The Scientist and Ski Expert’s Guide to Ski Industry Jargon
Skiers can get a little carried away with their terminology. Ski expert Aaron Bandler breaks down some of the most useful terms so you can walk into the ski shop with confidence.
Despite the fact that I recommend skis to online customers, I LOVE walking into a ski shop. I love the smell of the wood paneling, the tight turns between racks and racks of apparel, the wall of helmets that goes all the way up to the ceiling, and those tempting glass cases with the most gorgeous, smudge-free goggles that turn an ordinary retail experience into a psychedelic hall of mirrors. But more than anything else, I love the ski wall. A mural of innovation. A multicolored cornucopia spread before you.
That is until someone like me starts talking…
“Bro, this thing RIPS! Ya see these layers of titanal? These are engineered for max torsional rigidity. It’s super damp without being too stiff! And checkout that sidecut! How about that Rocker Camber Rocker profile?”
…and now you’re nodding, saying “uh huh” as your eyes start to drift toward the snowboa—WAIT!
Ok, so maybe we get a little carried away with our terminology. If you’ve been skiing for more than a few years, you’ve undoubtedly heard new words and phrases pop up, but probably haven’t gotten much of an explanation because the guy next to you on the chairlift mansplaining about his waist width might as well be talking about his weight-loss goals for all the good it’s doing you. Skiers can be a pretentious bunch. Just ask any snowboarder.
So what I’m presenting to you now is the accessible guide to some of my favorite (and least-favorite) technical ski terminology. I’ll run through some common terms for shape, performance, and construction, and get you started on contextualizing all those different skis on the wall so that with a quick perusal of any ski’s tech specs, you’ll be able to get a general understanding of what, where, and how it’s meant to ride.
1. Torsional Rigidity
I’m starting with my absolute favorite ski jargon. This one is so good because of the way it rolls off the tongue. It’s beautifully poetic and downright sexy, yet completely inaccessible to most people who have never taken an engineering course--a recipe for great jargon.
So what is it in a ski, why does it matter, and how much is too much? I’m gonna go in depth on this one so that maybe you can impress someone the next time you’re on a chairlift by being able to ACTUALLY explain it to them.
What is it?
Torsion = Twisting Rigidity = Strength
Twisting Strength. Hold a ski upright so that the tail is on the floor and the tip is in your hand. Grab the binding in one hand and the tip in the other and try to twist them in opposite directions. This will give you a sense of the ski’s torsional rigidity (sometimes called torsional stiffness). If you’re still standing by the ski wall, try this with a few different skis to get a sense of how much it varies from one ski to another.
Why does it matter?
The strength of the ski in the torsional plane will affect the ski’s performance when it is on edge. When you “properly” carve a turn like a racer, your ski is entirely on its edge, and your body mass and centripetal acceleration are putting a lot of force into the middle of the ski. This causes your ski to bend and arc through the turn. Along the length of that edge that is now sunk into the snow, there is a different amount of force pushing against the tip, waist, and tail of your ski. This causes a twisting, or torsional force. A ski with greater torsional rigidity will withstand that twisting force better and can hold an edge more securely through that turn.
How much is too much?
This one entirely depends on your skiing ability and preference, but in general, carving a turn with the edge of your ski requires torsional rigidity. It’s not ONLY about speed--you can make clean carved turns at slower speeds as well--but if you like to bomb the groomers (read: go fast on groomed runs), then a more torsionally rigid ski will give you more control at those high speeds, assuming you know how to control a high speed turn in the first place. Yes people, turning is a good thing! Any idiot can go balls-to-the-wall straight down the mountain, but it’s dangerous for everyone else, and takes actual skill to hold that same amount of speed and control it with your edges. In other words, buying a more rigid ski won’t make you a better skier out of the box, but a strong progressing skier should consider leveling-up to a more rigid ski once they have a good foundation and can carve a turn.
Not flexing like the way pretentious skiers flex their knowledge of the industry by saying words that confuse you. Flex in a ski is similar to torsional rigidity, but not nearly as fun to say nor as easy to impress people with. This refers to the strength of the ski from tip to tail. Are you still standing by that ski wall? Hold the ski as you were before, but push the binding away from you and pull the tip toward you. The ski will bend longways. The stiffness in this dimension is the flex.
Stiffer = Faster Softer = More playful
In the all-mountain ski category, stiffer skis tend to be preferred by racers and ex-racers (like me) for that stability at high speed, but softer skis tend to be the choice of more freestyle-oriented skiers and those knee-dropping tele skiers on their way to steal yo’ girl. This is not an across-the-board rule, but it traditionally applies with a few notable exceptions that you can ask me about later. Flex leads me to another good buzzword, which is so decidedly un-sexy that you’ll need to get the taste of it out of your mouth….
Oh baby, yes. Another great jargon. It’s a word you know (and maybe hate, albeit not as much as its cousin “moist”), but again used in a way that only engineers and maybe drummers appreciate.
Dampness has nothing to do with the inside of your ski pants after a wipe-out in the trees, but rather is all about vibrations. A “damp” ski is one that has less vibration against the snow. This is part of the same family of words above, and is again something that is used to describe a ski that’s meant to go fast and hard. Picture a car. Would you rather go 100mph in a Dodge Charger or a lifted Jeep Wrangler with off-road tires? These cars are built for different things just like your skis are built for different things. One of them will be smooth and stable flying down the highway, the other one will get you through the mountains, but might wobble apart at high speeds. One ski will have you carving a perfect arc around a crowd of Texans, regardless of the conditions, and the other one will have you effortlessly popping and floating through the woods.
Dampness is typically derived from a ski’s material construction and its weight. In general, heavier skis are more damp and powerful but less agile (again, with a few notable exceptions).
This leads to my next and final buzzword for today.
Titanal is a metal alloy that is put into skis to increase dampness and torsional rigidity (shivers down the spine), while retaining a smooth flex that’s not overly stiff. Many brands will label certain skis with the letters “Ti” to indicate the presence of titanal (example: K2 Mindbender 99ti). But what is Titanal? I bet a bunch of ski experts think they know….
I recently put out a quiz to the Curated Expert Community, which is one of the densest pools of ski knowledge in the world, and even we collectively got this one wrong. Here’s the question I posed:
Which of the following metals are in the alloy “Titanal”? (check all that apply)
A. Copper B. Aluminum C. Titanium D. Zinc E. Iron F. Magnesium G. Molybdenum
I mean, it’s in the name, right? It’s gotta have titanium, the most buzzworthy metal, known for being impossibly strong and deceptively lightweight. Wouldn’t it make the perfect ingredient in a ski that’s fast, damp, torsionally rigid, and too hot to handle? The Expert Community sure thought so! By far, titanium got the most votes.
Well, we were all wrong. There’s no titanium in titanal (pronounced “TEET-uh-nahl”). It’s just a marketing term and probably the result of a focus group that asked participants to say whether they preferred “titanal” or “aluminal.” I don’t blame them for going with the less-accurate-but-more-sexy term (though I’d have definitely voted for “molybdenal” personally). Titanal is about 85% aluminum and also contains copper, zinc, and magnesium. It’s produced by a single company in Austria, and can be found in many skis that are marketed to more aggressive frontside (i.e. groomers and moguls) skiers. If someone on a chairlift tries to tell you that his skis are made of titanium, ask him if he paid $10,000 for them. Because that’s how much skis would probably cost if instead of “titanal,” we actually had titanium.
This is the point in the lecture where I’ll turn back from the chalkboard and hope to not see an empty room.
Let’s put it all together...
What I’ve presented here is a discussion of some common ski industry jargon that is used to differentiate subcategories of skis. In general, skis which are more rigid, more stiff (lower flex), and more damp will appeal to fast, aggressive skiers who like to go one direction: down. Advanced/expert skiers who prefer a less rigid, more flexy, and lighter/less damp ski also tend to prefer a more playful, dynamic style that favors skiing backwards, hitting jumps, and playing around in the terrain park. These two types of skier archetypes separate the “freeride” and “freestyle” sub-categories of all-mountain skis.
To put it all together, here is my venn diagram that shows how the terms discussed in this article relate to different categories of skis. There are no hard and fast rules here--this is just meant as a guide for contextualizing the multitude of options available and understanding how certain ski specs relate to its intended user.
This gets me to my final comments on “why.”
I have helped hundreds if not thousands of skiers shop for skis on the Curated platform. So many of them are so thoroughly confused by the jargon that they’re left wondering “but what does this mean for me?” There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to buying a ski, but with good advice and even a preliminary understanding of terminology, you can find your best pair without ever visiting a demo shop. Armed with the information I’ve presented here, my hope is that you can gain a better understanding as to which area of the diagram you are aiming for. The real strength of shopping with an expert is the expert’s ability to confidently understand what it is you’re looking for in a ski. From here, we will do the work of showing you the best options that fit your needs. Let’s get you set up!