Transitioning From Straight Skis to Modern Skis: Your Straight Skis Are Holding You Back

Why should you transition from straight skis to modern skis? Ski Expert Kyle O'Donnell breaks down the decision and explains how a modern setup will set you free!

Someone jumps on Dynastar skis.

Photo courtesy of Dynastar

A bright neon set of alpine skis sits on the rack outside the lodge. They were bought in the ’80s and are full camber. They sit amongst the shorter skis of the modern generation, looking painfully out of place. A skier struts up to these relics of a bygone era with a confidence usually reserved for a professional athlete.

He’s been rocking this setup since hair metal was cool and he wouldn’t dream of clipping into anything else. His high school buddies have tried to explain the shaping difference of today's skis, but he doesn't believe in their wider stance and thinks that they don't do any actual skiing anymore. He saunters over to the lift in a 1980's DayGlo neon onesie, ready to conquer the mountain in gear that's older than half the people in the lift line.

He scoffs at the larger surface area of the modern skis surrounding him, wondering if skiers even feel the deep powder if they just float on top of it. He is thinking the mullet is due for a comeback as he patiently rides up the chair. He unloads at the summit and takes out his walkman. Inside, a homemade Def Leppard mixtape is ready to go. He puts the headphones over his pompom beanie, presses play, and begins his descent—hot doggin' his way through the crowds.

If this sounds like you, you could be suffering from a dangerous case of nostalgia, and I’m here to help!

Skis and poles sit on a ski slope with the Matterhorn in the background.

Photo by Samuel Ferrara

Why Change Your Setup?

I get it. Ski gear is expensive, and you feel like a rockstar on your old school skis, but you're going to have to trust me when I say progress has been very good to the ski industry. Compared to their predecessors, today's skis have been fully revamped by the innovators in the sport, making them much more fun for skiers of any skill level.

There is a reason nobody makes straight skis anymore. They can’t perform the way today's skis do, and they severely limit the capabilities of the rider. Yet people still trot out their 1990's skis for a weekend on the slopes, and are adamant that they’ll never ski anything else. That’s the nostalgia talking. People get lost in that sweet embrace of yesteryear and freeing them from nostalgia's grip is a tall order.

That being said, once they switch to a modern setup they’ll kick themselves for waiting so long. The main difference with today's skis is that they are lighter, more capable, and easier to ski than ever. Once you switch you’ll not only ski better, but you’ll also be able to ski longer. That’s because modern skis are designed to ski better with less user effort. Let me walk you through what you’ve been missing.

Ski Shape

The biggest difference you’ll see is the actual shape of the ski. Traditional straight skis have very little sidecut with a larger radius for turns. With straight skis, the waist width is nearly identical to the ski tip and tail width and because of that, you really need to weight the outside edge to get it to turn. This takes a decent amount of effort and really requires skiers to keep their stance narrow, skis in parallel, and drop their hips to transfer weight to the outside ski. Although this style is revered by many, it is a bit harder on the quads than needed with today's modern ski shapes!

In contrast, shaped skis have a more aggressive sidecut depth and have an hourglass shape with a narrow waist and wider tips and tails. This shape gives skis a shorter sidecut radius and in turn, gives the skier a shorter turn radius. The sidecut radius of a ski is fundamentally determined by the size of a giant circle that would be formed if a ski was kept on edge, and is the radius of that circle. The radius of the turn determines how quickly the ski completes a carve. Modern skis with deep sidecuts typically make tight turns compared to the straight skis of decades past with a longer meter radius.

A diagram showing the sidecut radius (the shape of the parabolic curve of the side of the ski) and the sidecut depth (the difference between the tip and the waist of the ski).

The “sidecut” generally refers to the shape of the parabolic curve of the side of the ski, as this was originally cut into the ski.

Rocker

The dawn of rocker has also been a game-changer for skiers, especially for those who like to venture off the groomers. Early rise in the tips and tails of skis makes it easier to initiate turns, another feature that will save you energy throughout the day.

That’s not even the best part. Where rockered skis really shine is in the powder! Tip rocker encourages the ski to move upward and float in soft snow, keeping you on top of the deep snow. There is no better feeling than effortlessly floating through fresh snow, and modern skis with rocker make this a whole lot easier.

Better Construction

Skis are built better than ever. They’re more durable, lighter, and more fun to ski than their straight ski ancestors. Newer skis have also been engineered with specific goals in mind, so chances are there is a style of ski that excels at what you like to do. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Do you want to ski champagne pow all day? There are powder skis for that.
  • Maybe you carve high-speed, hard turns on the groomers? There are carving skis for that.
  • Want something that can do a little of both? There are all-mountain skis that.

You can buy skis tailor-made for your skiing style, so your next skiing experience will be a blast!

Your skis will also be more stable and more confidence-inspiring when the snow surface gets skied up. This added stability is due to the radical progression of dampening technology. Now your skis can better absorb the bumps you encounter on and off the trail. That dampness keeps your skis from being tossed around in the chunky snow, which makes it easier to carve confident turns.

Safety

Ski manufacturers stopped making straight skis in the early ‘90s, so chances are if you have a +30-year-old set of skis, you have a +30-year-old set of bindings. Most shops won’t adjust bindings this old because they are a liability. Old gear eventually breaks or malfunctions, and you really don’t want to be attached to a binding that stops releasing properly.

I work as a ski patroller, and I’ve seen enough gross stuff happen to people's legs and knees. I can confidently say that skiing super old gear is stacking the deck against you for a nasty season-ending injury. Old skis also wear you out faster, meaning you're more likely to lose your form and crash. Stack that on top of ancient binding technology that could malfunction at any time, and you have a recipe for disaster. Your ACL’s are worth protecting and a modern setup is a heck of a lot cheaper than a hospital visit.

How Do I Choose a New Ski?

Now you know why you should retire your straight skis, but you may still be hesitant. You want to kick your nostalgia habit, but all this new gear is confusing and you have questions. The best way to start is by making a list of your favorite things to ski.

  • Do you like groomers, trees, or powder? Maybe you like to ski all of those things?
  • Do you like to make short snappy turns or do you let your skis run?
  • Do you like to ski super fast and hard or do you like to play around on features along the trail?

Being honest about what you're into can make it a lot easier to narrow down options for skis. So, now that you have an idea of what you're looking for, it's time to see what’s out there.

Ski rack outside of a resort building.

Photo by Erik Mclean

Talk to Other Skiers

A great way to see what’s out there is to talk to other skiers who’ve already ditched their straight skis. See what they’re skiing on and ask them what they like and don’t like about that ski. People like to talk about their toys and it’s a great conversation starter to kill time on the lift. You're skiing anyway, so you might as well gather some valuable information. This can help you find a couple of options that you may want to try!

Demo Skis

Most ski shops will let you demo the latest and greatest ski technology for a reasonable price. Nothing can replace first-hand experience on a set of skis to see if you have fun on them. Demo a pair of skis your friend really loves, or a pair you read about online. If you don’t like them, you can bring them back and demo something else! It’s a great way to further narrow down your options for skis.

Talk to an Expert

Maybe you’ve talked to your friends and you've demoed some skis, or maybe you didn’t have time for any of that. In any case, you want someone to cut through all the noise and help you find a setup that's right for you. Cue the plug for the Ski Experts on Curated! That's what we do! We’ll talk with you to find a setup you’ll love and we’ll find it at a great price. We’ll walk you through your options and answer any questions that pop up about your skis. We are here to free you from your nostalgia addiction with skis that will make you wonder what you ever saw in those straight planks.

Take a Lesson

So now you’ve found a great setup, and you're excited to get out on the slopes and rip it up. If you really want to unlock the full potential of those new skis, take a lesson! Skis have changed a lot in 30 years and so has skiing technique. I don’t care if you're a beginner or someone who has skied their whole life, you will pick up a lot of useful information in a lesson, especially if you're switching from straight skis. On shaped skis, you keep your feet roughly shoulder-width apart instead of side by side. You’ll also find you don’t need to weight the outside edge as aggressively to initiate turns. An instructor can show you the latest and greatest techniques so your transition to shaped skis will be seamless.

Let’s check in on our neon-clad hero from before. He approaches the chair with a brand new set of skis. They feel short in his hands, but he knows how capable they really are. He demoed them a few weeks ago and couldn’t stop smiling the entire time. He rides up the chair, chatting about gear with the folks he met in line. They swap stories about epic days on the mountain before disembarking at the summit. He throws in some earbuds and looks down at his iPod—Def Leppard begins to play as he pushes off from the summit. Sometimes change is a good thing.

If you have any questions or if you're ready to make the switch, reach out to a Ski Expert here on Curated for guidance.

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Written By
Kyle O'Donnell
Kyle O'Donnell
Ski Expert
I've been skiing since I was 5 years old, and whether its the bulletproof ice of the east, or the bottomless powder of the west, I'm down to get out and have a good time! I love to get out into the mountains, especially into the backcountry. If I'm not here I'm guiding backpacking trips, or ski patr...
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