Powder Skis: How to Choose the Right One for YouPublished on 06/21/2023 · 19 min readIf you're looking to float effortlessly over fresh powder, you're going to need a good pair of powder skis! Find out how to choose the right pair in this guide!
Photo by Kevin Cass
TL;DR: Having a powder ski in your ski quiver is a must if you tend to ski off-piste in areas with a lot of fresh snow. When buying powder skis, prioritize waist width (105mm or wider), flex, and a rocker profile that helps the ski float better in new snow. Many skis have powder-specific technology that makes them handle turning and floating in powder better, but be sure to get a powder ski that matches your skiing skill level, the terrain you’re most commonly skiing, and the type of skiing you like to do!
Having skied and lived in Utah since I was young, it’s hard not to fall in love with powder skiing! But there’s nothing worse than having a deep powder day and being on the wrong pair of skis. I’ve had my fair share of surprise powder days where I have been on a ski that’s too heavy, too skinny, and doesn’t turn well in deep snow. Soaring and floating over the deep stuff on a wide, light pair of skis is an incredible feeling. It’s a feeling that I hope every ski enthusiast gets an opportunity to experience, and the first step towards getting there is having the right gear. That’s why I’m so excited to share this guide on choosing the right powder skis with you today, so let’s jump in!
What Are Powder Skis?
When it comes to skiing powder, not just any ski will cut it. You want a ski that can float well on top of the new snow and turn easily in deep, heavy snow. That’s where powder skis come in. A powder ski is a type of ski specifically designed for skiing in deep, fresh snow. It's wider than a typical all-mountain ski, often around 108mm+ at the waist, which helps it float on top of the snow rather than sinking in.
Powder skis also usually have a rocker (curved up) design at both the tip and tail, so you can turn on a dime without catching in the snow. Compared to carving skis or all mountain skis, powder skis are generally sized a bit longer, providing additional floatation.
What to Consider When Buying Powder Skis
There are a few things to consider when narrowing down which powder ski is the best for you. The best overall powder ski for your skiing style will be very different from the best for someone else, so let’s look at the questions to ask yourself before deciding on a ski!
1. Where Will You Be Skiing Most Often?
Think about the terrain and conditions of the ski areas you frequent. Are you hitting up deep powder havens like backcountry bowls or tree runs? Or do you mostly stick to groomed slopes with occasional powder days? It’s also helpful to familiarize yourself with where you most frequently ski. For example, the Pacific Northwest (PNW) gets powder days, but the snow is a bit wetter and heavier than in Montana, where there is more snowfall but the snow is a bit lighter. If you are skiing in the PNW more often, maneuverability might be the priority in a powder ski. If it’s somewhere more like Montana, you’ll want to prioritize float. Knowing where you'll be skiing most often helps determine the type of powder skis that suit your needs.
2. What Is Your Skiing Ability?
Be honest with yourself about your skiing ability. Are you a seasoned pro or more of an intermediate skier? Powder skis come in various designs, some catering to advanced skiers who like to charge hard, while others offer forgiveness and playfulness for those still mastering their technique. Picking skis appropriate for your skill level will guarantee that you get a ski that keeps you smiling on the deep days instead of something that feels too difficult to maneuver and leaves you exhausted and ready to hit the lodge after just one powder run.
3. What Type of Skiing Do You Usually Do?
Consider your preferred style of skiing. Do you love weaving through trees, hitting natural features, and enjoying playful turns? Or do you enjoy laying down powerful, high-speed arcs on open slopes? Your skiing style influences the type of powder skis you'll want, as different skis excel in different situations.
4. Are Any Specific Features or Technologies in the Ski That Enhance Powder Performance?
Keep an eye out for any innovative features or technologies that enhance the ski's powder performance. Examples include specific rocker profiles, carbon or metal reinforcement, or unique shapes designed to increase flotation. These features can significantly improve your powder skiing experience, so do some research and see if any stand out to you.
5. What Length Should You Choose?
The length of your powder skis can impact their performance. Longer skis generally offer better stability and floatation in deep snow, while shorter skis tend to be more maneuverable. Consider your height, weight, skiing ability, and the type of terrain you'll be tackling to determine the optimal ski length for your needs. You should get a powder ski a few centimeters longer than you would typically get in an all-mountain ski. Each powder ski comes in various sizes, so this is something to consider after you have narrowed down the answers to the questions above and before deciding on a ski!
6. How Much Should Powder Skis Cost?
Lastly, consider the cost. The cost of powder skis can vary greatly depending on the brand, technology, and construction quality. Set a budget range you're comfortable with and explore options within that range. Remember that higher-priced skis often come with advanced features and superior materials, but you can still find great options at more affordable prices. Consider the long-term value and durability of the skis as well. There may be a cheaper option that can get you through two seasons or so, but if you’re an avid skier looking for something to last a long time, it will be cheaper, in the long run, to invest in a good pair of powder skis now as opposed to upgrading after a year or two.
By pondering these questions and considerations, you'll be equipped to make an informed decision when buying your perfect pair of powder skis.
What Are the Different Types of Powder Skis?
As we’ve mentioned, powder skis differ from traditional skis in that they are wider, have a more pronounced rocker profile, and typically feature a softer flex to allow for more playful maneuvers. But all powder skis are not the same, and each type has various features that cater to the skier’s individual preferences, skill levels, and different powder conditions. Let's dive into the benefits and downsides of different types of skis in the powder category!
All-Mountain Powder Skis
As the name suggests, all-mountain powder skis are designed to handle various conditions, including powder. They are basically all-mountain skis, but on the wider side and more geared toward powder skiing and off-piste skiing as opposed to regular all-mountain skis, which are 50/50 suitable for on-piste and off-piste terrain. They have a moderate waist width and a mix of rocker and camber, allowing for good performance on both groomed slopes and in powder.
- Most versatile type of powder ski
- Better at handling carving and groomed runs compared to other types of powder skis
- Offer a balanced combination of stability and maneuverability
- Keep in Mind
- Won’t handle extremely deep powder as well as specialized powder skis
- Not as playful or floaty as wide as dedicated powder skis
- Can be less responsive and precise in aggressive skiing
Traditional Powder Skis
Traditional powder skis are designed specifically for deep snow conditions. They are typically the widest type of skis, with a waist width often exceeding 110mm and a large rocker (upturned tip and tail) to promote floatation and maneuverability in powder. They usually have a softer flex, which gives them a playful feel in soft snow. However, their width and rocker can be challenging to handle on groomed or hardpack conditions.
- Excellent floatation in deep snow
- Easy maneuverability and surfy-feel make powder turns easy
- Excellent stability and smoothness in soft snow conditions
- Keep in Mind
- Not as versatile for varying snow conditions
- Can be cumbersome on groomed runs
- Extensive rocker and soft flex can make these skis feel unstable at high speeds or on hard snow
Freeride Powder Skis
Freeride powder skis are built for off-piste adventures and deep powder days. They often have a wider waist, a generous rocker in the tip and tail, and a stiffer flex compared to traditional powder skis. Their stiffer flex makes them harder to steer for newer or intermediate skiers, so these are best suited for advanced or expert skiers.
- Superior flotation and stability in deep powder
- Excellent performance in variable snow conditions
- Versatile enough for both powder and freeride skiing
- Keep in Mind
- Will feel less nimble and playful compared to narrower options
- May require more effort in tight or technical terrain
- Less suitable for groomed slopes, hard-packed snow, or newer skiers
Touring Powder Skis
This type of powder ski is specifically designed for backcountry skiing and ski touring. They are lightweight, making it easy for the skier to walk uphill with them, yet still provide good performance in powder, typically featuring a wider waist for flotation. The lower weight typically means they aren’t as stable for variable, hard-packed snow, so designated touring powder skis will not perform as well doing resort laps where you might need to carve over hard-packed snow, crud, or ice.
- Lightweight construction for efficient uphill travel
- Good flotation in powder for backcountry adventures
- Versatile enough to handle varied snow conditions during tours
- Keep in Mind
- Less stable at high speeds due to lighter construction
- Limited suitability for resort skiing or groomed slopes
Big Mountain Powder Skis
The widest of all the powder skis are big mountain skis. Big mountain powder skis are built for aggressive skiing in steep and challenging terrain, including deep powder. They are very similar to freeride skis but typically have a wider waist, aggressive rocker profiles, and a stiffer flex compared to freeride skis. Again, not the best option for intermediate or newer skiers, but great for expert or advanced skiers looking to chase big lines.
- Excellent stability and control in challenging conditions
- High-performance skis for aggressive and fast skiing
- Best flotation and maneuverability in deep powder
- Keep in Mind
- Will be less maneuverable in tight or technical terrain
- Will require more energy and effort due to stiffer flex, so not great for non-advanced or expert skiers
- Less versatility for non-powder conditions or groomed slopes
Twin-Tip Powder Skis
Twin-tip powder skis have a symmetrical shape with a rocker in the tip and tail, originally popular among freestyle and park riders. Twin-tip powder skis offer a playful and versatile option for powder skiing, allowing for easy switch skiing and creative maneuvers over bumps, cliffs, or other natural features.
- Playful and maneuverable for tricks and jumps in powder
- Easy switch skiing and landing in both regular and reverse directions
- Versatile skis suitable for freestyle-oriented powder skiing
- Keep in Mind
- Twin-tip design may compromise performance in deep powder, as the upturned tail can sink.
- Less ideal for high-speed or aggressive skiing
Features to Look for in Powder Skis
Let's chat about the essential features and criteria to look for in a powder ski.
Width and Length
The width of a ski, especially at its "waist" (the narrowest point), plays a major role in how well it floats on powder. You'll typically want a waist width of at least 105mm for powder skis. Wider skis of 115mm+ widths offer better flotation in deep powder. While narrower 100mm to 110mm balances powder performance and versatility on groomed slopes.
Longer skis offer better float in deep snow. But, it's essential to balance this with manageability. Very long skis can be challenging to control.
A rocker, also known as reverse camber, is a ski design where the tip and sometimes the tail are raised, making the ski look a bit like a banana. This helps skis float in deep snow, making them more turn maneuverable. Some skis have a full rocker, while others have a tip rocker or a combination of tip and tail rocker. The downside of a pure rocker ski is the flat surface underfoot is a bit less stable on firmer surfaces, such as groomed runs or ice.
The flex or stiffness of the ski affects its handling. The softer flex makes a ski more forgiving and playful, while a stiffer flex provides better stability and control at high speeds. If you’re just getting into powder skiing, a softer flex will be a better option, and if you are more advanced and looking to charge hard lines, a stiffer ski will be a better option. The flex you want will also somewhat depend on what kind of terrain you’re in, as we briefly discussed above. Softer will make tight turns in trees easier, whereas something stiffer would be more suitable for big, open bowls.
This refers to the gradual narrowing of the ski from the tip or tail toward the waist. In powder skis, a tapered tip can help prevent the ski from diving into the snow, while a tapered tail allows the ski to release from turns more easily.
A ski's materials and construction methods can significantly impact its performance and longevity. Look for skis with high-quality bases and durable topsheets. Lightweight wood cores are commonly used in powder skis for their good strength-to-weight ratio. Carbon fiber or titanium layers can add stiffness without much weight. Here are some examples of materials often used in powder skis:
- Carbon Fiber: Carbon fiber provides strength and stiffness while reducing weight, increasing responsiveness and maneuverability.
- Fiberglass: Fiberglass adds durability, torsional stiffness, and responsiveness to the skis, enhancing stability and power transmission.
- Wood Core: Wood cores offer a natural and lively feel, providing a good balance of stability, dampening, and energy transfer. Maple, ash, and poplar wood core are the most common because of their low weight and high strength.
- Titanal: Titanal (aluminum alloy) layers provide excellent dampening properties and stability, enhancing the ski's ability to handle variable conditions and high speeds.
- Polyurethane: Polyurethane materials in the ski's construction absorb vibrations, improving comfort and reducing fatigue on rough or bumpy terrain.
- ABS Sidewalls: ABS sidewalls enhance edge hold and durability, allowing for precise and powerful turns in various snow conditions.
- Rubber Dampening: Rubber dampening, usually present in the tips and tails, absorb vibrations, providing a smoother ride and improving overall ski performance.
Although this is quite a long list, it’s not exhaustive. But, once you keep these features in mind, it will be a lot easier to find the powder skis that are perfect for you.
Features to Avoid in Powder Skis
Choosing a powder ski depends on snow conditions and personal skiing style; some features might not be ideal for your specific attributes or needs. So, since we’ve covered the features to look for, let’s talk about some potential drawbacks. Here are a few things to be cautious about:
- Narrow Waist: While narrow skis might work well on groomed or hard-packed snow, they will likely sink in deep powder. If you're specifically looking for a powder ski, avoid those with a narrow waist, typically less than 105mm.
- Full Camber: A full camber design, where the middle of the ski is raised off the ground when unweighted, is great for hard snow conditions due to enhanced edge grip. However, it's not ideal for powder as it can make it harder to float and turn.
- Heavy Skis: While some weight can benefit stability, particularly at high speeds, overly heavy skis can be cumbersome and exhausting, particularly in deep powder or if you have to hike in the backcountry.
- Stiff Tails: Skis with stiff tails can “lock” you into turns, making it more difficult to release the tail in deep snow. This can reduce maneuverability in powder, where you often want to pivot and smear your turns.
While innovation is generally good, be wary of brand-new, untested technologies or features that haven't been proven in real-world conditions. It's usually best to stick with tried-and-true designs and technologies, consult a Curated Skiing Expert, or demo the skis you’re considering before jumping on the latest trend.
How to Choose the Right Powder Skis for You
Even with all this information, it can be hard to choose an exact pair of powder skis that best suits your skill level and skiing style! Below are examples of three types of Curated customers I’ve helped find the right pair of powder skis as a Skiing Expert. I’ve listed some information about their skiing style, a few things they need in a ski, features to look for, and specific recommendations of skis that would be a perfect fit for them!
Mark: Intermediate Skier
Mark is an intermediate skier who spends most of his time skiing at a resort in the Rocky Mountains. He enjoys exploring off-piste terrain and is starting to venture into powder. Mark is looking for a ski that can handle easing into powder conditions while providing stability and versatility on groomed slopes.
- Good flotation for powder
- Versatility to handle both powder and groomed slopes
- Stability and control for progressing his skills
Features to look for:
- Moderate waist width (around 105mm) to balance powder performance and versatility
- All-mountain rocker profile for easier turn initiation and maneuverability
- Medium flex for stability and responsiveness
- Sidewall construction for enhanced edge grip
- Dampening materials to absorb vibrations and provide a smooth ride
Ski recommendations for Mark:
- Salomon QST 106: A versatile all-mountain ski that performs well in powder and offers stability and control for Mark's progression, thanks to its balanced construction and moderate waist width.
- Elan Ripstick 106: An agile and lightweight ski with excellent floatation, making it a great option to explore powder while providing versatility for groomed slopes and all-mountain skiing.
- Head Kore 105: Designed for more aggressive skiing with exceptional stability, power, and responsiveness, making them suitable for Mark's skill level and desire to push his limits both on and off-piste. The skis have a poplar core which keeps them light, and the short turn radius makes them easy to maneuver.
Sarah: Advanced Backcountry Skier
Sarah is an experienced skier who loves exploring the backcountry and going on ski-touring adventures. She spends most of her time skiing in remote mountainous areas with deep powder. Sarah is looking for a dedicated touring ski that prioritizes lightweight construction and uphill efficiency while providing excellent performance in powder conditions.
- Lightweight construction for efficient uphill travel
- Excellent floatation and maneuverability in deep powder
- Stability and control for descents in challenging backcountry terrain
Features to look for:
- Ultralight construction with touring-specific materials for maximum efficiency
- Wide waist width (around 110mm or more) for superior floatation
- Rocker-camber-rocker profile for optimal powder performance and edge hold
- Carbon fiber or other lightweight reinforcements for strength and stability
Ski recommendations for Sarah:
- Voile Manti: Lightweight with excellent maneuverability, making them a great choice for touring adventures where efficiency and agility are crucial.
- Faction Mana 3X: Designed specifically for women backcountry skiers, these skis provide a combination of lightweight construction, powder performance, and versatility that aligns with Sarah's needs for touring and deep powder skiing.
- Black Crows Anima Birdie: Another women-specific powder ski offering exceptional floatation and stability in deep snow, allowing Sarah to tackle challenging backcountry terrain while enjoying the powder-filled descents.
Alex: Expert Freeride Skier
Alex is an expert skier who lives for big mountain freeriding. He seeks out steep, technical terrain with deep powder, cliff drops, and challenging conditions. Alex needs a high-performance powder ski that can handle aggressive skiing and provide maximum stability and control in extreme freeride environments.
- Superior stability and control for high-speed descents
- Excellent floatation in deep powder snow
- Ability to handle variable and challenging snow conditions
- Responsive and powerful for aggressive skiing
Features to look for:
- Wide waist width (over 110mm) for maximum floatation
- Rocker-camber-rocker profile for optimal powder performance and stability
- Stiff flex for responsiveness and power
- Dampening materials to absorb vibrations and maintain stability
- Reinforcements and robust construction for durability in demanding terrain
Ski recommendations for Alex:
- DPS Pagoda 112 RP: This ski is a high-performance freeride ski that excels in deep powder and offers exceptional stability and maneuverability.
- Armada ARV 116 JJ: A powerful and playful ski designed for deep powder and freeride performance. It provides excellent floatation, stability, and responsiveness.
- Faction Mana 3: A freeride-specific ski, the Mana 3 offers a combination of power, stability, and playful characteristics, making it a great choice for Alex's high-energy freeriding pursuits.
Find the Right Powder Ski for You
In conclusion, choosing the right powder ski is essential to maximize your enjoyment and performance in deep snow conditions. Getting a ski suitable to your skill level, terrain preferences, and skiing type will ensure you have a great time on those deep pow days and can keep lapping the fresh snow until it’s time to go home. A powder ski that isn’t suited for you and the type of skiing you’re doing will leave you tired and frustrated after a few runs, missing out on the epic snow days, and we can’t have that!
Hopefully, this guide has clarified what you should look for when shopping for powder skis and how to make the right decision when choosing powder-specific skis, but if you're still not sure which ones are the best for you, no worries! Our Skiing Experts here on Curated are ready to help you find the perfect ski. Reach out to my fellow Experts or me today for free advice, so you can be ready to take some epic turns next time a big storm comes your way!