Types of Skis | For Various Terrains & Skill Levels

When you’re trying to decide how to choose skis, it can seem like a really daunting task. There are so many different types of skis out there that finding the very best skis for beginners can quickly get overwhelming, especially since the majority of online ski reviews are for expert level race skis that you’re not ready for.

Skis are also a pretty substantial investment, with even starter skis for beginners costing several hundred dollars and high end, professional skis costing nearly a thousand at times. With so few opportunities to ski over the course of a year for most people, it is crucial that you get the right pair of skis so you can make the most of the time you have. If you also learned how to wax skis, which ever type you buy will perform even better with little effort. 

Beginners don’t necessarily know their ski type yet, so their best bet is to invest in a single pair of quality all mountain skis. If that’s not what you’re looking for, and you want a little more freedom for freestyle skis, then just keep in mind that you will need to know the type of skiing you will be using and your aimed mountain before buying specific skis. 

So You’ve Decided to Invest in a New Pair of Skis but Different Types of Skis Are Confusing? Tent.net Team to the Rescue!

With so many different types of skis out there, you jut want a ski buying guide that talks about the types of skis instead of specific products! We get it – everyone starts from somewhere. This article is our answer to that question. By the end of it, you will know about all the different types of skis you can look into purchasing when you’re ready to take the next step.  

When you have determined the type of ski you want, you will then need to start working on sizing and look at the right ski width and length for your skillset within the skis made for your favored terrain. Skis can be very difficult to size because while there are plenty of guidelines, they are a very personal item and often times the right ski for you relies less on charts than it does on how you feel when you’re in them. 

Essential Knowledge - Sidecut

A lot of the information about the different skis in this article will talk about some different terms on the ski. You’ll need to get familiar with them before you learn why each ski is built the way it is.

When anyone refers to sidecut, they basically are talking about turn radius. The sidecut number dictates how well your ski will turn, and they determine this by looking at the ratios of your waist to tip and tail measurement. In general, narrower skis will be better at carving and technical precision and wider skis can handle deeper snow and powered. Mid-range sidecuts will work in several conditions, but not be a master at any of them. 

Types of Downhill Skis

The largest category of skis is downhill skis. Most of the different variations of skis will fall into this category, because most skiing happens down a mountain, not upwards or in parks. Just make sure you match yours to the conditions when you ski and the mountain type and area you enjoy the most. 

All Mountain Skis

All mountain skis are excellent on groomed terrains. They perform well in a good mix of both groomed snow and powder. These skis are occasionally referred to as carving skis because they are suitable for any age or experience level rather than being specialized. If your skis have narrow waists (85 mm or below) they are front sided skis that perform exceptionally well in groomed conditions. Wider skis (85 to 95 mm) can perform in mixed terrains. 

A lot of these types of skis have very deep sidecuts and rockered tips, which makes them easy to turn with for people who haven’t mastered the technique perfectly. They also hold an edge well on groomed and hardened snow, and the higher end models will even please professionals.  

All Mountain Wide Skis

Wide all mountain skis can handle anything you throw at them. They’re the best skis a beginner can buy. These are also known as fat or mid-fat skis because their waists are usually 90 to 109 mm.

This allows them to float over softer snow without losing their agility on groomed runs. They can cut through choppy, sloppy snow and remain stable even if you take them into crusty and variable snows. 

Powder Skis

The best powder skis are made for skiing over powder, just like the name suggests. These do really well in the backcountry (or the area outside of the resort trails) and can occasionally handle groomed runs as well. 

These skis perform beautifully when you take them through deep and powdery snow. These are occasionally called super fat skis because their waists exceed 109 mm. This massive waist provides an extremely high level of floatation that adds a playful feel that makes you feel almost like you’re surfing over the snow.

A lot of these skis come with a fully rockered profile, and nearly all of them come with rockered tips and tails. This will enhance the floatation even more, increase your maneuverability, and keep you from catching the edges when you don’t want to. 

The one weakness of these skis is that their width makes them extremely difficult to handle when you’re running down groomed runs or trying to make precise turns through tight lines. They are, however, the best choice available for a memorable day in deeper powders. 

Back Country Skis

These skis are for skiing through uncharted territory. They can still handle really well in powder and groomed places, too, but they open up the wild areas of the mountain for your pleasure. Use some climbing skins and you can even pull these skis uphill to find some fresh snow no one has been through, then remove the skins and have fun on the way back down!

This freedom does require you to grab some additional gear, though. You will also need the skill to handle yourself in an avalanche or when mountaineering. Safety needs to be a priority, especially if you’re going off the beaten trail and no one knows how to find out later. 

These skis are much lighter than alpines to make it easier to climb. Their waist widths are usually 80 to 120 mm because the narrow waist will make it easy to turn when you’re skiing in hard snow and come across an obstacle in uncharted terrain. These skis can also be used for telemark or alpine touring as long as you grab the right bindings. 

Women’s Downhill Skis

There are a lot of skis that have been re-engineered specifically with a woman’s body in mind. They share a lot in common with men’s skis but they tend to be much shorter and lighter because women also tend to be shorter and lighter on average. Some of the expert level skis are made as unisex skis, but they have a wide range of sizes so women can still shop those lines. 

Kids’ Downhill Skis

While you usually want to buy children things that they can grow into, this strategy is a terrible idea when it comes to skiing. The best way to make sure a young skier is safe and also able to learn and master techniques while having fun is to make sure their skis fit their current size. If you want to find some precise measurements, start here for a chart. Otherwise, here are the general guidelines:

Very young children should use skis that don’t reach their chins (essentially, 6 to 8 inches below the top of their head). Kids ages 6 through 12 should buy some skis that touch a part of their upper or middle face. Shorter skis will almost always work for kids, but they may have trouble maneuvering in longer skis so if you’re in doubt choose shorter skis in the right range. Most of their downhill skis will come with bindings already included. 

Carving Skis or On Piste Carvers 

If you plan to spend the majority of your time skiing through groomed slopes, then you will need carving skis. These are skis that are designed for perfect turns that are graceful even at high speeds. 

These skis descended directly from the traditional slalom and GS racing skis. They focus on speed, edge grip, and precision in turns. They have very narrow waists, pronounced sidecuts with short turning radii, and underfoot camber that allows great hold on the edges. 

These skis make It really fun to ski down hard packed snow, but they also make them terrible for riding down anything except smooth and groomed trails. They will end up sinking in back country trails, and don’t float nearly as well through powder. 

These skis have a race feel to them when you’re inbounds on groomed trails. Carving skis will teach you how to ski quickly better than any other ski o the market, but because they’re so limited in scope most people prefer other types of skis that have more versatility. 

If you do choose this type of ski, then you will need to look for very narrow waists (that are 85 mm or less), short turn radii, and a full camber profile with edge precision. 

If you hear the term on-piste it refers to skiing for groomed slopes. On piste skis are made for groomed tails and off piste skiing is done in the backcountry or unmarked terrain. 

Cross Country Skis

If you’ve never skied before or owned your own, then you will probably start cross country skiing using the classic skiing discipline. Classic skis will all use sticky wax and a built in grip pattern called fish scales on the base so you have the traction you need. Their camber profile will allow that area to lift off of the snow so your glide goes uninterrupted. Classic skis are also longer, so your forward glide gets extended. 

You need to consider how you plan to use them. Classic racing skis meant for high performance will be lighter, skinnier, and more expensive than recreational skis. Racing skis also have a tall and stiff camber profile that beginners may not be able to handle without practicing technique. 

Binding systems are the hardest aspect of these skis to manage. They can be pretty confusing because there are so many types. The SNS Pilots have 2 points of contact with your boot, unlike most other bindings for cross country skis. These require the SNS Pilot boots to match, but their double axle design increases your control and precision so they’re a great option for beginners who need some extra help.

The SNS Profile and its high performance and more flexible Propulse option for racing have a single bar attachment point with a wider ridge running down the middle of the binding plate that works with a groove on the sole of compatible boots to help skiers use new bindings with well worn boots and enhance performance. 

NNN (New Nordic Norm) bindings will clamp to a bar on the boot’s front. These have 2 ridges that run along the length of the binding. NIS bindings are about the same, but they are cross compatible with different skis and pre-installed mounting plates. These bindings allow you to mount your ski without screws or needing adjustment. The bindings don’t work with the SNS systems, though. 

Prolinks are the newest technology available. These try to bridge the gap with NNN and SNS systems. These bindings are compatible with all of these boot types, so you have a world of choices to find your comfortable fits. These bindings allow your boot to be closer to the ski, which will let you really feel the skis on your ride. 

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