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Short of a good pair of ski boots, finding a good pair of skis that are right for you is the best thing you can do to make sure you enjoy a ski trip. While seemingly complicated, ski technology can be broken into layman's terms fairly easily, so you can understand what you're looking for and what makes a good ski.

The two most important things you need to consider are what kinds of speeds you want to go, and over what types of terrain. Obviously, you don't need a slalom race ski if you are leisurely going down greens all day.

The majority of skiers may never roam off piste, so a front side carver is all they'll ever need, whereas if you want to hit up some back bowls you'll need something a little wider.
Popular Skis (View all Skis)
Volkl Mantra
$489.00 - 899.00
K2 Superific
$259.00 - 699.99

Dimensions & Sidecut

Shaped Skis
Shaped Skis are skis that have a mild hour glass figure. Traditional (a.k.a. conventional) are straight on both sides.

Shaped skis are wider and therefore provide more surface area. This permits you to use a shorter ski when compared to a straight ski. Shaped skis also provide a sidecut radius, allowing you to turn by transferring your weight from one ski to the other. When you transfer most of your weight to one ski, the ski bends, which allows you to naturally turn at the angle provided by your sidecut radius.

Profile Dimensions
Profile dimensions provide information regarding the shape and width of a ski. Profile dimensions are written in the following format:

Shovel (Tip) width - Waist width - Tail width
The shovel and tail are measured at their widest point. The waist width is measured at the narrowest point.

For example, 119-74-104 means that the Nordica Hot Rod has a shovel width of 119mm, a waist of 74mm and a 104mm tail.

Most dimensions (including dimensions written on Spadout) are in millimeters (mm).

1 - Shovel (Tip) width
2 - Waist width
3 - Tail width

Ski Dimensions
Ski dimensions are important because they determine how much surface area a ski has and how responsive it will be. A ski with a relatively narrow waist will get on edge faster than a ski with a wider waist. This can come into play especially on groomers and while skiing moguls. A ski with a relatively wide waist will provide more surface area (good while skiing fresh powder), but it will tend to act more sluggish when the rider attempts to put it on edge.

The ski's dimensions are directly related to a ski's turn radius (see sidecut radius). The larger a ski's turn radius is, the longer it will take to complete a turn. More maneuverable skis, like slalom racing skis, make quick sharp turns, but giant slalom (GS) skis will have a much larger turn radius.

The ski below marked in yellow is the Salomon SL Lab 155 + ZZ designed for slalom racing (which requires fast turns on a groomed slope).

The ski below marked in red is the XM Sandstorm + 914 designed for off-piste, deep powder terrain.

When the two skis are overlapped you can see that the SL Lab has a small sidecut radius (permitting it to meet the turning demands of the slalom) and the Sandstorm is wider and has a larger sidecut radius providing it with the maximum surface area for the deep powder.

Sidecut Radius / Radii
The sidecut radius, often just called sidecut, radius, or radii (plural), defines the amount of curve in a ski. A deep side cut (a large difference between the waist of the ski and the tail or tip) will permit aggressive turning while a narrower side cut will offer a gradual turn at high speed (i.e. GS).

The sidecut radius is measured by determining the curve of the ski. This curve is extended to make an imaginary circle (see diagram on the left). The radius of this circle is the sidecut radius. On Spadout, sidecut radius is shown in meters.

A shorter sidecut radius (a deeper side cut) will make more narrow, aggressive turns and a longer sidecut radius will make more gradual turns.

12 Meters or less = tight turns, slalom, frontside carving
13 - 16 Meters = all mountain
19 Meters or more = long racing turns, giant slalom

Ski Length
Ski length is the length from the tip to the tail of the ski. Shaped skis permit you to use shorter skis compared to traditional skis. A moderate skier should select a ski that is about 10 cm less than their height (2.54 cm = 1 inch). Shorter skis will provide easy turning. An experienced skier may want a ski that is about 5 cm less than their height because they use longer skis to increase stability at high speeds. For more help try the ski size chart.

Flex (Stiffness) of Skis
Flexible skis are easier for beginners because they will bend (and turn) with less energy. Stiffer skis are required for experienced skiers on hard packed pistes.

Longitudinal flex describes a ski's ability to flex (bend) along the length of the ski.

Torsional flex describes a ski's ability to flex (bend) from one side to the other.

Ski Anatomy

Outer Anatomy
Motion System- Atomic said it best: "As skis became shorter and shorter, the percentage of ski covered by bindings increased by nearly 40%. This high amount of coverage began to inhibit the flex of the ski so we went straight to work, excited by the new challenge. After numerous failed attempts to make human feet smaller, we decided just to do the work it takes to make a better binding." Most manufacturers have found ways to enable a ski to be able to flex underneath the binding (the motion system is Volkl's proprietary system). Fig. 2.

Piston- A hydraulic device that resists expansion, but doesn't resist compression (it is analogous to a shock absorber). It keeps your ski slightly flexed when coming out of a turn to eliminate "tip slap," which gives you more control over your skis. It also helps break up repetitive harmonic motion or chatter.

Shovel- This part of the ski initiates your ski's turns and, hopefully, keeps you above the powder. The wider the shovel is, the more float it will have on powder, and the quicker it can respond to the skier's movements and initiate a turn. Fig 2.

Tail- Tail is the back end of the ski. It helps lock you into your turn as you ski. The wider it is, the more it will keep you turning in a tight turn which is great for really carving turns and generating power as you go. A more narrow tail allows the user to make skid turns a lot easier, which is great for lower intermediates and beginners. There are two types of tail, a normal tail like the one pictured on the ski in Figure 2, and the swallow tail like the one in Figure 2's insert. The swallow tail allows snow to flow through it, which is nice on powder while still keeping the ski's edge intact. Fig 2.

Tip Protector- The tip protector protects the tip of the ski from delaminating. Some companies do this with rivets as well. Fig 2.

Binding Anatomy
Adapter Plate- Many skis come with an adapter plate that attaches to a pair of bindings (usually they will only work with some kind of binding that the ski manufacturer is affiliated with). Fig. 3

Brake- This is a piece of the binding that digs into the snow when your boot is out of the binding. This will hopefully stop the ski when they accidentally pop off. It saves you the hassle of chasing after your skis. Fig 2 & 3

Heel Piece- As the name implies, the heel of your boot goes here (not the heel of your hand or any other random body part). Fig 2 & 3

Toe Piece- The pointy end of your boot goes here. You can try to stick your toes in here, but don't expect it to work out too well. Fig. 2 & 3

Inner Anatomy (Ski Guts)
Base- This is a strong high molecular weight plastic (p-tex, or polyethylene) that is highly durable and soaks in wax to promote easy gliding. Fig 1

Core- Usually made of wood, this part of the ski is the backbone of any ski. Fig. 1

Edge- This is a metal insert that cuts into the snow and allows the ski to turn. Skiers bevel the edge of their skis to keep them sharp and to preserve their ability to cut. Fig. 1 & 2

Topsheet- This is a protective layer, usually made out of fiberglass, that keeps the core from being exposed to water. Fig. 1 (and pretty much on top of the entire ski in Fig. 2, but it isn't labeled there)

Types Of Skis

Alpine Skis
All Mountain skis are ideal for beginner through advanced skiers who want to ski groomed pistes.

Freeride skis are ideal for advanced skiers who plan to mainly ski in deep powder, but also want the sidecut for groomed pistes. Freeride skis also handle well in less ideal conditions including crud and slush. Freeride skis are wider than all mountain skis. All-terrain skis are similar to freeride skis, but are primarily designed for groomed pistes.

Freestyle skis are a group of specialized skis that are designed for a certain discipline. Freestyle skis include skis specifically designed for moguls, jumping, and terrain parks.

Frontside Carvers are skis that are primarily made for carving on piste at high speeds, but aren't as aggressive as most race skis.

Racing Skis are designed with one purpose: maximum control at high speeds on groomed pistes. Skier X Skis are similar to racing skis, but have a larger surface area to provide off-piste performance.

Traditional Skis (often called straight skis) are skis that are straight on both sides. Most traditional skis have been replaced with shaped skis because they are easier to turn and hold an edge better than a traditional ski.

Alpine Touring (AT) Skis
Alpine Touring (AT) or randonnée equipment is specifically designed for ski touring in steep terrain. A special alpine touring binding is used that allows the heel to be clipped down for more support when skiing downhill, then allows it to be released to swing resistance-free from the toe when climbing. Like telemark gear, this equipment is popular with people from an alpine skiing background; however, unlike telemarking, it requires no learning of a challenging new type of downhill turn. Because the fixed heel provides additional support and lessens the force on the toe hinge in downhill mode, AT gear can be and typically is significantly lighter in weight than comparable telemark equipment, a distinct advantage on long, difficult tours.

Most AT bindings have a DIN safety release as in an alpine binding. Special ski boots are also used, which are something of a cross between a downhill ski boot and a hiking boot. They are light and flexible enough to be comfortable to walk up in, while still being stiff enough to provide good control when skiing down. These boots have specialized soles for traction and the ability to hold a crampon when climbing steep slopes with the skis on one's back.

Nordic Skis
Nordic skis are used for jumping and cross-country skiing. 'Nordic combined' is the Olympic sport that includes both activities.

Telemark Skis
Telemark skis can be used for downhill as well as touring. Telemark skis are particularly unique from most downhill skis because their binding only attaches at the toe (allowing you to raise your heel while skiing). Telemark bindings are different than AT Bindings because the heal is not attached when descending the mountain (AT Binding's heals are only free to pivot on the toe while ascending the mountain).

Contributors: RootDKJ
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