How to Pick the Best Park Ski for You
The first step to dialing in your tricks in the terrain park is to dial in your ski setup! Ski Expert Jake Renner details what to look for when choosing a park ski.
Freestyle skiing has been on the rise for the last 30 years. And the technical difficulty of tricks being done today is absolutely mind-boggling. But where does it all begin? Starting with where your ski meets the snow, let’s review a few important factors when choosing your ideal park ski.
Many skiers are aware of how length and width affect the ride. But which is most beneficial when getting after it in the park? Each has its pros and cons.
A longer ski offers more stability at higher speeds. A shorter ski turns on a tighter radius and starts carving and spinning more easily. Every skier has a range of lengths that work for them depending on their ability and desired terrain. When park skiing, several differentiations provide the best results.
Sticking to skis shorter than their height allows a skier to rotate their body and skis more quickly than a longer ski. It may be easier to grab your tail or nose while in the air on a longer ski, but it is easier to maneuver and spin faster with a lighter, smaller ski!
The same logic applies to width. A wider ski spins and carves more slowly in the air and on the snow. And it offers more float on ungroomed terrain and fresh snow. Narrower skis have a tighter turn radius and transition faster edge-to-edge. Choosing your park ski width depends on what terrain you plan to ski.
What kind of terrain do you focus on more frequently, jumps, rails, or the half-pipe? Would you like a ski for each? Or is an all-around option the best choice? Let’s dial this subject back and split it into events to better understand the aspects of each.
Jumps and Jumping
Jumps and jumping for freestyle skiing are epitomized by big air events like the Olympics or X-Games. Although aerials fall within the realm of freestyle skiing, big air is a different beast. It’s a unique flavor of freestyle skiing that captivates audiences.
Every big air skier expresses themselves uniquely, be it spinning on a new axis or executing their signature grab. This exciting discipline within freestyle skiing has taken the spotlight in the past few decades.
Skiing rails, boxes, and other slidable features allow skiers to get creative on how they approach and perform their slide or grind. This style of skiing can be seen at Rail Jam events such as the Street Style’ in the Dew Tour.
Sliding takes place on a variety of materials from boxes topped with HDPE (high-density Polyethylene), debarked logs, and concrete barriers, to metal handrails. Rail skiing is becoming popular amongst freestyle skiers. Spinning onto rails, while on rails (a.k.a. swapping), or out of rails, is common for skiers working on their skills in the park. Keep this in mind if you plan on skiing rails.
Half-pipe or superpipe events that also take place in the Olympics and X-Games are more examples of skiable park terrain. Pipe skiers use their edges to carve, pop, and air out of the pipe wall, which has a relatively steeper angled takeoff with a less forgiving landing if you don’t make the transition. Keeping your edges sharp and using a narrower ski helps hold speed on the takeoffs and landings.
Slopestyle events represent all aspects of park skiing and highlight a skier's ability to link features together while performing tricks on jumps, rails, and variations of both depending on the competition. Lately, unique angled takeoffs and landings are seen in slopestyle skiing, merging a bit of quarterpipe-like transitions with jump landings.
A ski’s core build, or construction, and the material used throughout play a massive role in how it feels. This is especially true when skiing at higher speeds, while pressing your weight into the tips/tails, or when hitting features in the terrain park. Let’s dive into some specifics.
The core of a ski is traditionally composed of wood with added amounts of carbon or metal for structural support. Titanal, an aluminum alloy with titanium and other elements for added strength, is commonly used. Most park skis have no Titanal in the core because it would make the ski feel stiff and unforgiving, particularly when landing in the backseat or buttering.
Buttering is a term used to describe when a skier presses their weight into either their tips or tails while spinning. This is often done when popping off the knuckle of jump landings and into the air. It created a new event in the X-Games dubbed the Knuckle Huck. You don’t want a ski with Titanal in the core if you’re looking to butter and hold a press on your ski.
Titanal helps to keep a ski remain intact longer, feel more stable at higher speeds, and provide a dampening effect. It won’t chatter at Mach-1, but if you want to get spinning and try new tricks, I don’t recommend a ski with Titanal in the core; especially for park skiing.
I’ve experimented jibbing around on skis with Titanal, and it works. They provide a stable landing and loads of pop if I overload my nose tips when buttering. But they aren’t forgiving in the slightest if you’re off balance. If jibbing with Titanal skis, make sure you land on your feet.
For park skis, layers of carbon and epoxy are added with strips, weaves, or different wrap patterns around a wood core. This construction provides stability and torsional rigidity as the ski carves edge to edge. It gives the planks a lively feel with a snappy response when leaning into the ski.
In addition, the added carbon provides support while maintaining a lighter swing weight. This combines the best of both worlds, easy rotation and spin while offering enough support and stability to land with confidence.
How wide are the edges and do they wrap around the entire nose and tail or not? This is worth noting when looking into how a ski is built. The edge underfoot is often the first part of any park ski to go, especially if you’re hitting rails. This is where having a wider edge or one with more metal may be of benefit.
Cracking and losing chunks of edge underfoot are common. And sometimes, if a ski isn’t pressed well, it comes apart in the tip or tail where the edge meets the sidewall. I prefer a ski with a full edge wrap in the nose and tail because they hold up longer after hitting rails and the skiing park heavily.
With the information we’ve covered, you can see how the materials used in a ski’s construction play a role in how it feels when you flex it. How does flex determine where it might shine on the mountain? And in what scenario would a soft ski be better than a stiff one?
A softer ski equals more playfulness on the slopes. You can nollie, tail press, and butter with ease. I like a softer ski if I intend to play around on rails, rollers, and other jibby features. But the downside is a softer ski is less stable at high speeds or upon impact. This leads to the common preference of a stiffer ski for jumping, especially if hitting ones over 40 feet. The amount of speed you need to clear this gap makes a soft ski feel squirrely.
A stiffer ski provides more pop on takeoff and stability when landing. I definitely prefer a stiffer ski when hitting bigger jumps, dropping cliffs, or hitting features that require speed. Stiffer and relatively narrow skis with a tighter turn radius are also better in the half-pipe because they help maintain speeds in transitions and provide a spring effect on the launch.
Profile a.k.a. Shape
Most often, park skis are twin-tipped, meaning the amount of tip and tail are symmetrical. Mounted directly in the center of the ski, they provide equal amounts of ski in front and behind the foot. This makes spinning in the air feel more consistent and balanced, regardless of landing forward or backward. Sometimes park skis have partial twin tips, or when the tails aren’t quite the same shape as the nose.
Twin tips also have relatively similar amounts of tip and tail rocker. Rocker is a term to describe when the tip and tail of the ski curl up, away from the snow. More tip and tail rocker cuts down on the amount of effective edge the ski has when in contact with snow. This makes it easier to pivot from side to side or ski backward at speed with confidence. You know your tail won’t catch.
For more on twin-tip skis, check out Seeing Double: Are Twin Tips Right for Me?
Camber or No Camber
Now let’s consider the profile or shape of the ski. When laid flat on the ground, how does the ski touch the snow? And how much effective edge does it have? Traditionally, skis have rise in the nose with a varying degree in the tail, and camber underfoot. Camber is where the ski comes up off the snow underfoot. It helps a ski feel responsive by distributing the skier weight evenly along the length of the ski.
A ski without camber, meaning flat underfoot, (Armada Edollo, Volkl Revolt 104) is relatively more surfy, less responsive and more smeary when going from edge to edge at speed. Stay away from skis with a full rocker in the park as you have little effective edge. This makes the skis feel unstable on hardpack snow at higher speeds.
To summarize, my ideal park ski would take these factors into consideration and resemble something along these lines:
- 85-100mm underfoot
- medium to soft flex
- slightly shorter to average length
For specific ski recommendations, read Choosing a Park Ski: The Top 10 Rail Skis.
- 88-105mm underfoot
- medium to firm flex
- average length
To find skis like this, go to Choosing a Park Ski: Top 10 Skis for Jumps.
- 80-95mm underfoot
- firm flex
- slightly shorter to average length
The flex rating, length, width, shape, and durability of each ski make, model, and build varies. For an overview, check out Choosing a Park Ski: The Top 10 All-Around Park Skis, and I encourage you to reach out to a Ski Expert on Curated for more help or if you have any questions!