibility, consult with a professional technician, and visit a reputable ski shop to ensure a proper setup.

How to Choose the Best Skis for You

Raphael on the Atomic Bent 100 at Winter Park. Photo by Lauren Dobbins

In order to better help you understand what you should be looking for in your new pair of skis, let’s walk through a few real life examples of Curated customers I’ve helped during their search:

Steve: The Newbie

Steve is new to skiing and has only tried his hand once before at the sport. He hates waiting in the rental line and using old, sweaty boots. He is ready to purchase his own set up, but he doesn’t know where to start.

Features Steve Should Look For: As a beginner, Steve should look for a beginner-specific carving ski. It will be easier to control and to learn on with its lightweight design and narrow width. He should find a pair that has system bindings, making it easier to ensure his bindings work with his skis.

Ski Examples: K2 Disruption 76X or Rossignol Experience 76

Sandra: The Traveler

Sandra takes a ski trip or two every year to the Rockies or California. She is an upper intermediate who splits her time between groomers and moguls. She is looking for a ski that is best for this type of terrain and will allow her to develop her skills into more advanced territory.

Features Sandra Should Look For: Sandra should consider a women’s specific all-mountain ski. The women’s design will match her physiology and will assist her performance. A ski with a waist width in the low 90 mms will be manageable for her to control yet versatile for the different types of terrain she will encounter.

Skis Examples: Elan Ripstick 94 W or Atomic Maven 93 C

Sal: The Two-Ski Quiver

Sal lives on the East Coast. He has been skiing his entire life, and you can find him on his carving skis almost every weekend at his local resort. Sal takes a ski trip to Montana every year, and he is disappointed by how poorly his carving skis perform out there. He wants to buy a second, new pair of skis specifically for his vacations. When he travels, he likes to spend all of his time in bowls, trees, and powder.

Features Sal Should Look For: Sal needs a ski that is completely different from his carving pair! He should look for a wider all-mountain ski or freeride ski with a waist width in the mid to upper 100 mms. While he could consider a true powder ski, an all-mountain or freeride ski will be more versatile and will be a good fit in all types of terrain.

Ski Examples: Nordica Unleashed 108 or DPS Pagoda 106 C2

Chat With a Real Expert

Lauren on the Nordica Santa Ana 98 at Loveland. Photo courtesy of Lauren Dobbins

Choosing skis in such a vast market can be challenging, but ultimately fun! Skiing is as individual as the person, and no matter how you want to spend your time on the mountain, the perfect skis can maximize your experience. Hopefully after reading this guide, you know which type (or types) of ski is right for you. Though if you’re still undecided or looking for another opinion, reach out to me or another Skiing Expert here at Curated for free, customized advice and 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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