Downhill (or Alpine) skis come in many shapes and forms. There is a fair bit to consider when it comes to choosing a pair that is right for you. This post will cover some popular styles of downhill skis and breaks down key features to help your decision. Below, we’ll discuss a few important things to consider including your skill level and where you plan to ski.
First, let cover some skiing terms:
Tip: The front end of your ski
Tail: The back end of your ski
Waist: The most narrow point of the ski between the tip and tail
Flex: This is typically is reference to the stiffness level of the ski
Camber: The side profile of the ski when laid flat without any load shows the camber as an arch shape under the binding, generally raised off the ground.
Rocker (aka Reverse Camber): The tip and tail are higher and therefore give the ski a bit of a banana shape. The middle of the ski touches the ground when laid flat, without any load.
Chatter: A vibration cause by hard packed snow (not to be confused with your buddy’s meandering story)
Sidecut: The width of the tip, waist and tail of the ski
Turn Radius: The size of turns from a ski. The Sidecut determines the length of the turn radius.
Now, let's talk about how to choose downhill skis.
There are 2 key steps to determining what skis you should invest in.
- The Type of Skier you are (aka your skill and experience level)
- Where You Ski (aka the snow conditions)
We break those steps down below and then explain the common downhill ski types to choose from.
Your Skill Level
Type 1: Cautious Skiing on Smooth Slopes of Gentle to Moderate Pitches
If you are brand new to skiing, a beginner ski will be your best friend as you learn to navigate the slopes. Beginner skis will have a softer flex, be shorter and more narrow so they are easier to control.
Type 2: Average Skiing
As a recreational skier, oftentimes the recommendation is a mid-range, versatile ski. Something more stiff than a true beginner ski but you can still have fun and test out different terrains.
Type 3: Fast Skiing on Slopes of Moderate to Steep Pitch
If you are an experienced skier, you’re likely going to start looking for stiffer skis that can offer a better performance - or start branching out into specific category and have skis for different occasions.
These Skiing types are also key for shop technicians when setting up your binding.
Where You Ski
The title is 'where you ski' but ultimately that has to do with the type of snow you will encounter. If you are primarily skiing on the east coast, most often, you'll be encountering hard packed snow and the occasional ice as well. Those on the west coast of Canada are likely more familiar with deep powder.
Wider skis can handle powder significantly better than a narrow, carving ski. On the reverse, a wide powder ski will get you down a groomed trail but it won't be nearly as enjoyable as it's narrow, stiffer cousin.
Types of Downhill Skis
The classic, narrow style that is great for groomed trails. Carvings skis handle packed snow and help your edge cut easily through the turns. For those of us on the east coast, this is a common style you’ll see on the ski hill. This style can be a great choice for beginners!
Perhaps the most versatile and therefore most popular among recreational skiers. All-mountain skis can handle front and backcountry runs - you know, “all of the mountain”, as their name suggests. If you are looking for peak performance, they may not fit the bill. What they gain in versatility, they often lack in high performance in specific situations. This is an excellent choice for most average skiers.
Freestyle skis, often referred to as twin tips, are the ideal ski type for hitting the snow park and doing tricks. They have a double rocker and durable construction to handle jumping and landing impacts.
The ultimate adventure ski! These skis perform well in the backcountry or after a snow storm, where you are carving your own trails and tackling difficult terrain.
Similar to Free ride skis but touring skis give you capability to ascend the mountain. Due to the nature of climbing a mountain, touring skis are generally lighter. Ski touring gives you the freedom to journey beyond the ski resorts.
Other notable niche ski types are Telemark, Racing, Powder and Mogul.
Hopefully this has helped you narrow down the type of ski you are looking for. As always, there is more to it and many skis blur the lines between categories. Speaking with a specialist (*ahem*) is recommended as they help cater specific responses to your unique search. If you have any questions about downhill skis, let us know!