Carving Skis: How to Choose the Right One for YouPublished on 06/22/2023 · 18 min readCarve the slopes with confidence! This Expert guide helps you choose the perfect carving skis to enhance your turns and maximize performance on the mountain.
Photo by Michelle Mealing
TL;DR: Carving skis are designed with narrower waists, deeper sidecuts, and optimal edge grip for slicing and dicing hardpacked snow and groomers. There are many different feature options to look for in carving skis, depending on where you ski, the type of skiing you do, and your skill level. Consider these factors when shopping for a carving ski to get something that’s the perfect match for you and can help you carve up those slopes with maximum efficiency and ease.
Growing up ski racing, I've spent countless hours carving my way down the slopes, both on and off-piste. And though I love some good powder skiing, something undeniably magical about a well-groomed run keeps drawing me back. The thrill of carving precise turns on perfectly manicured slopes is an experience like no other.
As a Skiing Expert on Curated, I love helping people find the right equipment for their skiing adventures. From my personal journey on the slopes to years of assisting fellow skiers in finding their perfect fit, I've come to appreciate the importance of matching the right gear to individual needs and preferences.
In this article, I'll share valuable information, tips, and recommendations to guide you in searching for the ideal carving skis. Whether you're a beginner, intermediate, or advanced skier, I'm here to help you make an informed decision that will enhance your carving experience and elevate your time on the slopes.
What Are Carving Skis?
First of all, let’s talk about what a carving ski is. Carving skis are specific skis designed for making precise turns on groomed slopes. They have a narrow waist width (usually 76-84mm) and deep sidecut. The sidecut refers to the hourglass-like shape of the ski, with a wider tip and tail and a narrower waist. The deeper the sidecut, the more of a width difference between the tip and tail. They also typically have a short turning radius, allowing for tight and fast turns. The shape and construction of carving skis enable skiers to easily engage the edges of the skis, resulting in a smooth and precise carving motion as they make turns down a run.
Carving skis are designed to be used on groomed or packed snow conditions, where the edges can bite into the snow with great grip and stability. Carving skis are ideal for skiers who enjoy making short, quick turns on hardpacked slopes. While great on groomed runs, they're not ideal for off-piste or powder conditions. For skiers who love speeding down well-groomed slopes, carving skis offer an exciting, dynamic ride.
What to Consider When Buying Carving Skis
1. What Is Your Skiing Skill Level and Style?
Understanding your ability (beginner, intermediate, advanced) and style (aggressive or casual) is fundamental. Skis are designed with different performance characteristics for beginners, intermediate skiers, and advanced or expert skiers, so you want to get something that matches both your skill level and style! For example, advanced, aggressive skiers might prefer stiffer, longer carving skis for high-speed carving. In contrast, beginners or casual skiers might prefer a shorter ski that’s a bit more flexible skis for easier control and slower speeds.
2. What Type of Terrain Do You Typically Ski On?
Consider the type of slopes you most often ski on. Carving skis will be great if you primarily ski on groomed runs. If you regularly venture off-piste or deep powder, consider all-mountain or powder skis instead.
3. Where Do I Typically Ski?
The location and climate of your typical skiing destination can influence the performance characteristics of the carving skis you choose. Specifically, snow conditions are important in determining the appropriate waist width of the skis.
Carving skis with a slightly wider waist width can be beneficial if you often ski in areas with regular snowfall or softer snow conditions. A wider waist increases flotation and better performance on new snow or softer snow days. It allows for better maneuverability and helps prevent the skis from sinking too deep into soft snow so that you can carve better.
On the other hand, if you typically ski in areas known for icy conditions or harder-packed snow, a ski with a narrower waist width will perform better. Narrower skis offer increased edge grip and stability on firm snow, allowing for precise carving and better control.
It's worth noting that there is some personal preference involved as well. Some skiers might prefer a slightly wider waist for added versatility, even if they primarily ski on groomed runs. However, others might prioritize narrower skis for maximum performance on icy slopes.
4. What Type of Turn Radius Do You Prefer? Do You Love Tight, Fast Turns or Sweeping, Wide Arcs?
Carving skis have a smaller sidecut radius for tighter, precise turns. If you enjoy making quick, sharp turns, opt for skis with a smaller radius. If you prefer long, sweeping turns, you’ll want a ski with a longer radius. Though most skis only have one radius, some skis, particularly from the ski brand Volkl, have 3D Radius technology. Volkl incorporates three different radii along the ski's edge, strategically positioned at the ski's tip, waist, and tail. This allows for different turn shapes and performance characteristics throughout the ski's length and enhances their skis' carving performance and versatility. If you like to do a little bit of both—long, arcing turns and short, tight turns—a ski with this kind of technology would be beneficial.
5. What Is Your Height and Weight?
Ski length should correspond to your height and weight, so your physical stats should influence the length and stiffness of the skis you choose. Heavier or taller skiers might need longer skis, which offer more stability. Shorter or lighter skiers will benefit from shorter, more flexible skis.
6. How Much Should Carving Skis Cost?
The cost of carving skis varies widely, usually ranging from $300 to over $1,000. At the lower end, you'll find basic, entry-level models suitable for beginners. They're functional but lack high-performance features. Mid-range ($400-$600) skis are suitable for intermediate to advanced skiers, offering better construction and materials, improved stability at speed, and more control. The top-notch skis with superior performance and technology are at the higher end ($600+). These skis are typically the choice of advanced and expert skiers seeking the best performance characteristics.
It's important to remember that more expensive doesn't always mean better; your skis should match your skill level and skiing style. Higher-priced skis often require a higher skill level to take full advantage of their features, so consider your budget and skill level to find the best value.
What Are the Different Types of Carving Skis?
Because carving skis differ in various aspects to suit individual preferences and skill levels, carving skis largely depends on these details, your preferred terrain, and your skiing style. Let's dive into the main carving ski categories and weigh the benefits and downsides of these different types to help you find the best category.
1. Recreational Carving Skis
Recreational carving skis are designed for beginner to intermediate skiers who enjoy casually cruising on groomed slopes. They typically have a softer flex, are more forgiving, and have a narrower waist width. Recreational carving skis provide a stable platform for learning and developing carving skills, allowing skiers to progress their technique and build confidence on groomed runs without putting too much energy into their skis.
- Softer flex helps absorb vibrations and minor mistakes, enhancing stability and control.
- Lighter and more maneuverable and responsive than higher-performance models.
- Cheaper than other models since they don’t have as many features.
- Keep in Mind
- Not as many features, including less edge grip and high-speed stability, compared to other types
- Can’t handle more aggressive skiing due to the more forgiving flex.
- Great for beginners and intermediates, but will feel unstable and limited for more advanced skiers.
2. Performance Carving Skis
These skis are designed for intermediate to advanced skiers seeking enhanced responsiveness and precision. These skis often have a stiffer flex, a narrower waist width, and advanced construction, allowing for powerful turns and improved edge hold on groomed slopes. These are the perfect option for everyday advanced skiers who aren’t looking to race but want something that carves really well.
- Exceptional edge grip, stability, and responsiveness make carving turns at higher speeds easy.
- Excellent precision and control allow for quick edge-to-edge transitions.
- More versatile carving capabilities, so it’s suitable for a range of turn shapes and sizes, from shorter-radius turns to longer, sweeping arcs.
- Keep in Mind
- Require more input from the skier, making them a bad option for beginners.
- Less forgiving due to the stiffer flex and increased responsiveness can amplify errors in technique, potentially resulting in less stable turns or reduced control if not properly managed.
3. Slalom Carving Skis
These skis are designed for quick, short turns, often used in slalom ski racing. They're shorter (typically should be below or at your chin when measuring) and have a smaller turn radius, which allows the skier to navigate tightly set courses or obstacles with precision and agility. Their design and shape make them less stable in variable snow conditions, so they are best suited for those looking to race or carve tight, short turns in primarily icy conditions.
- Excellent maneuverability due to their shorter length, allowing for easy direction changes.
- Ideal for skiers who enjoy quick, rapid turns and more technical skiing.
- Keep in Mind
- Less stability in variable conditions.
- Not as versatile on different types of terrain or for different types of turns.
4. Giant Slalom (GS) Carving Skis
GS carving skis are made for larger, sweeping turns and higher speeds. They're typically longer and have a larger turn radius than slalom skis. While these are less agile for quick, short turns, they offer greater stability and control at high speeds, making them suitable for advanced skiers or those who prefer open, high-speed carving.
- Great stability and control at high speeds make them perfect for advanced skiers who enjoy wide, sweeping turns.
- Well suited to steeper, more challenging slopes due to their longer length and stiffness.
- Keep in Mind
- Less nimble and responsive for short, quick turns due to their larger turn radius.
- Can be harder to control for beginner or intermediate skiers due to their length and stiffness.
5. All-Mountain Carving Skis
All-mountain carving skis balance performance on groomed slopes and versatility for varied conditions. They have a wider waist than pure carving skis, offering better float in powder and off-piste conditions. All-mountain carving skis are still narrower than classic all-mountain skis because though they can handle some varying conditions and a bit more off-piste terrain, they are still more geared towards carving and skiing on groomed runs than classic all-mountain skis. While they may not carve as aggressively as slalom or GS skis, they're more versatile and great for skiers who ski in various conditions and terrains.
- Versatile design allows for decent carving on groomed slopes and better performance in off-piste skiing.
- Great for skiers who explore various terrains and snow conditions.
- Keep in Mind
- It will not provide the same level of carving precision as performance, recreational, slalom, or GS skis.
- The wider waist can make them slower to edge-to-edge, which is a disadvantage on hardpacked slopes.
6. Race Carving Skis
Race skis are designed for competitive skiing and are built for maximum speed and precision on hard, groomed surfaces. These skis are usually stiffer, longer, and have a larger turn radius, offering excellent stability at high speeds but requiring a high level of skill to control. Due to their demanding nature, they're not typically recommended for recreational skiers or those not looking to race. Their design focus is on speed and precision rather than versatility or forgiveness.
- Best precision and stability at high speeds, providing a thrilling ride for competitive or expert skiers.
- Constructed with high-quality materials for maximum durability and performance.
- Keep in Mind
- Requires advanced skill level to control due to their stiffness and length.
- Not suited for recreational use or varied snow conditions.
Features to Look for in Carving Skis
Let's chat about a few of the key features and technologies to look for and how they might enhance your skiing experience:
- Sidecut: A ski's sidecut is the curve along its length that gives it an hourglass shape. It's what allows you to carve turns when you lean the skis on edge. Look for a deep sidecut, which will help you make sharp, precise turns with easy transitions from one turn to the next.
- Waist Width: Carving skis typically have narrower waist widths, which enhance edge-to-edge transitions and grip on firm snow. Consider the waist width based on the snow conditions you typically encounter and the terrain you typically ski.
- Camber: Most carving skis have traditional camber, an upward curve in the middle of the ski. This provides a better edge grip when carving, especially on hardpack or icy conditions, and makes the ski feel poppy and maneuverable coming out of turns.
- Turn Radius: Skis with a smaller turn radius make tighter turns, suitable for slalom carving, while a larger turn radius leads to broader, sweeping turns, as seen in giant slalom or race carving.
- Flex: The flex of a ski refers to its stiffness. Generally, beginner or lighter skiers should look for softer flex for easier control and maneuverability. Advanced or heavier skiers may prefer a stiffer flex for better stability and control at high speeds. The stiffer the ski, the more energy the skier needs to put into the ski to perform well and turn in the direction you want it to go.
- Construction: High-quality carving skis often feature sandwich construction, which layers different materials to blend strength, lightness, and flex. This contrasts with cheaper, more common cap constructions.
- Material: Look for skis with a wood core, which offers a good balance between weight, durability, and performance. High-end models might also feature additional materials such as carbon or titanium for added stiffness and responsiveness.
- Binding System: Some carving skis have integrated bindings designed to work optimally with the ski, providing better power transmission and easier turn initiation. Though this isn’t necessary, and you can always find a binding separately, skis sold as a set can save you some money and perform better than carving skis sold without bindings.
Keep these features in mind while you search for your ideal carving skis. Each feature can significantly influence how a ski performs, so understanding them and how they match your personal skiing style and goals is crucial when purchasing carving skis!
Features to Avoid in Carving Skis
While many features can enhance the performance of carving skis, some characteristics might not be suitable for all skiers, so it's crucial to understand what works best for you. Here are a few things to be cautious about:
- Too Much Rocker: While a slight tip rocker can help make turns easier, too much rocker in a carving ski can reduce its performance on groomed slopes. Rocker, particularly in the tail, can make it more difficult to hold an edge, which will reduce precision when carving.
- Oversized Waist Width: While wider skis provide better float in soft snow, they can be less effective for carving on groomed runs. A ski with a narrow waist (under 85mm) will typically be more agile and responsive for quick edge-to-edge transitions. As we’ve mentioned already, the exact waist width you want for a carving ski depends on your skill level, the areas you ski, and the terrain you ski, but carving skis should never be wider than 85mm at the most.
- Heavy Skis: Heavier skis can be harder to control and can lead to getting tired legs more quickly. Lightweight materials like carbon can provide the stiffness and stability you need without the extra weight.
- Inappropriate Length: Too-long skis can be harder to maneuver, especially for beginner skiers. Conversely, skis that are too short might lack stability, particularly at higher speeds.
- Low-Quality Materials/Lack of Durability: Cheaper skis might use less durable materials or construction methods that don't offer the same performance or longevity. For example, skis with foam cores are generally less responsive and durable than wood cores.
Remember, what matters most is how the ski matches your skill level, style, and terrain preferences. Not all features suit all skiers, so it's crucial to understand what works best for you!
How to Choose the Right Carving Skis for You
Sarah: The Intermediate Skier
Sarah is an intermediate skier who loves spending her weekends at a nearby ski resort in Colorado. She has been skiing for a few years and has developed good technique on groomed slopes. Sarah enjoys cruising at moderate speeds, making fluid turns, and occasionally challenging herself with more advanced terrain.
- A versatile ski that can handle various groomed conditions and occasional off-piste adventures
- Stability and control at higher speeds, especially when carving turns on steeper slopes.
- Forgiveness to help her recover from minor mistakes as she builds confidence.
- Features Sarah should look for in a ski:
- Moderate sidecut to offer a balance between quick turn initiation and stability during longer arcs.
- Medium flex for a blend of stability and responsiveness, suiting Sarah's skill level and style.
- All-mountain capability so she can bounce between different snow conditions and terrain types.
- Recommended skis for Sarah:
- Salomon Spark QST: With its forgiving flex and all-terrain performance, this ski is well-suited for intermediate skiers seeking versatility and control.
- Rossignol Experience 84 AI: This ski offers a blend of stability, maneuverability, and carving performance, perfect for intermediate skiers looking to improve their skills.
Mark: The Advanced Skier
Mark is an advanced skier who loves carving aggressive turns on groomed slopes. He seeks speed, precision, and the exhilaration of high-performance skiing. Mark has many years of experience and is comfortable skiing at high speeds on advanced terrain.
- Exceptional edge grip, stability, and responsiveness for aggressive carving at higher speeds
- Precise turn initiation that allows for quick edge-to-edge transitions
- Versatile turn capabilities to handle a range of turn shapes and sizes, from short-radius turns to longer, sweeping arcs.
- Features Mark should look for in a ski:
- Stiffer flex that will offer the necessary power and stability for advanced skiers like Mark, allowing for aggressive turns and maximum energy transfer.
- Narrower waist width for enhanced edge-to-edge transitions and to ensure optimal grip on firm snow
- Advanced construction materials like carbon fiber or metal laminates for enhanced stability and responsiveness
- Recommended skis for Mark:
- Volkl Deacon 80: This high-performance carving ski offers exceptional edge grip, stability, and precision for advanced skiers like Mark. It also has Volkl’s 3D Radius sidecut, which offers versatility in turn shapes and sizes.
- Stockli Montero AR: Really lightweight and has a short turn radius making it easy to pop from edge to edge. Though it's not a powder ski or an off-trail ski, it can still handle variable snow and conditions.
Emma: The Casual Skier
Emma is a casual skier who enjoys leisurely skiing with friends and family. She prefers relaxing skiing on groomed slopes, enjoying the scenery, and spending time outdoors rather than seeking high-performance skiing.
- Comfort and ease of use for relaxed skiing on groomed slopes.
- Stability and forgiveness allow her to recover easily from mistakes and maintain control at moderate speeds.
- A ski that can handle various snow conditions encountered on groomed runs
- Features Emma should look for in a ski:
- Softer flex provides a forgiving and comfortable ride, suitable for Emma's relaxed skiing style.
- Medium wide waist width for stability and flotation, ensuring a smoother experience on groomed runs and variable conditions.
- Recommended skis for Emma:
- Rossignol Experience 78: This ski offers a comfortable and forgiving ride, making it ideal for casual skiers like Emma, who prioritize comfort and ease of use.
- K2 Disruption 76: With its softer flex and versatile performance, this ski provides stability and forgiveness for casual skiers seeking a relaxed skiing experience.
Find the Right Carving Skis for You
Whether you're a beginner, intermediate, or advanced skier, finding the right carving skis can greatly enhance your on-slope experience. Hopefully, this guide gave you a good idea of what to look for and avoid in the particular carving skis you decide to go with, but if not, feel free to reach out to a Skiing Expert or me here on Curated. We will be more than happy to help you find the perfect pair of carving skis that helps you carve up that corduroy all season long!