Ski Selection Tips

Powder runs, groomed cruisers, park & pipe, bumps, big mountain, gladed trees—the types of terrain open to today’s alpine skier are diverse and plentiful. But choosing a ski to meet the demands of your preferred slope style can be overwhelming. Let’s break it down:

Karl 'Jake' Jacobsen | Deer Valley, UT | Photo: Eric Schramm

Assess Skiing Ability

First decide how you would categorize your skiing ability; are you a novice, an intermediate, an advanced skier, or an expert? Novice and Intermediate skiers want skis that initiate a turn with ease, and are soft enough to be easily maneuverable. More advanced skiers will want a ski that is a bit stiffer to handle higher speeds and one that’s more versatile to handle an expanding appetite for more varied terrain.

True experts probably want more than one ski in their quiver – a carving ski for when it hasn’t snowed in a while, a powder ski for the deepest days and side country excursions, and a ski in between that can handle everything from bumps to groomers to secret stashes in the trees.

Determine Terrain Preference

Pretty much all alpine skis on the market today fall into one of four categories—carving skis, all-mountain skis, fat skis, or powder skis—the main distinction between them being the width of the waist, or the narrowest part of the ski.

Carving Skis

Carving skis have a waist width under 78 mm and are ideal for skiers looking to arc turns in the corduroy and hold their own on hardpack snow. Their pronounced hourglass shape makes carving beautiful turns a snap.

All-Mountain Skis

The most popular type of ski on the market is the all-mountain ski, with waist widths between 79-89 mm. If you’re only going to own one pair of skis, all-mountains are designed to do it all—from groomed snow, to bumps, to light powder, to the inevitable runs of mixed conditions.

Fat Skis

The all-mountain’s chubby cousin is the fat ski, with a waist width of 90-97 mm. Fat skis adapt easily to powder, cut efficiently through choppy snow, and will even play nice on the groomers, but they aren’t quite as nimble as all-mountain skis if you are sticking to the front side.

Powder Skis

The skis with the widest waist widths—anything above 98 mm—are designed with maximum surface area to maintain flotation in the steep and deep. While nearly unsinkable in powder, these skis are not built for maneuverability on groomed runs.

Choose A Length

Getting the right length ski is also an important decision. In recent years, many ski manufacturers have reduced their size offerings to only three different lengths. To determine what length ski is best for you, “We’ll talk with you about what speeds you prefer, your body size, and your ability,” says Squid. It also depends on the type of ski. Carving skis should be shorter for a skier than their all-mountain or fat skis, and powder skis can be longer if you ski a lot of big open bowls, but some people reel the length back in when they go to their powder skis to ensure maneuverability in the trees.

Shorter skis turn easier and tighter. Longer skis are usually heavier, with better performance at high speeds, but requiring more body weight and skill to control. Ski lengths are subject to a whole heap of personal preference, but there are some rules of thumb that might help if you’re not sure where to start:

  1. Skis probably shouldn’t be much shorter than chin height or much taller than you are, unless you are heavier than average for your height
  2. For many advanced skiers, carving skis should be about chin height, all-mountain or fat skis about nose height, and then powder skis can range from nose height to your height
  3. Many people buy their skis too long for a variety of reasons, but today’s skis are so stable, there’s no need to; stay with something you can maneuver easily and in all conditions
  4. For comparison purposes, a six foot tall guy who is an advanced skier might want carving skis of 170 cm, fat skis of 177 cm, and rockered powder skis of between 175 cm and 185 cm
  5. Similarly, a 5’ 6” advanced woman skier might like carving skis of 153 cm, fat skis of 156 cm, and powder skis between 153 cm and 158 cm
  6. The best way to figure out the ski length that’s best for you is to test several different lengths on the slopes

Kids Grow Too Fast!

Kids grow so quickly that it can be tempting to buy skis a bit too long and keep the same pair until they’re a bit too short. But correct ski length is important for kids too. So we’ve designed a program to make it easy and cost effective to keep your child in the right size equipment year after year.

Jans offers a 30% discount when you buy a new kids package of skis, boots, and bindings. Once you buy, keep your receipt in a safe place, because when your child outgrows that gear, you can bring it in with your original receipt, and we’ll help you trade up with a 40% credit on the gear you are turning in, to apply to this year’s gear package. This Kids Trade-In, Trade-Up Ski Program helps you keep your kids in gear that fits and is just right for them.

For Women Only

A growing trend is the emergence of women-specific skis, in addition to the more common unisex offerings. Skis designed just for women are lighter and more flexible, particularly near the tip, to account for women’s relatively lower body weight. Because women’s center of gravity is further back than men’s, women-specific skis feature a binding placement (and the ski waist itself) slightly closer to the tip of the ski, to bring female skiers into a neutral position.

Have more questions about alpine skis? We’d love to talk. Give us a call or stop by any of our retail locations.